DigFin Green is our occasional series profiling leaders in fintech companies addressing environment, social, and governance (ESG) solutions, using technology to power financial services towards sustainable outcomes.
Julie Lindenberg is CEO for Asia Pacific at Cogo, a New Zealand-based technology company inserting users’ carbon imprint data into their mobile banking apps.
The company was founded in 2010 as Conscious Consumers by Ben Gleisner, former economist at the New Zealand Treasury who wanted to turn climate-policy talk into action. The company pivoted to build a standalone app that would enable users to measure their carbon footprint, but today the strategy is to embed its analytics within the consumer apps of banks and fintech partners.
Lindenberg, previously an executive at Fiserv, this year took on the role of CEO for Asia Pacific, driving the business in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
What problem are you addressing?
Banks want to help consumers understand their carbon footprint, and help them take action. But there’s a lot of conflicting data and lifestyle advice. It’s like, which diet do you go on?
We call this “carbon literacy”. It’s like financial literacy, but around how your spending impacts emissions.
Some banks, like our partner Westpac in Australia, want to do this so they can show their customers that they are concerned about the climate and want to help people change their habits. It’s a form of social duty, and bank CEOs love the glory of being able to say, “We helped our customers reduce their emissions by X percent.”
Other banks want to measure the carbon imprint of businesses they lend to – because if a business has a very high emissions level, it may not be a sustainable business. We help banks understand the risk profile of smaller enterprises.
What does Cogo do?
We build integrated banking experiences. By embedding our software in a bank’s consumer or small-business customer app, we score a user’s carbon footprint based on their spending habits.
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It starts with education. No one knows what their carbon footprint is. Then it’s action. We can give a person a score, but so what? So we provide ways to help people reduce that footprint. Ultimately we want to help them change their spending habits. We customize these scores by market, to educate people both about how their profile compares against other people in their country, and versus what would make for a more sustainable lifestyle.
What does this look like in practice?
Banks use Cogo in different ways. For example, in the U.K., NatWest offers Cogo to its app users on an opt-in basis. Westpac in Australia tells us they will simply offer Cogo to all their customers, although there will be an ability to opt out.
We have a team of behavioral scientists, because it’s important to avoid making users feel guilty. Small, cumulative changes in spending habits can add up.
We have also learned the context of the information is important. For example, composting is a big deal in New Zealand, and people do it to reduce emissions from food waste. But the Japanese don’t do it – I think it might even be illegal in some parts of Japan. Similarly, in Australia, we encourage people to put solar panels on their roofs, but no one in Hong Kong lives in a house. So whatever we suggest to users has to be measurable and attainable – whether it’s a series of small actions or something big.
What else do we need to know?
We also partner with fintechs that in turn work with banks. In Asia we work with MoneyThor in Singapore and Planto in Hong Kong, and we’ve just announced a partnership with MoneyTree in Japan. We help these fintechs categorize their data, so they can apply an emissions factor to the products they build for banks.
We’re also looking to partner with the big consultants.
While we have traction with large global banks, in Asia we’re also looking to work with payments platforms.
We’re looking at ways to enter the China market, using Hong Kong as a base. We are developing relationships in Hong Kong with banks that operate in mainland China, as well as with consultants to help draw market-entry plans. But I think the next market we’ll enter is Malaysia, because they have strong local emissions data.