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Purposeful Business: A Lesson from Greece

By Nick Jones, Former Head of Digital Comms and CSR • Visa Europe

May 16, 2016

Visa has a corporate responsibility vision to equip young people across Europe to thrive in a digital economy. But what happens when one of our countries faces an existential economic crisis?

That’s the situation that faced Nikos Kabanopoulos, Visa’s country manager for Greece. The Grexit crisis radically altered Greek society, not just its economy. How did he respond? Nick Jones, Visa’s head of corporate responsibility in Europe, interviewed him about the €1m Greece Solidarity Fund which gives to 15 charities.

For many Visa Europe employees, last summer will be remembered for the Grexit crisis. An unprecedented situation saw Visa employees working together to manage the implications for their business. At the heart of this was Nikos Kabanopoulos, Visa’s country manager for Greece. Today, our business in Greece is prospering. The capital controls, introduced by the government, encourage record levels of card use. But Nikos looks back to one particular moment of the crisis. One when he realised Visa needed to do more than just make the system work.

“It was a Saturday evening. The banks had been closed for 18 days and were supposed to open that Monday,” recalls Nikos. At this point the bailout had been approved. “We had positive stories about cards in the press but I realised Greeks were going to learn to use cards the hard way. Our business was booming, we remained open, we provided a means for people to pay for their daily needs” That was when he realised something else needed to be done. “At the end of the day we were doing well and most people weren’t. That didn’t feel right.”

Nikos wanted to give something back. He wanted to express solidarity with the people. His idea was a solidarity fund that would support the charities hit hardest by the crisis. It would be funded by Visa and its member banks in Greece. For every POS transaction by a card, €0.02 would be allocated to the fund until it reached €1m.

So, how did Nikos go about making the fund happen? His first step was to get buy-in from the business. “I wanted our CEO’s agreement. I sent him a note that Saturday night and he agreed immediately.” Nikos’ idea was then approved at that Tuesday’s executive leadership team (ELT) meeting. He then had to invite member banks to get involved.

The first positive reaction came from the Visa Hellas Chairman who said “yes, we should do it.” Then Nikos talked to the other directors “they supported it immediately,” recalls Nikos. “They recognised the need to give something back to the people.”

Did he ever doubt it would happen? “No, I had no doubt, once we had ELT and member approval I knew it would happen.”

The next step was to ensure that charity nominations and the actual giving could all happen in the right way. “Giving money is not easy. It needs to be done properly. We had to review the charities and make sure they were not involved in any wrong doing.” Internal processes involved colleagues from Risk, Legal, Finance and Corporate Communications.

With our local agency’s invaluable support (Communication Effect),February saw the launch of the Solidarity Fund and public commitments to 15 charities. “It was an emotional moment when the charities all stood up and said a few words about the difficulties they faced,” recalls Nikos. “It is not huge money but it makes a difference and can support many, many people.” To date, ten of the charities have received their donations. They are: The Smile of the Child, The Arc of the World, SOS Children’s’ Villages. Together with the Child, Desmos, Perpato and Gefyra Zois, Praksis, Children’s Village Filiro, Melissa. The others will receive theirs by the end of June.

A marketing campaign about the fund was supported by digital activity, a TV ad, and radio promotion. The banks also promoted the fund on ATM statements and in branches.

Reflecting on what’s been achieved, Nikos notes: “There is a lot of need in the world. We do well as a business. Whatever we give back will be appreciated. I’m certain that consumers will also feel proud knowing that by using our products they contribute to a good cause.”

Nikos’ final thought is a powerful one. He recalls one of the ATM lines crowded with fellow Greeks. “We are not patient but this time there was a deafening silence. It was very powerful. Hopefully no other country has to go through that.”

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