Episode #16: Jan Köpper

Episode 16

Jan Köpper is the head of the impact transparency and sustainability department at GLS Bank in Germany. Jan talks with Becca and Bryan about his role at GLS as well as how the bank measures its impact and why it’s important for financial institutions to track metrics other than revenue and the bottom line.

In addition, Jan talks about how he wound up in values-based banking and what he’s excited about in 2022 and beyond.

Jan Kopper Headshot

Featured Guest: Jan Köpper

Jan Köpper is heading the department on impact transparncy & sustainability at GLS Bank Germany. In his role Jan is responsible for the conceptualization, coordination and implementation of societal impact measurement and management, the analysis and translation of sustainability risks, the sustainability assessments in corporate loan transactions as well as the integration of sustainability related processes in internal sustainability and bank management in the GLS Group. Following posts at the business network CSR Europe in Brussels and the sustainability rating agency imug/VE in Hanover he joined GLS Bank in April 2018 to start is current position.

Jan Köpper is founding director of the Peer School for Sustainable Development e.V. and chairman of Cluster e.V.. He has published numerous articles and media contributions. He also looks after the memberships of the GLS Forum for Sustainable Investments (FNG), B.A.U.M. e.V. and the United Nations Principles for Responsible Banking (UNPRB).

Becca Hoeft

As a marketing, public relations and corporate communications leader, Becca (only her mom calls her Rebecca) started her career in consulting and have been involved with six startups ranging from film, fashion, technology and foot, with her first startup being a social enterprise importing leather fashion accessories made by single mothers in Nairobi, Kenya. Speaking across the country, she is known for leading award-winning teams and has received recognition from the Cannes Film Festival for Best Media Campaign, , Hermes, MSPBJ Women in Business, and most recently, the Top Women in Communications awards. When the day is done, you’ll find Becca behind a good travel book planning her next adventure, plunking a tune on the piano or laughing with her blended family.

Bryan Toft

Bryan Toft is Sunrise Banks’ Chief Revenue Officer. In this position, Bryan oversees commercial banking/lending, treasury management, mortgage and fintech partnerships. He has been with Sunrise Banks for more than a decade. From 2014-2017, he served as president and CEO of Community Bank Owatonna.

Bryan has held a variety of roles at Sunrise Banks including credit analyst, commercial loan officer and EVP regional manager of commercial lending in Minneapolis.

Bryan received a B.S. in Computer Science from Buena Vista University and an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. He is a board member of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Twin Cities Metro CDC and Charter School Property, Inc.

Featured Music

Mason Zgoda


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Jan Köpper: Value can only be understood if you talk about multiple values and not just financial capital. So, you have this whole debate about multi-capitalism instead of mono-capitalism. So, the whole system has focused on financial capital or generating financial capital, but we have forgotten about not planetary capital about intellectual property, about relationship capital, but this is all a part of the value of a company.

[00:00:27] Jan Köpper: And if we don’t understand interdependencies, and if we don’t understand that financial capital is just the outflow of that. But the priorities are within the system that we are based on, so planet, and our interactions, our love, our emotions, then we cannot come to a real assessment of value.

[00:00:46] Becca Hoeft: Welcome to the NextGen Banker podcast, where we explore what’s next in baking and talk with the innovators responsible for creating positive change in the financial sector. I’m Becca Hoeft, Chief Brand Officer at Sunrise Banks. And I’m again, joined by Bryan Toft, Sunrise Banks, Chief Revenue Officer.

[00:01:06] Bryan Toft: Hey, Becca, always great to be here. David Reiling, our usual host is out finding the next big thing in banking. And I think our listeners are going to be really fascinated by this guest, especially those interested in the role of sustainability in an organization.

[00:01:18] Becca Hoeft: Yeah, I agree. And today we’re speaking with Jan. And Jan, I’m going to ask you to help me say your last name because I’m afraid with my American accent I am not going to say a correctly. Jan, is it, Koepper?

