Why a bank made sustainable finance feel right at home on a tennis court – Bond Buyer

Chip Barnett: (00:03)
Welcome to another Bond Buyer podcast. And we’re coming to you today live from the BNP Paribas 2022 Open tennis tournament here in Indian Wells, California. My guest today is Jean-Yves Fillion. He’s the CEO of BNP Paribas USA. And we’re gonna be talking about BNP Paribas’ continuing development to sustainable finance and how the bank leverages its global sponsorship with tennis to further its advocacy around environmental issues, social equity and community responsibility. Welcome Jean-Yves.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (00:38)
Thank you for having me, it’s a privilege.

Chip Barnett: (00:40)
A little bit of a background first. Jean-Yves oversees the French bank’s wholesale and retail activities in United States. And he’s been with BNP Paribas for over 40 years and he truly believes in the sport of tennis. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what is like here on the ground at the BNP Paribas Open in 2022?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (01:00)
Is very exciting to see this tournament going back to normal, giving business a sense of returning to normalcy. We had last weekend over 44,000 fans one day, which probably leads into close to 385,000 fans for the two weeks, which is really close to pre-COVID-19 metrics. The last two years have been quite challenging. In 2020 we had to cancel. In 2021 we had to postpone, but I’m delighted that we did host the tournament in 2021, even though it was in October because I believe we got it going and it was a very good launch pad for a very promising 2022 BNP Paribas Open.

Chip Barnett: (01:51)
That’s bringing us back to normal. Could you tell me how BNP Paribas is using its global sponsorship with tennis to support the sport in all levels and geographies? And how do environmental issues, social equity and community responsibility come into play?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (02:09)
The game of tennis is I believe really is in the the DNA of this company. I mean the bank has been a sponsor of tennis since 1973 — it’s been quite a long time and has become probably the leading bank sponsoring the game of tennis. It’s interesting for a financial institution to define itself as ‘we are tennis,’ but as you said very rightly, I think that the belief in tennis is obviously the love of the game, the involvement into all dimensions of tennis — from these wonderful tournaments, including the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, which is seen as a fifth major. But the bank is very involved in all dimensions, from family tennis, club tennis, wheelchair tennis, and that’s really from the ground up. What we’ve been doing quite consistently, but even more intensively over the last few years, has been to try to go beyond tennis.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (03:15)
You mentioned social equity. This tournament at Indian Wells, which we took over in 2009, became an equal pay tournament between men and women in 2010. That was the condition for us to really do what we’ve done. And that was feeding so much the mindset of the tournament staff here and of the tournament team. And at the time its was being a little bit of being a trailblazer in the matter. And I’m delighted to see that other tournaments have actually followed exactly the same path. You did mention sustainability as well. I believe examples speak better than a long speech. Then in terms of sustainability at this tournament in 2022, we have a program called ‘Aces for Trees.’ And here it’s really in line with the banks’ mission to fight deforestation around the world. Obviously in California, it’s specifically targeted to help recovery from the wildfires. And this program is basically built in such a way that for every single Ace scored in the tournament the bank commits to plant three trees. Last year it was one to one, we made it this year one to three. Last year, we planted over 4,000 trees. I’m expecting many trees to be planted in 2022.

