Success can be measured in many ways and financial institutions can learn a lot from this flourishing example.
While many financial organizations are currently looking at ways to satisfy increasing customer demands for sustainability and transparency on ethical investments, one bank is proving that sustainable banking is the only viable way to operate.
In fact, GLS Bank has been respecting the connection between social and ecological issues since 1974. And for Aysel Osmanoglu, CEO and Management Board Member of GLS Bank, the company has been the perfect fit for her moral compass.
“My ambition lies in fostering meaningful growth and transformation, both in my personal journey and the organizations I am part of,” she says. “When I joined Ökobank, which was later acquired by GLS Bank in 2003, I was immediately mesmerized by the institution’s unwavering commitment to ecological and social principles.
“This holistic approach to banking, where financial decisions were not merely driven by profit maximization but were aligned with a higher purpose, resonated deeply with my own values and aspirations.”
The truth of Osmanoglu’s conviction that money, when harnessed responsibly, can also serve as a transformative tool for society, is reaffirmed to her at work every day. She hopes more financial institutions will move away from a blinkered focus on profit margins toward creating a more just and equitable society.
Looking forward with a strong ethos
Over the past five decades, GLS Bank has successfully focused on transforming and developing industries with a strong social importance, such as organic farming and renewable energies. “Issues that need to be developed further are the question of property, education and the unequal distribution of wealth,” Osmanoglu says.
“This requires the transformation of the prevailing economic system in the sense of a holistic approach that benefits not only companies, but also people and nature.”
There is no doubt that since the formation of GLS Bank, technological advancements have revolutionized the industry. GLS Bank is committed to leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience while upholding its core values of transparency and democratic participation.
“We envision a future where technology seamlessly integrates with our human-centric approach, creating a banking experience that is not only efficient and secure but also deeply connected to our values.”
Osmanoglu is proud of how the bank is committed to using digital platforms to empower customers and strengthen community ties. “While these technological advancements undoubtedly enhance efficiency and reduce costs, they alone will not serve as the defining competitive advantage for banks in the future,” she adds.
“Our aspiration for future technological tools is to harness their capabilities to enhance our core strengths: transparency, ethical investing and community engagement.
“We envision a future where technology seamlessly integrates with our human-centric approach, creating a banking experience that is not only efficient and secure but also deeply connected to our values and the positive impact we strive to make on the world.
“In essence, we believe that the future of banking lies not in a technological arms race, but in a harmonious blend of human expertise and technological innovation.”
At the heart of GLS Bank’s philosophy lies the principle of ‘purpose before profit’ and a commitment to actions that safeguard the life chances of present and future generations.
To ensure this is achieved, Osmanoglu explains how the bank has established clear goals with measurable indicators and assessment methods. These include affordable and sustainable housing, advocating for a shift toward organic food production practices that promote ecological balance and sustainable farming, and striving to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy-powered future. GLS Bank is also supporting sustainable business as well as championing diversity.
“GLS Bank is committed to playing a pivotal role in shaping a grandchild-friendly future, one that is environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically prosperous for generations to come,” Osmanoglu says. “Our journey toward sustainability is continuous, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to innovation, collaboration and impact-driven action.”
The culture within GLS Bank is also ‘people first’ and there is an extensive program of support for staff, recognizing a support for work–life balance, bonding and collaboration, innovation and accountability in the workplace by empowering employees.
“Just as a bridge connects two points, so too can we connect with others who have faced similar obstacles and gain their support and guidance.”
Osmanoglu’s leadership style is characterized by her deep respect for her employees, and this approach has resulted in a highly motivated and engaged workforce. She is regularly motivated by a piece of sage advice she carries with her: ‘You can build bridges from the stones that are placed in your path’.
“This advice encourages us to reframe our perspective and view these challenges as opportunities to build bridges toward our goals,” she reflects. “Just as a bridge is built from individual stones, so too can we overcome obstacles by using each challenge as a stepping stone toward our desired destination. By viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and growth, we can develop the skills and resilience necessary to achieve our goals.
“This advice also reminds us that we are not alone in facing challenges. Just as a bridge connects two points, so too can we connect with others who have faced similar obstacles and gain their support and guidance. By sharing our experiences and seeking help when needed, we can build a network of support that will help us overcome any challenge.”
And while challenges will always be part of business growth, GLS Bank certainly seems to have already nailed the new basics – which some other financial companies are only just now waking up to.