[00:01:33] Jan Koepper: It’s Köpper with an oo, but that’s very specific German. So, it might be difficult for you guys. Yeah, I understand.

[00:01:40] Becca Hoeft: Well, thank you, Jan, for joining us. And Jan is from GLS bank and we’re just so glad you’re here. But before we jump in this is just a reminder to stick around to hear our musical feature at the end of the episode. Each NextGen Banker episode showcases one new artist from somewhere around the globe representing a wide range of different genres. So be sure to check it out.

[00:02:04] Bryan Toft: I want to start by giving a little background on our guest. Jan is the head of impact transparency and sustainability at GLS bank in Germany. He has particular expertise in sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, sustainable business development, and international relations.

[00:02:19] Bryan Toft: And GLS likes Sunrise Banks is a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. And GLS stands for something which I understand translates to “community bank for loaning and giving” Jan, could you tell us what does GLS stand for? How would you, how do you say that?

[00:02:35] Jan Köpper: Yeah, in German. It’s basically what you said. In German it’s community for lending and gifting, if you wish, because we have a different perspective on capitals. So, to say, so we say capital is love and this love is transported by different forms of capital, such as lending, consumption and gifting. And this is how we translate our work into the forms of capital.

[00:02:57] Bryan Toft: I love it. Well, welcome to the podcast. We’re excited to have you here.

[00:03:01] Jan Köpper: Wonderful. Thanks for having me.

[00:03:02] Becca Hoeft: Jan, you’ve had an extensive history in the financial sector. And most recently you’ve been at GLS. Could you start by telling us how you got into the banking sector and what really drew you to values based banking?

[00:03:16] Jan Köpper: So basically, what drove me here is when I started after my study to look for jobs, I started to work at CSR Europe in Brussels, and this was somehow a different time. You know, it was 2009. We were still discussing. I’m trying to explain and make the case for the business case of sustainability.

[00:03:35] Jan Köpper: And it was very much a at that time,’ what is the holy grail?’ You know, how can we put sustainability at the core of business? And of course, we need to make sure the business case is understood. Then I worked there and at the end of my job over there, I wanted to get back to Germany because I have two kids and I wanted to have them closer to me.

[00:03:54] Jan Köpper: And then I said, okay, what really is, you know, the leverage that we have when we try to put sustainability at the heart of business? And that’s basically capital flows, I thought, at least at the time. And then trying to understand capital flows, financial markets, and you know, how we can have conditions or requirements for lending and investments that are in line with social environmental issues. And then had the big chance, or, yeah, let’s say luck to find something at my hometown, which is a sustainability rating agency.

[00:04:25] Jan Köpper: They are working for investors basically to assess ESG issues, you know, to make sure that different exclusion criteria, or positive criteria, are translated to investment strategies. But then after a while I thought, okay, understood. You know, I understand the market now I understand the language, but it doesn’t really, you know, make a change.

[00:04:43] Jan Köpper: It’s too slow. It’s too little. And then this job opportunity opened, and I was advised to basically make an application at GLS Bank. And GLS Bank was my client at that time. And GLS Bank is, you know, so hardcore sustainability that I thought, yes. Okay. Now there’s the leverage point. I can combine hardcore sustainability with hardcore financial market knowledge, put this together and really have a leverage on sustainability development.

[00:05:09] Jan Köpper: And this is where I’m still trying to learn. I mean, this feud is so big and there are so many crazy terms used also in the financial language. Trying to make it very complex for very easy things and very easy logic expect very, very complex language. So, it’s still a lot of things to learn. And specifically, also sustainability is such a complex and challenging, but also interesting field that it’s every day is just a journey. And it’s a gift to work here with such beautiful people in such a great community.

[00:05:37] Bryan Toft: I love that intersection of sustainability and financial market knowledge. And it really seems to show up in the title that you hold right now, which is the head of impact, transparency, and sustainability. And tell us more about that role and what you do.