Chip Barnett: (04:50)
That is wonderful. You know, clearly the future of tennis is on the courts where young players are competing. Can you tell us a bit more about how BNP Paribas supports youth at various levels in the United States and are there any concrete examples at the BNP Paribas open this year?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (05:14)
One very concrete example is what occurred today on center court between the two men’s the finals, we honored four young adults, two boys, two girls from the Coachella Valley High School and offered and presented them grants to go to college. It was amazing to see how excited and delighted the two boys and two girls from the Coachella Valley High School where we grant $20,000 per kid, which helps them go through the first year of college. And they will go to some of the most excellent colleges in California, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Davis. And it’s amazing to see how diverse their choices are. And this will have an objective, they have to give back to their own community. Hopefully it’s a changing life experience. That’s really taking place at the BNP Paribas Open here in 2022.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (06:24)
We have other youth programs in the United States that I’m very proud of. One of them is called the BNP Paribas Mac 1 with John and Patrick McEnroe. Here we support deserving kids who one day might be on the tour. It’s really built around three pillars. The philosophy is that John and Patrick are Queens kids, New York City kids and the program is targeted to kids, deserving kids who grow up in the city of New York. They don’t want the kids to be sent to different states or different countries. They want them to stay with their families, with their friends, with their parents. The second pillar is really about getting the best tennis training as possible. And the John McEnroe Academy is really a strong place to do that.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (07:22)
And the third one, which is probably the most important part is protecting and developing education. They have to go to school. Obviously they have to get good grades or they cannot stay in the program. And earlier this week we had a press conference, John and myself with two kids joining us. One, Sebe is graduating from the program and just got admitted to Princeton. He’s a good student, but tennis I think was a big driver to go there — he is going to play for the Princeton tennis team. At the other end of the spectrum, a new joiner is 11 years old. His nickname is Zizou and he is already number one in the country in his age class — he’s 11 years old and a very promising talent.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (08:16)
We have another program in New York City, which is with Billie Jean King and City Parks Tennis and City Parks Foundation. That’s another dimension of supporting youth here, which is really supporting and providing deserving kids across the five boroughs and the city parks with tennis education, tennis tournaments from early June until mid-August, which without this, these kids probably would not have any real vacation and it connects them with a sport that might well be potentially and hopefully a life changing experience.

Chip Barnett: (08:55)
That’s excellent. You’ve done a lot of work in the United States. Looking around the world. How does BNP Paribas support youth globally, particularly those children that could be at risk.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (09:05)
I’m going to get into another illustration actually, which is taking place at this tournament here at Indian Wells. We have a program with a brilliant young tennis star, Felix Auger-Aliassime. And his initiative is a program called FAAPointsForChange. And what Felix does is that for every single point he scores — and he is 21 years old and number nine in the world and scores a lot of points — he donates $5 to an association that is raising funds to protect children in Africa, more specifically in the country of Togo, his father is from there. To protect them against domestic violence, but just as importantly to provide them with an education. It donates $5 and we triple match what he does. In 2022, barely three months into the year, his program has already raised a quarter of million dollars.

Chip Barnett: (10:18)
Wow, that’s fantastic. You’ve done a lot so far. Switching gears a little bit, BNP Paribas is very well known for its leadership and sustainability by people around the world and within the financial community. Are you you doing anything at the tournament this year to take action on this front?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (10:41)
I would say the the program that comes to mind in terms of sustainability, and here it’s really around fighting deforestation is Aces for Trees. For one Ace scored at this tournament — and as you’ve seen, you’ve been around right, we’ve seen a lot of Aces being scored — the bank commits to plant three trees. It’s specifically targeted in California to help recover from the tragic wildfires that this state has been exposed to. Last year, we planted over 4,000 trees and we expect many more trees to be planted in 2022.

Chip Barnett: (11:26)
Under your leadership, the bank is also undertaken many other environmental, social and governance initiatives such as signing onto the UN’s Principles for Responsible Banking, supporting NEST, which is the nonprofit that aims to build a hand worker economy to foster workplace inclusivity and improve women’s wellbeing in developing countries, such as Africa — and the bank has worked on a variety of climate impact policies. Can you talk about how these initiatives are part of the bank’s mission?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (12:09)
You are extremely what informed and extremely well documented on what the bank does. It’s to your credit. It’s impressive. I would say generally speaking on the sustainability front we serve clients and our commitment here is really to help all of our clients, individuals, companies, investors, accelerating their ecological transition. Just a few examples of that — working with them to reduce their potential negative impacts and via our sector investments and financing policies, that’s one dimension of that. Developing and financing solutions to enable them to transition. An example of that is our commitment to renewable energy. And the bank has actually reallocated over time approximately over $15 billion of its balance sheet to renewable energy and growing financing innovation to create new solutions to fight against climate challenges — and it could be in solar, it could be in wind, it is something we are very active in and around the world.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (13:33)
And I would say measurement is quite important. Greenwashing is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in this new phase, then building collectively at scale, sustainable finance with new methodologies tools, KPIs to ensure that new measurement with will be not only reliable, accurate, but consistent across because sustainability is a worldwide topic and is something we are extremely involved in. And last but not least, the bank as well increases its efforts to reduce its own environmental footprint because that applies to us as well, in our own operations, which I believe contributes to the collective carbon tragedy.

