Leverage. Understanding it and wielding it effectively is key to being successful in business and life. And while at a personal level most of us consider ourselves in control of our own leverage – putting it to use in job interviews, pay negotiations and personal relationships – we are acutely aware of our lack of leverage at a macro level. Who are we to change the world?
Of course, this is why the notion of democracy – our contribution to collective leverage – is such a powerful idea. But with politicians increasingly failing to deliver post-polling day, there’s growing disillusionment about the role of democracy as an effective lever for change.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean society’s ability to collectively leverage is dead in the water. In fact, building leverage for issues we care about can now be found in a more modern and accessible polling booth: our wallet.
Business – the new face of collective social leverage
In Australia, we’ve seen this play out most recently (and with dramatic effect) in the marriage equality debate. Despite the majority of Australians in favour of same sex marriage being legalised, our government continues to stall on what is now globally accepted as a fundamental human right. But while the public sector continues to fall short, the private sector is increasingly responsive to community pressure to change the status quo, and is prepared to use its economic leverage to push the government to take action. In March this year, more than 30 CEOs from companies such as Qantas, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra and ANZ penned an open letter to the government, urging them to legislate on the issue.
Feelgood factor aside, many of these CEOs are aware it makes good business sense to take a values-based stand. Customer research conducted by Qantas indicates that, thanks in part to its values-led advocacy, the national carrier’s trust and reputation scores are now the strongest on record. In an environment of eroded consumer confidence and trust in big brands, this is significant. This year, the Qantas share price hit a decade high.
Of course, the danger with such strategies in today’s hyper-social world are ensuring public positions aren’t seen as tokenism. As advertising executive Alex Holder points out in her latest Guardian opinion piece, ‘Sex doesn’t sell any more, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it.’ Brands who are caught out face an unenviable roasting on social media, a hit to earnings and a reputation in tatters. Values-led branding is a precarious balancing act, especially for multinationals or businesses with complex supply chains.
Slacktivism and the conscious consumer’s wallet
While brands such as Qantas are increasingly attuned to the conscious consumer’s wallet, a bigger convergence of armchair activism, otherwise known as slacktivism, and consumers’ digital wallets is under way. Rather than just seek out brands who have taken a public stance on a single issue, consumers are now gravitating towards fintech providers who can help give their money a voice through the collective leverage of their dollars.
If politicians won’t take action on climate change, then consumers will by investing more heavily in green energy producers. If governments won’t take effective measures to tackle gender pay inequality, then consumers will by investing in companies with gender diversity as a priority.
Fintech-sponsored slacktivism has arrived
In the US, Swell helps its customers ‘Invest in Progress’, offering six portfolios containing a basket of publicly traded companies they believe “stand to grow based on important social and environmental trends”.
In Australia, Goodments is helping investors match with companies that share its environmental, social and ethical values. Just last week, the Australian arm of micro-investment app Acorns announced the launch of its Emerald Portfolio, a socially responsible investment option. And local online brokerage Stake helps Australian investors filter potential US stock purchases based on personal preferences, such as investing in companies led by women.
Impact investing hits mainstream
The socially conscious use of money is well and truly the next wave of collective leverage. And while the concept isn’t new – impact investing and conscious consumerism have been around for decades – the technology to facilitate its widespread take-up is.
There will always be power in pure activism; in getting out of our armchairs and pounding the streets with our placards. But the fact is, these sorts of behaviours are only exhibited by the minority. We shouldn’t dismiss the collective power of everyone doing a little something from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy.
While it’s easy to pigeonhole slacktivism as a negative byproduct of today’s ego-driven, social avatar orientated society, it’s possibly too hasty and intellectually basic a characterisation. Instead, it’s arguable that fintech-sponsored slacktivism is shaping up to be the next evolution of digital activism, and may just be the modern-day Archimedes’ Lever millennials have been looking for.
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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Photo by Unsplash, CC0