[00:05:51] Jan Köpper: Yeah, I will try to keep it in a nutshell and then rather dig into the deep dive if you wish. But basically, my role is to account for our societal impact and that we have developed a quite specific and unique methods to account for that. So how can we make sure that on the one hand we communicate and measure our impact.

[00:06:10] Jan Köpper: But specifically, how can we use it for internal management processes? So how can we strengthen our impact? How can we make sure that conflicts of interest are also addressed in terms of sustainability? Where are sustainability issues, maybe in a, in a feud of conflict with one another, how can we adjust them? How can we provide solutions to that?

[00:06:29] Jan Köpper: And the other one is the sustainability part, which most people know already. But it’s the business operations on the one hand, but then also stuff like sustainability risk management integration into, you know, risk management processes, reinventing loan processes and client dialogues and etcetera.

[00:06:47] Jan Köpper: So, it’s quite a big field. And I would love to talk more about that because it’s specific for GLS Bank, which as you said, has been a social environmental bank since 1974. So why do they need someone like me when they are so sustainable? You know, if you wish we could talk about that, but I said, I keep it in a nutshell. So, let’s stick to that for a while.

[00:07:06] Becca Hoeft: No, actually I’d love to hear, and I’d love to hear some specific examples too, just to make it more tangible for our listeners.

[00:07:15] Jan Köpper: Absolutely happy to do so. I think what has really changed is the dynamics of the sustainability debate, you know, so for GLS Bank being founded in 1974, having a very clear vision and mission and values, the whole sustainability topic has always been from hearts and guts, you know, because it’s also combined with a spiritual, now let’s say element, of how we view human beings and social interaction.

[00:07:40] Jan Köpper: So, it’s a quite specific bank. We have anthroposophic rules. So, it’s a little bit specific also in the spiritual view of human beings. But a lot of sustainability issues have always come from hearts and guts, if you wish. You know, or from a conviction. But now in a new competitive environment, in a new market development, things get broken down to data, concepts, methods, you know, scientific evidence. And this is something that GLS banks still needs to learn. So really changing the culture towards science-based approaches, data collection, for example, you know? Okay. We need to collect data. Yeah. All right. Yeah. Okay. We need to, you know, we need to understand how we can use it for the good and all this stuff. So that’s really a change of mind.

[00:08:23] Jan Köpper: And to make it more concrete. For impact transparency, for example, can we really define and make it very specific what the values are that we are standing for within the sectors that we are financing?

[00:08:36] Jan Köpper: So basically, we have come up with we’ve called it visions of the future. So how do we want to develop our sectors? In terms of social, cultural emancipation. So, it’s rather a normative approach of how we would love to see the sector develop. This could be, for example, in terms of we call it you-trition. There’s one sector, they call it, we call it nutrition. It could be that completely organic agriculture. So, 100% organic agriculture is one vision of the future.

[00:09:03] Jan Köpper: Then regional value creation. Or something like resilience and innovation. And then we have used different topics to create one vision of the future per sector that we are financing. And this vision has been translated into impact indicators so that we can account and challenge if we contribute to this vision of the future.

[00:09:23] Jan Köpper: So, let’s say, you know, how much agricultural land have we financed that is actually organic? Or what is the value chain of our clients in terms of regional value creation? You know? I’m trying to on the one hand account for impact, but specifically also discussing impact, you know, creating a narrative of change as we call it as a community to make sure we have a common compass that we can all work towards.

[00:09:47] Bryan Toft: So, you talked about vision of the future. Is that a tangible thing that is set by the bank to say, this is our vision of the future, this is what we want to see? Whether it’s X number of agricultural land saved or whatever it might be. Is that what you’re talking about? Like actually stating specific goals and then measuring the data to get to those goals.

[00:10:05] Jan Köpper: Exactly, exactly the way you put it, yeah. But this is rather the normative part. So, this is saying, how do we want to develop in line with our conviction of sort of variety of certain values?

