May 22, 2024 — blog

Industry Talks: European Regulations - Liability or Edge? Ep 2

Silke Talk series 1 website

To follow up the conversation connecting the regulatory practices and innovation, our Investment Manager, Hanna Selvaag Wangsmo, explores the impact from the corporate perspective with Chief Compliance Officer at Telenor, Silke Hitschke.

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Telenor Group is a leading telecommunications company across the Nordics and Asia with 209 million subscribers and annual sales of around NOK 81 billions (2023). With over 11.000 employees and 8 markets, Telenor is listed at Oslo Stock Exchange.

Telenor box

Hanna: What regulation is most important for your company, and how do you work on it day-to-day?

Silke: After having stepped up heavily in the GDPR area during the last years, the most important regulation currently is of course the ESRS. We have been proactive in preparing for the upcoming regulation since last year and conducted a comprehensive gap analysis, at the same time as we went through a reorganization of our company governance. The initial question was "which standards are essential for us and which do we really need to follow?" As part of my role as an internal auditor for ESG I gained a very good overview of the full list of standards ‘out there’. It's quite a landscape – covering everything from environment and climate, to social, and the Gs [governance]. 

Our primary focus is on regulatory requirements, particularly the ESRS, coming up now that we must comply with. Additionally, we take into account the preferences and expectations of our many stakeholders, as for example the Norwegian state, our majority owners, NGOs, the Board of Directors as well as our customers. We aim to incorporate relevant standards that align with our company's context and perspectives.

Hanna: What is the magnitude of the implementation of ESRS in a company like Telenor?

Silke: It is substantial. Right now, we have moved from the preparatory phase to the implementation phase to establish the necessary framework and incorporate these new requirements into our regular day-to-day processes and operations. A team of experts from various departments across the company are working on this project – ranging from finance, sustainability, procurement, compliance, and legal. In addition, we are collaborating with external consultants to ensure alignment with industry best practices wherever possible. 

As we move forward implementing all basics in a structured and sustainable way, we focus on working in harmonizing ESG reporting with our existing reporting processes. So, ESG reporting will be similar to the financial reporting practices.

Hanna: ESG - In your opinion, does regulation and reporting lead to meaningful action and change in behaviour - or are companies generally happy once they meet the reporting requirements?

Silke: In Telenor, our commitment to ESG is very much related to our corporate ambitions, to what we want to achieve as a company. We have high ambitions when it comes to sustainability, particularly in areas like reducing environmental impact, promoting social responsibility, and maintaining robust governance structures. These ambitions drive our overall goals and ultimately how we would like to serve society - to use some big words.  

With the ESRS, the approach will help us in a structured way to make these important topics more visible and becoming better incorporated in our day-to-day operations. We anticipate changes in our ways of working and behaviours, but it is a path we have been committed to for quite some time. It is not a 180-degree turnaround, it is just a more focused and structured way of doing the right things which are high on our agenda – an ongoing development.

Hanna: ESG – Who is pushing for change? External stakeholders such as your investors, or internal stakeholders?

Silke: I think the push comes from both sides. While we certainly consider the expectations of our investors and other key stakeholders, any changes align with our company’s own aspirations and preferences of our internal stakeholders. With regards to the investors, their support reinforces our commitment, as they appreciate our visions, recognize our dedication, and view ESRS positively. And – needless to say - investors value companies that prioritize stakeholder interests.

Hanna: As you have mentioned, ESRS represents a huge implementation project. How does this impact your competitiveness in other regions outside Europe?

Silke: Of course, ESRS compliance comes with a cost, but I firmly believe it serves as a competitive advantage. It is what makes us better and standing out from the crowd. It attracts a certain type of global investors because we have that specific company long-term view emphasizing sustainable growth over short-term gains. This resonates with the preferences of investors who are interested in stability and responsible investments. Global awareness of ESG issues grows continuously and I am convinced that firms committed to it are highly attractive for investment also outside Europe.

“Of course, ESRS compliance comes with a cost, but I firmly believe it serves as a competitive advantage. It is what makes us better and standing out from the crowd.”

— Silke Hitschke, Chief Compliance Officer at Telenor

Hanna: Can regulation such as ESRS drive innovation in compliance? What opportunities do you see?

Silke: Companies with a strong ESG focus often lead the way in critical areas such as renewable energy, clean technology, and circular economy solutions. Their innovations address pressing global challenges. As Telenor, a tech company, we recognize the need for constant innovation. Our in-house expertise and research and development efforts drive innovation, both in business solutions and ESG domains and compliance-related areas, where specialized knowledge is needed to understand both the topic and how smart solutions can be developed. 

That being said, I think the compliance area remains a “late comer” in terms of technical development. Why? Because compliance assessments often involve judgment calls based on context and situations. The challenge lies in gathering more evidence—data and facts—to objectively demonstrate compliance effectiveness. We want to move beyond assumptions and gut feelings. This is currently the most significant challenge in the compliance industry.

But then the next big question is: "where do you find the necessary data?" "And what kind of data do you need?" There are no readily available compliance systems offering that data, meaning relevant data must be collected broadly from diverse sources: risk, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, procurement records, finance data, and more. The real challenge lies in effectively combining and analysing this data in a meaningful and efficient manner.

By aligning with ESRS, we not only meet regulatory demands but also push ourselves to find innovative solutions for responsible business practices, bridging the gap between judgment-based assessments and data-driven insights.

Hanna: How can AI play a role in the compliance area?

There are huge opportunities, and I think we don't even understand yet how much AI can do for us. Compliance isn't a straightforward black-and-white domain. It involves nuanced assessments within specific contexts and operational processes. These gray areas generate a constant stream of questions within the company: "Can we accept this?" "Are we allowed to do that?" "How far can we push the boundaries?" AI can be a powerful ally in addressing these queries. Beyond basic chatbots providing practical advice, AI has the capacity to compare and analyse dilemmas across various scenarios. It can enhance visibility into high-risk areas, enabling proactive management– it would be fantastic if we could leverage AI for this.

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