Chip Barnett: (14:24)
BNP is the biggest underwriter of corporate green bonds in the whole world. Can you speak about how backing green bonds is good for both the environment and the economy?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (14:34)
Well, as you mentioned, for the capital markets and the sustainable finance market, we believe that probably in a few years from today, a significant part of the capital markets and loan markets by the way, will be around sustainable linked instruments. And it just continues to grow exponentially. And actually the bank has had the privilege to lead in both what we call sustainability linked bonds, a field you know, extremely well, and sustainability linked loans globally. And we were the number one underwriter of sustainable bonds globally in 2021 and we continue to see growing demand. Transactions we’ve led have been significantly oversubscribed, which is another dimension of the importance of supporting the capital markets, because there is clearly now an alignment in terms of appetite for sustainable product or sustainability linked instruments from both the investor side and the issuer side.

Chip Barnett: (15:47)
Yeah. You can see the demand growing all the time.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (15:49)
Demand growing with a real alignment on both sides. And the bank is very well equipped to connect and to bridge the two sides of this equation.

Chip Barnett: (15:58)
Yes, you’ve dealt with it very well. One last question. What do you believe the bank needs to continue to be doing for the future? And for the changing world today?

Jean-Yves Fillion: (16:07)
Never stop going faster would be my message on sustainability — time is of the essence. And we know exactly where the future is. There is no real distinction anymore between sustainability and economy. I think the economy has to be sustainable if we want to build a real future — a business future, social future and the future for the planet we live in. Another dimension the bank I believe is extremely committed to, not only continue, but to enhance and increase in terms of intensity, is supporting our clients. It’s pretty easy for you and I to say, or to determine what’s green, what’s dark and it’s necessary. But the bottom line is I think the path to success is to support our clients who have committed to transition. They might not be there yet and to provide them with solutions, the ability to raise the right level of funding and capital to help them get to the right level of sustainability in terms of footprint, in terms of making sure that they can reach the goals they are supposed to reach to get to the proper level.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (17:32)
And that’s really what our bank, but probably the finance sector should really be more and more committed to.

Chip Barnett: (17:43)
One last thing. I wanted to give you a present.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (17:47)
Thank you so much.

Chip Barnett: (17:48)
These are my cuff links. They are made out of a 20 Franc piece from 1950.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (17:54)
I grew up with these.

Chip Barnett: (17:56)
And I’d like to give them to you as a reminder, that things in this world always change — from Francs to euros to crypto and beyond. I’m the past, and you’re the president and the things that you’re doing today really help change the lives of many young people, women, and persons of color things that will make a better world. Something that moves positively from the past to the present and into a better future.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (18:23)
Thank you so much. I’m very touched by the gesture, extremely touched by the thoughtful gift. I think it not only highlights that things change and we constantly have to adapt and I believe agility is gonna be a key, a key dimension to master, and to continue to give, to be better at. I have to say I’m extremely touched about 20 Franc, yes, because I really grew up with this currency and they will not only be close to my shirts because I’m gonna wear them Chip, but they’re gonna be very close to my heart. Thank you so much.

Chip Barnett: (19:04)
Jean-Yves Fillion from BNP Paribas. Thank you very much for being here with us.

Jean-Yves Fillion: (19:08)
Thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure.

Chip Barnett: (19:11)
And to thank you to the listeners of this latest Bond Buyer podcast live. Thanks to Kellie Malone, who did the audio production for this episode. And don’t forget to rate us, review us and subscribe at I’m Chip Barnett, and thanks again for listening.

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