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Banking and the energy transition are made for each other

Floor van Workum, Head of Energy Transition Retail at Rabobank

Starting an energy cooperative with friends. Renting a climate-neutral, sustainably built home. Leasing a heat pump. These are not topics that immediately come to mind when you think of a bank. However, under the heading 'Banker of the energy transition', it is the Rabobank that is trying to accelerate the energy transition with innovative projects. We met with Floor van Workum, Head of Energy Transition Retail at Rabobank.

Not your typical banker

“I don’t have a typical banker’s background. After studying Art History, I ended up at Rabobank through a traineeship. It was a new traineeship where they weren’t looking for the typical students who study Law or Economics, but for people with a different background and skills. People who look at things from a different angle. I like to take on challenges. I like to speed things up and to show that things can be done differently.”

Besides CEO and founder of Vista HypothekenVista Hypotheken is a division of Rabobank. Vista Hypotheken focuses mainly on consumers who are buying their first home and have an interest in sustainability. Floor has been appointed Head of Energy Transition at Rabobank. Together with Rolf Fouchier she started the program ‘Banker of the energy transition’. “It’s up to us to create eight new products that contribute to the energy transition. Innovative, scalable products, for consumers, business and wholesale customers.”

“There is a lot of social interest in the energy transition and I think it fits very well with Rabobank. The energy transition requires major investments. Generating green energy in solar parks or with wind turbines needs to be financed. The bank plays a logical role in this. The challenge is to make this profitable and to find new business models for the bank. As a cooperative, we look not only at profit but also at the value we want to add. We need to find a good balance.”

Addressing the housing shortage sustainably

“One of the most recent projects is SmartBuilds; in this project we are building new homes and are working on the energy transition at the same time. With sustainable, temporary housing, we contribute to solving housing shortages. We do this on municipal land, where regular, permanent housing is not possible or allowed. The SmartBuilds homes are built for 90-95% in the factory with sustainable, high quality materials. They are CO2 and nitrogen friendly and do not use gas. After 15 to 30 years, we move the homes to a secondary location, or take them apart and reuse the materials.”

Setting up your own energy cooperative

“One of the challenges of the energy transition is that we need to generate more energy locally. We will have to do that together. People like you and me can join so-called Energy Cooperatives for that purpose. With a number of like-minded people, you then generate sustainable energy locally, for your own use.”

“We see that in practice it still takes a lot of time, money and effort to set up your own energy cooperative. This slows down and hinders. That’s why we set up the ‘cooperative energy platform’ with Energie Samen: a digital development platform that helps people set up their own energy cooperative. We connect participants to each other, so they can learn and accelerate together. It also gives us more insight into market developments and the total investment agenda for solar and wind energy. In addition, we are investigating whether we can set up a national citizen participation fund in which you can not only invest in energy projects, but also be closely involved in projects in your neighborhood. Locally and at scale.”

It all starts with awareness

Floor believes it is important to involve as many people as possible in the energy transition. Customers, members and colleagues. “It concerns us all. The first step is to create awareness. To this end, we have set up the Rabo Energy Challenge, with which we train people to become ambassadors of the energy transition. As an ambassador, you will learn all about the energy transition and how you can contribute. And for each ambassador we plant a tree, to make the Netherlands a little greener.”

We're looking for entrepreneurs. People with a can-do mentality.
Floor van Workum

“After awareness comes execution of our plans. The projects we do require initiative, fresh ideas and determination. Our recruitment process for new colleagues is therefore different from what is usual at Rabobank. We organize boot camps in which you are given an assignment: invent a new product and test whether it works. That way you can see whether people are venturesome, work independently and think from the customer’s point of view. That is often the pitfall for us. We tend to think from the bank’s perspective. What the bank wants. But you have to look at the customer’s problem and how you are going to solve it. We are looking for people who like to investigate and really tackle problems. People with a can-do mentality.”

Different people, different talents

“The energy transition requires intensive collaboration between different disciplines and sectors. We are therefore looking for two types of people to help with this. On the one hand, in-house people with experience in innovation, and on the other, new adventurous specialists from outside the bank. People from within the bank often know very well what can and cannot be done. Risk, legal, compliance. People from outside the bank come up with fresh ideas. We recently hired someone with a political background. She knows very well how to get things done in municipalities and in politics. With her insights, she makes an important contribution to the SmartBuilds project.”

People who think they don't fit in at a bank, on the contrary, probably do.
Floor van Workum

“People who think they don’t fit in at bank probably do. You bring a different set of talents to the table. That’s the most important lesson from studying Art History. I learned to look at things from many different perspectives. You can apply that to a painting, but also to your work. If you look from a different perspective or a different angle, you will see that there are actually more opportunities and solutions than you initially thought.”