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Banks are doing something good (for a change)

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We spend much of our time berating the banks and beating them up, but it’s not always the case.  Every now and again, I like to write about the specific good that banks do.  For example, 5 of the top 10 Charitable Companies in the USA are banks: Wells Fargo (#3), Goldman Sachs (#4), JPMorgan Chase (#7), Bank of America (#8) and Citigroup (#10).  That’s fairly consistent by geography and country.  For example, 6 of the top 10 UK charitable companies are banks: Lloyds (#1), Goldman Sachs (#3), Santander (#4), HSBC (#5), Fidelity (#7) and Barclays (#8).  The cynics might say that the richer you are the more you give, but what surprises many is how little all this giving is reported.  The media reports non-stop about big bankers’ bonuses, bankers avoiding tax, banks making billions, banks charging millions, but they don’t report this area at all.  In fact, try to find the stats for your country and the amount banks give to charity, and it’s hard to find.  Very hard to find.  That’s because it’s not reported.

Anyways, some banks do like to advertise what they’re up to.  Not many, but some do.  For example, I’ve noticed the big splash that HSBC has made at Gatwick Airport a few times before and it prompted me to actually checkout what they’ve been doing.  The advert is all about The Water Programme and what it has achieved in China in cleaning the Yangtze River.

The HSBC Water Programme is a partnership between the bank and EarthwatchWaterAid. the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and local project partners, with the objective of providing and protecting water sources, informing and educating communities, enabling people to prosper and driving economic development across the world.  The project began in 2012 and runs through 2017, with US$100 million invested plus a further US$35 million committed to 58 projects in 34 countries which were nominated by HSBC employees.

Under the HSBC Water Programme, the charities are working with local authorities, businesses and communities to implement new practices and policies that are helping to protect rivers in five priority freshwater places; the Yangtze, Ganges, Mekong, Pantanal and the Mara.

Collectively these basins are home to nearly one billion people and some of the world’s most endangered species. The Water Programme is creating healthy rivers, that support thriving ecosystems, as well as local businesses and communities by:

  • Tackling erosion
  • Reducing pollution
  • Ensuring water is used efficiently by all
  • Promoting sustainable fishing and agriculture

Water is essential to life on earth, and all of our water comes from rivers and lakes. Healthy rivers are vital to our planet – the water that runs through them not only support ecosystems but it also provides for our drinking, agriculture and production needs.

Water security is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. It goes to the heart of biodiversity conservation, food and energy supply, conflict mitigation, climate change adaptation and poverty reduction.  It is therefore essential to find ways to properly manage this resource and ensure that we have enough water for both our needs and those of the planet, now and in the future.


The Yangtze River project is actually something that started before this.  This project began in 2002, partnering between the bank and WWF to protect the Yangtze and deliver a series of positive changes for the local communities along the river and the local ecosystems on which they depend.   Changes include:

  • educating over 135,000 farmers on sustainable practices;
  • protecting 240,000 square km of wetland; and
  • helping 70 businesses to tackle pollution.

This film tells you more about the work on the Yangtze’s Lake Hong over the last decade.

At the beginning of 2014, the bank decided to celebrate the long-term partnership with WWF by installing a ground-breaking interactive sound installation at Gatwick Airport. It takes travellers along the 6,300km-long Yangtze River in just under two minutes, providing an insight to the sounds, people, local businesses and wildlife of the river.

To achieve this, artist and designer Nick Ryan worked with J Walter Thompson (JWT) to create something special.  Ryan designed an array of microphones to record the river at a specific position, and then a corresponding speaker for each which would be angled exactly the same.  “Each speaker is playing its own viewpoint, like a camera,” he explains. “This isn’t just a recording, it’s a bit like a computer game soundtrack in that it’s not linear but responsive and evolving all the time. What we didn’t want was just a single recording. That would have given us control but we wanted it to have a life of its own.”

Picking the points of the river to record was a relatively simple process. “I basically spent a few weeks on Google Earth looking at points I thought represented the diversity of the Yangtze. I wanted slow and rapid moving water and a nice spread of urban versus rural as well as wildlife, people and machinery.”

35 locations were chosen in total, with Ryan's team flying out to China for five days to record. When they arrived, they were struck by how deeply the industrial revolution has travelled into the heart of rural China, and quickly realised it was almost impossible to record anywhere without capturing the sound of modern life. Ryan initially tried to edit out the machine, smartphone and motorbike noise, before accepting that it’s everywhere and so had to be included.

And it is, along with the sounds of the cranes flying overhead, water running through the Tiger Leaping Gorge, fishermen hauling in a catch, people passing by Shanghai’s Bund walkway and even the singing of Hun, the group’s tour-guide on the five-day excursion.

The biggest challenge on the project was installing it in the airport itself. With the Skybridge open to passengers 20 hours a day, there was only a small window of time in which to fit 160 speakers and rig over 60km of cable to achieve the immersive effect.

To make it as smooth a process as possible, a replica of the Skybridge was built in a barn in Essex where most of the sound checks were performed before being transported to Gatwick. But it was still incredibly complicated to get the sound right because the glass structure changed the acoustics so significantly.

The end result is exactly what JWT and HSBC envisioned.   You can see that result here:

And for those of you interested in the advertising idea and process, here’s the guys from HSBC talking about their thinking:

Finally, if you’re really into our planet’s future, you can find out more about all of the above:


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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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