The way smart cities look and operate is going to depend on how citizens, businesses and public authorities fit together. One of the crucial drivers all these three have in common are banks.
The techno-economic challenges facing cities are huge, with multiple issues linked to the financing of capital investments, the shape of the markets, industrial restructuring, future employment, innovation, and the way major cities relate to the wider world. We see for example how a highly active interconnected urban network of entrepreneurial ecosystems is being forged, San Francisco, Seoul, Paris, Shenzhen and Tel Aviv being leading examples. Will this hamper the development of newer cities, or lead to the decline of cities that are less active on the networking front?
Social issues are also key here. We are likely to see new urban lifestyles, growing inequality and, further down the line, types of society that are very different from those we know today. You only need to compare the lifestyle of a young Silicon Valley engineer with that of a retired person in Vienna to see how digital tools and systems can unite people in terms of the way they do things, but may very well divide them as regards cultural norms and generational codes. And at the end of the day, the climate and wider environmental issues are simply inescapable. We are going to need a complete reworking of our economic models and systems, which are to a very large extent a legacy of the last industrial revolution. For each of these major challenges the banks have a key role to play.
The banking sector: traditional partner to cities
Capital and liquidity flows between socio-economic players underpin human initiatives, financing basic infrastructure and development programmes and thus helping to set up the urban ecosystems we tend to take for granted today. The financial world and its epitome – the bank – are interwoven with all strata of society and all geographical levels: cities, countries, regions and transnational spaces. The banking sector is one of the major counterparts to cities and their component entities, from individual people to companies to the community as a whole. Banks finance, lend, support and also assess; they are closely bound up with progress. They operate at the heart of the urban space and are relationship-enablers in a similar way to the post office, the town hall, the café and the pub.
In parallel, banks are stepping up their digital capabilities in response to increasing demands in western countries for efficiency and convenience, and for greater inclusiveness and access to financing in the emerging countries. Banks are now seeing the constant advent of new means of financing and risk management – including for instance crowdfunding and a trend towards ‘green financing’ – and are working to integrate them into their existing business models. Moreover, they help their customers and partners to follow the same path, bridging the gap between people’s and companies’ new needs and the technology that can provide solutions.
Only one role now for banks in the city?
Banks have a history of being strategic partners to sovereign states, companies, entrepreneurs and private citizens. By definition and by vocation, banks have always played a part in promoting ventures in a variety of fields such as infrastructure development, energy, education and healthcare. However, they now appear to have been straitjacketed into the single, limited role of being a provider of funds. It is striking to see that in cities today banks are usually viewed in their narrow function of financier, or sometimes perhaps a rather irritating or fractious risk manager for people’s individual or collective projects. But their range is wider than that. Now that we are rethinking our urban spaces, we could certainly make more use of the range of skills possessed by banks when it comes to planning, business intelligence, data analysis, and as an enabler of social links in neighbourhoods. Banks need to think about how they can optimise their skills in the urban space, combining their traditional strengths of transparency, pragmatism and rational planning.
Banking + data in the service of the urban space
With its millions of banking records, a financial institution is very much a part of the economic life of a city. A bank would for example be in a position to draw up a set of indicators on local merchants’ offerings – which would be very useful information for consumers – footfall statistics, the housing market, or even job vacancies. As financial intermediaries, banks could also become leading observatories for all kinds of business transactions, reporting on the relationships and ‘balance of power’ between various local players and entities and drawing up detailed maps for residents, elected representatives and companies that have set up in its area. This is in fact a priority field for the global digital giants, especially the Silicon Valley firms. And banks have traditionally enjoyed an enviable strategic advantage in this regard.
… but first and foremost, to serve citizens
Now that digital technology is transforming the way we live, is it perhaps time to talk about the city of the future in terms of a smart, digital space? Beyond the terminological spats, we should now be putting all these technologies and techniques at the service of people, the very point where the worlds of digital technology and information converge. Under this paradigm, banks will be able to supply citizens with high-quality information to the benefit of both individuals and communities.
And quite apart from the valuable guidance – on getting around, consumption patterns, etc. – that data and the algorithms used to process them provide, people living in cities are increasingly keen to live different lives – unplanned, less regulated, in-the-moment lives. Convenience and the experience are key here. And here once again, banks have a role to play.
Banks already enjoy a culture of trust, confidentiality, compliance and experience in handling and processing data in a highly-regulated environment. It will be to everyone’s benefit, bearing in mind the need for responsible conduct and sharing of resources, if banks take a fresh look at their – already major – involvement in the ever-accelerating changes taking place in the urban space.
Source: L’Atelier BNP Paribas
Optimise your working capital with factoring
How can you keep your working capital healthy while incorporating the requisite financial flexibility? Factoring helps you to finance your cash requirements in a proper, timely and suitable way.
Securing liquidity is the key to financing your working capital requirements and keeping your business running smoothly at all times. That's exactly what factoring offers.It is a structural solution for optimising working capital. In the video below (in Dutch) in less than half an hour you will gain a clear picture of what factoring has to offer.
If you prefer to watch the video in French, click here.
Factoring: a tailored structural solution
In exchange for transferring your invoices to an external factoring company, you can count on fast, flexible financing, monitor the collection of your invoices, and protect yourself against potential bankruptcy among your customers. Each factoring solution is tailored to fit the needs of your business. This includes companies operating at international level. In Belgium, one in six companies currently outsource their invoices to an external factoring company. The same trend is evident in other European countries.
Will you be Entrepreneur of the Year 2021?
Will you succeed Stow and I-care as the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2021? Why shouldn't you? Apply before mid-May and your company may just win this prestigious award.
A dazzling event honoring the very best companies
This annual award ceremony is an EY initiative in collaboration with De Tijd and BNP Paribas Fortis. Last year the event had to be celebrated online. The advantage was that the general public was able to live stream the event and watch Prime Minister Alexander De Croo present the Onderneming van het Jaar® award to Stow and Entreprise de l'Année® award to I-care. Jan Jambon presented the Flemish government's Scale-up of the Year award to Robovision and David Clarinval the French version tot Proxyclick. The new winners will be announced on 6 and 7 December, 2021.
Big picture and little picture
The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting businesses this year. The new Entrepreneur of the Year and Scale-up of the Year will have undoubtedly shown excellent growth, innovation and governance as well as a sound approach to the pandemic. Bill Schley's book The Unstoppables calls this the big picture and the little picture. Successful entrepreneurs always keep a close eye on their core business and the financial side of things as well as on the little picture. This is the right emotional mechanism for properly dealing with obstacles, failure and risks.
From an entrepreneurial viewpoint
Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis, is proud that his company has been a partner of this event right from the start. “Alongside the current pandemic, two major challenges that businesses have to address in 2021 are new technologies and sustainability. Companies that want to remain relevant need to be flexible and creative and must keep reinventing themselves. Our mission is to guide them through this transformation process in the best way possible, because those entrepreneurs are the driving force behind the Belgian economy. Therefore, we like to put these innovators in the spotlight every year and is why we encourage Belgian companies to apply."
Why take part?
Winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award or Scale-up of the Year award offers your company many benefits. These awards have a strong national and international reputation that will help you to strengthen your company's brand awareness. The awards ceremony attracts a great deal of media interest in the winners and finalists, and offers excellent networking opportunities. A place in the finals is also a great way to boost employee motivation at your company.
So don't wait any longer: apply for the Onderneming van het Jaar® 2021 award, Entreprise de l’Année award or Scale-up of the Year award via the Dutch EY website or the French EY website before mid-May. All information on the criteria, selection procedure and registration process are available there. The finalists will be selected in June.
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.