TD BANK GROUP ADVOCACY: Agents for positive change
G7 Summit

TD BANK GROUP ADVOCACY: Agents for positive change

You recently told a graduating class of university students that “the world has never been safer, healthier or more prosperous”. Yet you also believe that challenges, left unchecked, could undermine the future prospects of national economies. What are the dynamics at play?

The world has made significant progress in recent decades. We are living longer and healthier lives. More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. We have seen quality of life improve, as more and more households access clean water and electricity. There have also been significant strides to protect and promote human rights.

However, many of the forces that have underpinned our progress – liberalisation of trade, knowledge transfers and the proliferation of innovative technologies – have also brought about significant change and disruption. That’s one reason why some perceive globalisation as a cause for inequality. One of our defining challenges for the G7 is to find ways to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of these forces.

You lead one of the largest financial institutions in North America. Describe how some of these forces impact the business world.

Look at some of the ways innovative technologies are impacting the lives of customers and colleagues. They’ve helped drive innovation and create new business opportunities, as well as enabled individuals to gain greater control and flexibility in the way they make a living. At the same time, many people experience dramatic fluctuations in their month-to-month income. This volatility can make it hard for families to gain control of their finances today, let alone plan for the future.

In the working world, some roles are being automated or are now simply considered outdated. And while we also see the creation of new, rewarding careers, there are people who may not have access to resources or opportunities to acquire the skills necessary to adapt and thrive.
They could end up permanently under-employed or even unemployed.

Many people describe all this change as part of a modern-day industrial revolution. Is it any different from previous ones?

Economies have undergone significant change before, spurred on by advancements that boost productivity and competition. But my sense is the pace of change has never been faster. And when I talk to customers and colleagues, family and friends, it seems like every facet of their lives is being impacted.

As always, we must find ways to adapt. That’s how people, organisations and economies endure. But I worry about those who feel like they are on the outside looking in at the majority of people who are benefiting from change. They may give up on themselves and their communities. You cannot grow economies when people stop participating in them. The G7 understands that and deserves credit for championing inclusive growth as a strategic imperative.

You have also described exclusion as a “corrosive force” on society…

Precisely. In building a more prosperous world, exclusion is public enemy number one. We’ve seen social ills stem from such sentiment. It can also be politicised, and lead to policies that could exacerbate some of the challenges that cause people to feel uneasy in the first place. Protectionism is an example. Our focus would be better spent on making free trade agreements even better for participating countries.

What role should corporations in the G7 play in supporting a more inclusive economy?

Most business leaders understand their success very much depends on the long- term success of the people and communities in which they serve.

As just one example, TD recognises that the transition to a low-carbon economy is fundamental to our economy’s future prospects. Of course, this transition cannot undermine the standard of living and quality of life that Canadians enjoy. Still, as a way of bringing about positive change, our bank has targeted $100 billion, in total, in our business towards initiatives in low-carbon lending, financing, asset management and other programmes by 2030. Initiatives like these are ways that corporations can make a positive impact.

Is there a model for corporations to bring about positive change?

I wouldn’t want to be that prescriptive. But let me talk about some of the ways we are helping to create a more inclusive future. We align our people and resources to help promote and foster innovation for social good. That is a key driver behind The Ready Commitment. We are targeting $1 billion in total by 2030 in four areas: financial security, a vibrant planet, connected communities and better health outcomes across our North American footprint.

To influence positive change, we often start with a premise that problems aren’t solved until we acknowledge they exist. For instance, we know there is a need to help employees develop skills for their next role and prepare them to understand and navigate the new technologies impacting their current one. But the effects of the changing workplace are far from being fully understood. That’s why we have teamed up with a Canadian think tank, the Public Policy Forum, to better understand the implications of a changing workplace on employees and employers, as well as policymakers.

Finally, TD understands we are part of something larger than ourselves. Our internal actions – breaking down barriers, for instance, that impede women in their advancement into leadership positions – send important signals externally. Our size and scale also enable us to be a positive change agent. That’s why we actively engage in global agendas. For instance, we are aligned to nine UN Sustainable Development Goals, and are a founding partner of a global private-sector–led collaboration to use employee volunteer programmes to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. And we recently joined a UN Task Force examining climate-related financial disclosure.

In all of this, collaboration is key. Big, positive social change is only possible if the public and the private sectors work together to focus on key issues, for better alignment on measurement, and, finally, for greater impact.

Speaking of impact, what kind of outcomes do you envisage in achieving more inclusive growth?

We want everyone to have the opportunity to thrive in a changing world. They will feel more confident about themselves and their future as a result. That helps create the conditions for a more cohesive society. And that is a good thing, because I’m convinced that success – in whatever form – relies on forces that bring us together, not drive us apart.