We’re very pleased to welcome Charlie Michael as our latest MERJE Meets guest. Charlie, Chief People & Sustainability Officer at DF Capital, has been specialising in delivering strategic and operational excellence across HR, Change, Leadership and Coaching in the Financial Services industry for over 20 years.
Charlie has been leading the people engagement, performance management and sustainability efforts of DF Capital, an award-winning specialist savings and business finance bank, since she joined in 2020.
Here, we catch up with her about her role, how the challenges of the last few years have affected the business, and dig deeper into DF Capital’s passion for sustainability and positive social impact.
Tell us a little about DF Capital and your role in the business.
DF Capital is an authorised specialist commercial lending and personal savings bank. We provide personal savings products to retail customers and flexible working capital solutions to dealers and manufacturers throughout their entire unit distribution cycles.
I lead the people and sustainability agenda for the bank, supporting the business in ensuring we get it right for our employees, our customers, our communities, the environment, and our shareholders.
We’ve seen a lot of major events in recent times, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic to name a few. How has DF Capital handled the rollercoaster of the past couple of years?
It is undoubted that the global pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the economy, society and our personal lives. We have worked hard to be a supportive lender and ensure that we have remained well-connected with our customers, understanding their pipeline and borrowing needs.
From a people perspective, like many others, our employees have bravely faced these challenges, even when navigating their own personal circumstances and hardship. They have worked hard to support our customers and give back to our communities. As a firm, we have been focused on keeping our employees safe and ensuring they feel supported throughout this difficult period.
The majority of our employees operated through the pandemic on a remote basis. We knew, however, that this brought its own challenges, such as isolation and balancing working with home schooling, shielding or caring for relatives. We therefore made adjustments where needed, with a focus on ensuring we could make people’s lives easier.
Employee engagement was at the front of our minds, as was maintaining a strong connection with our people. It has been important to us that we provide extra support wherever we could.
What are you looking forward to in the future of the business?
For me, it’s all about evolving our plans and aspirations to become the best place to work in the UK.
We’re already ranked as one of 2022’s 100 ‘Best Companies to Work For’ in the UK, having been named in three Best Companies league tables (the UK’s top 75 mid-sized companies to work for, the North West’s top 50 companies to work for and financial services’ top 25 best companies to work for). We now want to take the number one spot. Obviously this is hugely ambitious, but we are brave; we make big goals and try our best to achieve them.
People are becoming more and more aware of how their financial choices can impact society and wider issues. What are your thoughts about this and the increasing demand for socially and environmentally conscious financial services providers?
To be a forward-thinking business, companies need to regularly assess their product offering.
In 2022, we’re planning to consider and market test incentives on our own products to encourage low carbon transition, including offset on procurement.
As part of this, we will continue to keep up to speed with the latest green technologies on our target sectors, so that we are well placed to finance emerging technologies as our customers need them.
DF Capital has taken great care in creating its 2022 Sustainability Strategy. What do you believe are the key things to focus on in order to be an environmentally responsible business?
We are a future-proof business, that means we can continue to operate and grow through our ever-changing climate. We go about this by being agile, compassionate and smart. We are not stuck in the old ways; we are leaders in moving into new, sustainable practices that will protect our future.
Towards the end of 2021, we completed an impact materiality assessment based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are now progressing a phased action plan to improve our impacts. Our approach focuses our resources and effort on four pillars that link our major impact areas:
Support and enable our customers to grow and transition to a low carbon economy
Provide an inclusive, progressive and sustainable environment where our colleagues thrive
Work to build stronger communities, wherever we do business
Play our part in shaping the global transition to a climate friendly environment
We’re really excited to bring our aspirations to life under these four pillars during 2022 and beyond, and are looking forward to sharing our progress as we continue to work towards a more sustainable future.
The business runs a variety of initiatives to promote sustainable practices, positive work culture and beneficial social impact, for example, your Electric Vehicle Salary Sacrifice Scheme. There are a lot of things to tackle, meaning that some business leaders may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of improving their company’s ESG footprint. What advice would you give to those who are struggling to take those first steps?
Keep it simple, focused and ensure everyone is engaged. Whatever your starting point, there are real opportunities to gain and benefit from increasing your business sustainability. My advice would be to integrate ESG into your overall business strategy and align to a framework.
We partnered with Sustainable X, who worked with us to identify our business case, action plan and key results. Getting help from experts in this space really helped us navigate where and how we could make the biggest impact.
Throughout your career, you have been supporting companies in striving for operational excellence, successful people engagement and leadership development. Has there been a certain moment or piece of advice that has led you to where you are today?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. In any scenario you find yourself in. Whether it’s an idea, a reflection, a question, or a concern – just say it out loud. And in the event, if those around you stop listening, recognise that it might be time to move on.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Accountability. Accepting responsibility when things go wrong and giving credit for success where it’s due. Honestly, it’s as simple as that.
If you could instantly pick up any new skill, what would you choose and why?
I would love to be able to ski. Unfortunately, I fractured both my hips when I was a teenager and have been warned to never hit the slopes. So, I am forever destined to après ski (shame).
Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I left school at 16 with no qualifications. I picked up an admin job at a financial services company, worked my way up and have never looked back!
A huge thank you to Charlie and the team at DF Capital for collaborating with us on this fantastic piece! If you would like to work with MERJE to produce great content, get in touch with our marketing team: email@example.com.
If you would like to discuss this, or any other topics in our articles, drop us a line.