[00:10:17] Jan Köpper: And then there’s a next step towards that that’s factual. You know, this is the factual part. So, we have of normative framework and a factual framework and the factual frameworks, basically the doughnut economics, where we say there are planetary boundaries and see social flaws. So how can we get the whole economic system basically to work within the donut idea? So, there are two streams of impact, factual and normative. That’s what I’m trying to say.

[00:10:43] Becca Hoeft: And yeah. And am I correct in that when you say donut, are you referring to donut economics? That whole concept. Okay.

[00:10:53] Becca Hoeft: Yeah. Donut

[00:10:54] Jan Köpper: economics because it visualizes it quite nicely.

[00:10:57] Becca Hoeft: Okay. And that’s the basic premise of the normative and the factual, correct? Of the donut economic model?

[00:11:06] Jan Köpper: Exactly. Yeah.

[00:11:07] Becca Hoeft: Got it.

[00:11:08] Bryan Toft: So, if one thing, as I was looking at GLS Bank, there were two things that stuck out to me. One was that the bank views economic gain as a consequence, but not the purpose of his actions. I thought that was really a great way of putting it. It’s really a consequence.

[00:11:24] Bryan Toft: And then at a, at a baseline of everything you do, GLS is aware of its responsibility to people and nature. Which I think is kind of what you just touched on around sustainable. And, you know, personally, I view a bank as a connector, and I think that the more that people live within their values and a bank lives within its values, the more you can connect those that share your values and it kind of multiplies from there.

[00:11:44] Bryan Toft: And so, with GLS being kind of a pioneer in that sustainable finance movement, I kind of want to dig a little bit deeper into an interest of mine are sort of loans and loan processes. You kind of mentioned, you know, it’s a factor, the sustainability piece and loan processes. How does that work? Do you assess a loan based on its environmental impact or sustainable impact as well as it’s kind of repayment capacity?

[00:12:08] Jan Köpper: Exactly, but the same way that you put it. So first of all, of the social environmental screening issues and then comes the economic part, and I think that’s also quite unique somehow, because not many banks are doing it that way. But first of all, we have our first line of defense let’s say, which is basically our financing and investment criteria. They are public on our website, very transparent and you can see, you know, what kind of sectors are excluded, what kind of positive screening country we have. What kind of negatives, or screening criteria, we have, that’s the first line of defense.

[00:12:40] Jan Köpper: Second line of defense is basically impact. So, does that project or the company account for the visions of the future that we have defined? And then how far will they contribute to this vision of the future? And only if they make it through these first two lines of defense, then we calculate actually, you know, the whole economic part of it.

[00:13:00] Jan Köpper: And where we have conflicts with our values there’s a specific, a specific advice that we brought, let’s say, that is put together by different departments and we are discussing, okay, does that fit our criteria or not? And you know, how can we make sure that conflicts are addressed and somehow solved?

[00:13:20] Becca Hoeft: Thank you Jan. That’s really an interesting concept and I applaud GLS and the work that you’ve done, because it’s so progressive and feels like you’re pioneering the way. But let me ask you this because we have conversations, for example, not only in Europe, but in the US specifically around how can businesses, corporations, banks, how can they make that first step towards showcasing values and their impact beyond the bottom line? So, when we think about the best way to measure, how to get started, what would your advice be to an organization that really sees the need and has a passion around talking about this, but what would be the first best step for them to take?

[00:14:13] Jan Köpper: Yeah, it depends of course, on, you know, sector, on maturity level, on context, but let’s put this away for, or aside for a minute. I think the most important thing to start off is to reduce complexity. Because if you’re starting, then it’s a lot of things you could work on, in terms of sustainability. But how can you reduce complexity and focus on priority issues?

[00:14:35] Jan Köpper: This will be the first thing, and this is best done by internal stakeholders and external stakeholders in discussions. We call it the materiality and the assessments. You know, that also, you know, you’re just trying to come up with a materiality assessment that actually grabs the internal culture, the internal emotions, but also the needs and demands of external stakeholders, let’s say.

