CEE's best bank for corporate responsibility 2020: Center-Invest Bank

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Center-Invest Bank became the first Russian bank to issue a green bond with its R250 million ($3.56 million) offering in November last year. It was a natural step for a bank that has been committed to the environment and responsible banking from its inception.

Indeed, the bank began providing green loans in 2005 when it launched Russia’s first energy-efficiency loan programme, run in partnership with the IFC. Since that programme began the bank has provided R17.5 billion for energy efficient projects to small businesses, retail customers and housing and utilities.

This green policy is part of a broader commitment to sustainability and responsibility that runs throughout the bank. It is a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking; and this year Center-Invest Bank is CEE’s best bank for corporate responsibility.

The Covid-19 crisis provides a recent example of this commitment. In addition to ensuring the safety of its staff, Center-Invest has also implemented a ‘distance economy’ programme to help small businesses develop online, providing them with preferential loan rates and advice to help them make the transition.

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Lidia Simonova

In terms of supporting women, Russia’s banking sector is unusual in that women make up the majority of employees. At Center-Invest, for example, between 80% and 90% of employees are women. The bank is extending its gender work. For over seven years it has been offering a loan programme for women and networking events.

“Of more than R1 billion in loans we have made within this programme, not one has defaulted,” says Lidia Simonova, chairman of Center-Invest Bank’s executive board. “We recognized early on that women tend to pay back debt more so than men.”

In the southern Russia region where the bank operates, Center-Invest is also heavily committed to financial inclusion, teaming up with a local university to create a centre for financial literacy that offers programmes ranging from business planning advice for young entrepreneurs to information on mobile payments and pensions for older people.

Part of the bank’s offering is an accelerator programme combining preferential loan programmes for startups, businesswomen and loans for launching socially responsible projects, as well as an online entrepreneurship course in six languages.