As the No 2 at one of Britain's leading banks, Richard Meddings has his hands full with the day job. But a campaigning role that started as a sideline has grown in significance for Standard Chartered's finance director. "Sometimes I say that being chairman of Seeing is Believing is in many ways more – or no less – important than being finance director of Standard Chartered," he says at the bank's head office near Moorgate in the City of London.
Seeing is Believing is the bank's campaign to combat avoidable blindness in emerging markets, where Standard Chartered makes almost all of its profits. Like its importance to Mr Meddings, the campaign's momentum took the bank by surprise. When an employee hatched the idea to mark Standard Chartered's 150th anniversary in 2003, the bank aimed to raise funds for 28,000 sight restorations – one for each employee at the time.
"We soon doubled that and it became clear that the campaign resonated with our staff so we said: 'OK, let's go for a really big target of $1m' and we raised that quickly too,'" says Mr Meddings, wearing his green and blue Seeing is Believing wristbands.
He says there are three reasons the campaign has caught on with employees, customers and investors. "The first is that thinking about curing someone who is blind is very powerful," he says. "For the $30 cost of a cataract operation you can enable a child or an adult who is blind to see and it's heart-grabbing. The second is that there is very powerful quality control. We are bankers, not eye experts, so we fund projects run by Orbis, Sightsavers and other high-reputation NGOs." The third selling point is "gearing – you give me £10 and we will turn it into £20 because we match every contribution".
The campaign is now on track to exceed $37m by the end of this year. The sources of the money include staff fundraising efforts, clients, investors and public donations – all of which the bank doubles.
By working with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an umbrella NGO, the bank says it has restored the sight of 2.8 million people and funded training for surgeons, education and prevention measures that have benefited 23 million people, mainly in developing Asia and Africa.
The campaign's UK showcase next month will see 6,500 financial workers run through the Square Mile in the 5km Standard Chartered Great City Race. The bank expects the race to rake in up to $150,000 for Seeing is Believing, including £5 from each entry fee, sponsorship and its own matching funds. Seeing is Believing takes up about 5 per cent of Mr Meddings's time. His work includes chairing management committee meetings every six weeks to review how fundraising efforts and projects are performing.
He is in Kenya and Tanzania this week on business and will visit projects in each country. The project in Tanzania, where about 1.35 million people are blind or visually impaired, benefits directly from the bank's fundraising in the UK.
"Part of my role is to generate publicity internally and externally, including meetings like this one," he says. "It's about maintaining the energy levels after eight years to continue to raise funds for Seeing is Believing." And there will be no letting up. "This year we will get to $38m or $39m and then we will go again. You will see us not just continue the commitment levels but step them up."
But why all this activity? There must be something in it for the bank.
Like all its "sustainability" activities – which also include working to educate a million people about HIV/Aids and distributing anti-Malaria nets in Africa – Seeing is Believing is meant to help the economies where the bank operates.
Mr Meddings says the campaign also galvanises staff and builds the bank's reputation. Governments like the fact that the bank is contributing directly to the mainly poor countries in which it operates; graduate hopefuls in the UK cite Seeing is Believing as a reason for applying; and clients – who often contribute to the campaign – get a warm glow.
In Britain, Standard Chartered has a low profile outside the City – its home since 1853. With no UK high-street branches, it is perhaps best known for sponsoring Liverpool FC. But the bank has become increasingly influential as Asia, Africa and the Middle East have increased in economic importance and the bank has shed its reputation as an accident-prone "banana-skin bank".
Posting record profits throughout the financial crisis and producing the blueprint for the 2008 banking bailout have not done Mr Meddings and his chief executive Peter Sands any harm either.
With about only 1,000 out of 80,000 employees based in the UK, which is dwarfed by its businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore and other emerging markets, it would make more sense for Standard Chartered to quit Britain than for other banks considering doing so. But Mr Meddings says: "We want to stay in the UK."
Yet he says the political and regulatory response to the crisis is too skewed towards capital and liquidity rules that will limit banks' ability to lend.
He adds that the UK debate focuses too much on bashing the banks and that Standard Chartered sees itself in a different category anyway.
"Through the crisis we have produced record profits year in and year out, we have continued to lend to corporates and SMEs and we haven't taken a penny of government money.
"We are a very good bank with a good culture and we are doing the stuff that governments in the West complain banks aren't doing. We do that by making good profits and actively contributing to the communities we serve."
CV – Richard Meddings
* A dental operation the day before will keep Richard Meddings out of this year's Standard Chartered Great City Race through London on 14 July. He ran the 5km course in 26 minutes last year and 29 minutes in 2009, when he ran blindfolded and tied to a colleague.
* He joined Standard Chartered in 2002 as director in charge of risk management and became group finance director in a management shake-up in 2006.
* Mr Meddings was finance director at the Woolwich when it was sold in 2000 to Barclays, where he worked before moving to Standard Chartered.
* He was born in 1958 and educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School. After graduating in history from Exeter College, Oxford, he qualified as an accountant with Price Waterhouse.
* Tipped as a potential boss of Standard Chartered, Mr Meddings is married with three children and likes golf, cricket and football. True to his Black Country roots, he supports Wolverhampton Wanderers.Reuse content