Developing integrated thinking: an interview with bankmecu’s CEO Damien Walsh

Damien Walsh

Damien Walsh became Managing Director of bankmecu in 2011, following eight years as General Manager Corporate Services.  He shared with me the bank’s experience in developing its first integrated report, my analysis of which you will find here.

What have been the key challenges in developing integrated reporting?

Culturally there haven’t been any. As you are aware bankmecu has had a long term commitment to developing its expertise in reporting beyond the financial.  We regard reporting as a critical element of our customer owned banking model and for these reasons we have integrated all the areas in which the business delivers value into our reporting process. We want our key stakeholders as well as those observers of our mutually owned business to understand clearly how we define, create, preserve and distribute value.

I guess the key challenge is trying to be clear on where and how the transition from the breadth of GRI requirements for sustainability reporting to the concise but material integrated corporate reporting will occur. This has been in a context in which both integrated reporting principles and G4 – the next iteration of sustainability reporting standards – have been in development.

We are probably one of the smallest companies involved in the IIRC pilot program so we do not have the vast level of resources that are available to other reporting companies so our processes need to be focused and disciplined. On the other hand we have some flexibility that the large entities lack.

Reporting is a communications tool. Our concern is that reports be accurate, concise, accessible and simple to read and understand. There is limited value in comprehensive information that nobody accesses. I like the saying “Making the simple complex is commonplace. Making the complex simple is an art form”. For me less is definitely more.

Maintaining a concise readable report while covering disclosure of material matters has been a key challenge.

What changes has integrated reporting brought about within bankmecu?  Has it had an impact on ‘integrated thinking’ – for example, the way you think about your business model and develop strategy?

Past reporting has been structured to report approximately against some of the “capitals” of the integrated reporting principles without identifying them as such.

For the first time, our reporting was clearly aligned to report against our strategic plan. Integrated reporting tested it publicly as never before.

There has been greater collaboration and cross-departmental discussion as a consequence of the integrated reporting project. The development of an illustration of bankmecu’s business model for the report generated considerable inter-departmental searching and external testing considering vision and values, the strategic plan, customer-owned banking objectives, and departmental perspectives.

The increased active involvement of the finance and accounting departments in the project and broader integrated reporting was an important internal aspect that challenges many businesses.

Ultimately, one of the most important stakeholders for our report is staff and the business itself.

How do you plan to further develop your integrated reporting?

Our main focus for 2013 will be on building on our learning – from the integrated reporting project, from stakeholder feedback and from expert commentary. We will limit scope to refining the 2012 reporting approach and improving online usability.

The report will continue to be owned by the business not by a single person, team or department. That’s critical to ensuring our approach to integrated reporting reflects integrated thinking across the whole of the bank.

Fundamentally our reporting must be of value to our customers – the providers of bankmecu’s financial capital – and the business itself. It must contribute to better outcomes for both. We certainly won’t be measuring the quality of our report according to the number of pages we produce.

Ultimately our aim is to communicate through our reporting in the most concise, relevant and meaningful way how our business creates preserves and distributes value. The better we do this in a way that is clearly understood and valued by our customers, the closer we become to being a truly successful reporter and business.

Related articles on this website:

Next steps in integrated reporting: bankmecu

The banking sector and integrated reporting: focus on HSBC

Integrated thinking and integrated reporting

Understanding (how sustainability fits into) your business model

Integrated reporting and directors’ responsibilities

Materiality: financial reporting, sustainability reporting and integrated reporting

Integrated Reporting and the Six Capitals: What does it all mean?

Five essentials to embedding sustainability



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