[00:14:57] Jan Köpper: And then to come up with a certain, you know, compass of where do we kick off. And of course, that should be in the core business. So, you should not, you know, just reduce a little bit of toilet paper or printing paper or something, but really try to make it something that is aligned with your business model.

[00:15:14] Jan Köpper: And then I think you can really get the hauls of the people and then you get the enthusiasm of the people, because they understand, okay, this is something we can contribute positively. You know, we reduce complexity. We don’t have to do everything at once, but let’s talk, let’s come up with emotions and let’s focus on business model and their materiality assessment is really good way to start.

[00:15:34] Becca Hoeft: So yeah, if I’m just starting out, what resources would you recommend as well?

[00:15:39] Jan Köpper: Well, I need to say that this of course depends on ambition. So, I would say you have the GRI, the Global Reporting Initiative, with which hands out a lot of sector supplements. You can at least, you know, have some orientation. What are the topics for my sector, for my organization that I could work on?

[00:15:54] Jan Köpper: You have a lot of associates. Such as the GABV, for example, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, where you find resources that you can just read through and find different approaches and perspectives to sustainability.

[00:16:06] Jan Köpper: But what I love at the moment is reporting three dot O from bill Bowie and drive to them because they are actually setting a new standard of understanding sustainability in context of planetary boundaries and social flaws.

[00:16:19] Jan Köpper: So, this is really cool because you then understand, okay, this is not something I could do. But I need to do it because there’s no other way, you know, and this is something where the first, how do you call it the flip of the coin or something? How does it called, you know, where you read it, it sinks in because you understand, no, this is not an, not an opportunity, it’s a must sort of say. It’s not an, you know.

[00:16:41] Jan Köpper: And I think this is really something which helps, and they have a lot of good stuff on the internet quite provocative. So, you need to be ready to be provoked, but yeah, it’s really cool to read through because it’s another ambition level.

[00:16:52] Becca Hoeft: Jan, one last question from me and it’s really about these impact reports that I’ve seen other organizations do. I know Sunrise Banks does one. I know so many of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values do impacts reports as well. Do you think that these impact reports or this reporting should be a requirement for companies, whether, again, whether it’s banks, larger companies, mid-sized companies, et cetera, but do you think there’s a general responsibility to produce and share these impact reports to the general public?

[00:17:34] Jan Köpper: I would definitely say yes. And I can also make the case for that. Also depending of course, what you understand on the impact, because impact the term is used very, very differently. And for some it’s just, you know, about CO2 emissions, then it doesn’t impact. But you need always to contextualize which CO2 emissions, for example, it’s an output and the output is only an impact indicator if you contextualize it with certain goals, such as one and a half degrees comparability, for example. So, CO2 emissions alone has no impact on you if you contextualize it to a certain goal. So, this may be on, you know, what is impact. But I would definitely say yes that you need to translate or report that because value can only be understood if you talk about multiple values and not just financial capital.

[00:18:20] Jan Köpper: So, you have the soul debate about multi-capitalism instead of mono-capitalism. So, the whole system has focused on financial capital or generating financial capital. But we have forgot about or forgotten about, you know, planetary capital about intellectual capital, about relationship capital, but this is all a part of the value of a company.

[00:18:38] Jan Köpper: And if we don’t understand interdependencies, and if we don’t understand that financial capital is just an outflow of that. But the priorities are within the system that we are based on, so the planet and our interactions, our love, our emotions, then we cannot come to a real assessment of value. So, we’ll really say that the whole system runs through the polyps or towards the polyps at the moment, because this has been the narrative in the past.

[00:19:02] Jan Köpper: If not understood the stabilization of the system can only become, if we look at all the values that stabilized the system, and this is definitely not financial capital.

[00:19:11] Bryan Toft: Yeah, and we always want to end on a positive note and would love to hear your thoughts on what excites you for 2022 and beyond, as it relates to banking. It could be sustainability, or it could be something.

