Mary Wheeler – Regions Bank
She ensures the reports, many of which are for the bank’s environmental, social and governance initiatives, are accessible to shareholders, customers, associates and the community at large. This means ensuring the language is clear, the reports are visually appealing and they’re easy to find online.
“We want to demonstrate how invested we are in acting on our values and priorities,” the assistant general counsel of corporate governance and securities says.
Regions Bank, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, has over 1,300 branches in 15 states in the Southeast, Midwest and Texas. It also has offices in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. for specialty services, such as real estate banking, mortgage services and commercial banking.
Wheeler says the ESG reports and other disclosures show the bank’s progress in areas such as associate engagement, technology, giving back and sustainability. She helps create an in-depth annual report in addition to ESG disclosures included in proxy statements.
“Our ESG goals are very closely aligned with our broader goals and strategy,” she says. “ESG is embedded within what we do as a company.”
The 2020 ESG report, which was released in summer 2021, was its largest yet, Wheeler says. This was due in part to information on the bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustices of 2020.
To create it and other ESG reports, Wheeler works with internal departments to gather information. She also monitors developing disclosure mandates from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as industry groups’ recommendations on best reporting practices.
“I’m lucky that, across the bank, the folks we work with to develop disclosures are generous with their time and interested in making these disclosures value-added,” she says. “People are willing to contribute to that discussion, which reflects a broader collaborative spirit that runs throughout the bank.”
She says the process has made her a stronger lawyer because it allows her to better understand each department’s work, as well as the entire business and Regions’ stakeholders.
“As a regional bank, it’s important to us to provide top-notch service that meets the needs of our community and customers,” Wheeler says. “Our ESG reporting allows us to provide our stakeholders with a deeper look at just how we’re delivering this service.”
Setting lofty goals
In providing service to customers, Wheeler says accountability and transparency are essential, which is why the bank released its first-ever Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures report in 2021.
The report details the bank’s risks and opportunities related to environmental impact, and it includes plans for risk management and governance. As with the ESG reports, the climate report follows recommendations for companies, such as banks, to provide transparency on climate practices.
The climate report includes recommended topics for cross-industry disclosures, as well as Regions Bank’s goals and priorities. One of the biggest is that the bank has committed to reducing its operational emissions by 50 percent by 2030, which is based on progress it’s already made. In 2018, the bank had aimed to reduce its operational emissions by 30 percent by 2023, which it accomplished in 2020.
“It was an accomplishment, but it was also an opportunity to set a new goal,” Wheeler says. “We didn’t want to sit back and rest on our laurels.”
She says the corporate real estate and procurement group took the lead on developing this goal. In creating the TCFD report, she and the working group gathered input from across the bank to better understand the environmental impact, and goals, of various departments. Regions Bank plans to release the climate report annually, which Wheeler says will allow stakeholders and customers to track its progress.
“This allows us to highlight our internal priorities,” she says. “In the spirit of continually improving, we want to make this information available and accessible so stakeholders can utilize it as they need.”
With this being her first role with a bank, Wheeler says she appreciates how seamlessly the environmental goals fit in with the financial ones. She started at Regions in October 2018 after more than two years at an insurance company in Birmingham where she was a staff attorney for mergers and acquisitions.
Before that, she worked at Cory Watson Attorneys, a law firm in Birmingham, for four years. She started as a law clerk and was soon promoted to attorney after passing the Alabama bar.
Wheeler says the experience of working on ESG reports at Regions Bank has been rewarding because of how invested executives are. She says ESG goals aren’t seen as an afterthought and that across the bank, people are interested in the work.
“It evokes so much passion, not just in our associates, but in stakeholders too,” Wheeler says. “It shows that underneath the products and services we offer, there are real humans doing this work and feeling so passionate about it.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2022 Edition here.
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