[00:19:22] Jan Köpper: Yeah, well, one thing is just that I’m very eager to cope with is corona or with COVID. Because I think the past two years have been heavy in terms of creating sources of energy for our own wellbeing, you know, so we have been working very hard in our corridors and we have been focusing on our desktops.

[00:19:40] Jan Köpper: Hadn’t worked on all the time, but where are the sources of energy and we need to reinvent it. And I’m very much looking forward for myself to dive into 22 and see, you know, what opportunities open up. And I’ve just bought a mobile home, basically, you know, to just go there and do home office in there and whatever but yeah and go out again.

[00:19:59] Jan Köpper: But the other thing is that there are two things, maybe we quick. One is, oh, the new generation is so great. You know, they are so they are putting so much hope on the plate. The creativity of this whole, you know, thinking outside of the box, this whole I’m fed up with the system as it has been in the past.

[00:20:16] Jan Köpper: This is really something I’m looking forward to see how this evolves. And in Germany we have a new administration. So really looking forward how they catch that up, you know, and how they work with this new generation, this new attitude to what’s economics. And the final part, just, we quick, is that this whole planetary boundaries and social fundament discussion has so much things to do where so many things are open.

[00:20:38] Jan Köpper: And so, there’s so much things to do out here. So, I can just, every day they say, okay, let’s dive into that. Let’s dive into that. You know? So, I’m really just curious and very hopeful.

[00:20:49] Bryan Toft: It’s really a fascinating discussion Jan. And I mean, just how, you know, what GLS does in terms of putting sustainability and transparency at the forefront. And you really, you really described that well, in terms of both of what’s practical, but also ambitious. And I think that, that’s why it was really fascinating to me is like GLS is so ambitious in what it does. And yet it brings it down to a level that’s like, hey, what can we measure? What can we do? And what are those, what are those visions we want to see? What, what are those goals we have? So, it was really fun to hear you talk about that and you talk about it so well, so thank you for, for doing that.

[00:21:22] Jan Köpper: Thanks so much because I’m always missing the words and always struggling to think ok what is the right term again? So that’s great if it came across. That’s wonderful.

[00:21:29] Bryan Toft: Do you use the word emancipate? So, I think we’re in good shape here. So, vocabulary is broad, so was good.

[00:21:38] Becca Hoeft: Oh yeah. And you are at the end of your day. And you’re just outside of Dusseldorf, right?

[00:21:44] Jan Köpper: Yeah. More or less. Yeah. Let’s say, let’s say yes. Yeah.

[00:21:48] Becca Hoeft: Distance suburb, maybe?

[00:21:50] Bryan Toft: He’s got his mobile home, he’s all over the place.

[00:21:53] Becca Hoeft: That’s right. So much beauty in that.

[00:21:59] Jan Köpper: You’re just starting the day or What is the time at your place?

[00:22:01] Becca Hoeft: Yeah, it’s 9:30.

[00:22:03] Jan Köpper: Oh, okay. Okay. And you, you, you coped with me talking already. That’s good. Okay.

[00:22:12] Becca Hoeft: Thank you again Jan.

[00:22:15] Becca Hoeft: Yeah. Wonderful. Very welcome.

[00:22:17] Becca Hoeft: For this episode’s musical feature we’re showcasing Mason Zgoda. Mason is a Nashville based singer songwriter who seamlessly meshes influences from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while bringing a depth to her lyrics not heard in mainstream music. Her latest release is her 2021 EP Postcard to the World.

[00:22:44] Becca Hoeft: Here is her 2021 single Poltergeist.

(song plays)

[00:23:31] Becca Hoeft: That was Poltergeist by Mason Zgoda. You can hear more of Mason’s music on Spotify and on MasonZgoda.com. If you would like your music featured on the NextGen Baker podcast, just emailed David@nextgen-banker.com Off Site Link with a link to your music and website. Thanks for listening to the NextGen Banker podcast.

[00:23:53] Becca Hoeft: We’ll see you next time.