Rabobank has set its sights on being recognised as a 'leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR)'. According to Gilles Boumeester, general manager of Rabobank International, northeast Asia, the bank takes 'CSR very seriously'. He says there are two reasons for Rabobank to be serious about CSR. The first is historical, as the bank's origins lie in its rural Dutch roots when enterprising farmers, who with little access to the capital market, decided to help each other by establishing loan co-operatives. The welfare of farmers has remained central to the bank's philosophy ever since, Boumeester says. Secondly, Boumeester says, a strong CSR culture helps to encourage companies to behave and plays a big role in Rabobank's long-term development. Rabobank has a separate CSR department in its Dutch headquarters, but in Asia it has a CSR officer who reports to the general manager. The bank took several initiatives in retail banking last year to increase economic participation, social cohesion and solidarity. CSR has become a must-do in the agenda of most companies in Hong Kong and is viewed as not only about philanthropy, but also the benefits that can be reaped by incorporating CSR into business strategies and operations. Good CSR practices are gaining importance locally and many companies hire professionals to take care of this area of the business, and market it to consumers and the media. CSR is also a means for companies to gain market access and customer loyalty, and to attract and retain top talent globally, resulting in long-term business sustainability. It makes good business sense for CSR to be part of a company's boardroom agenda and to have a trained professional taking care of the CSR department. Hiring a professional also leads to CSR initiatives becoming part of the company's marketing strategy. Since the financial crisis in 2008, most multinationals and global banks have been highlighting their corporate social responsibility credentials. According to a recent Annual Global CEO survey, 64 per cent of CEOs globally sense a shift in consumers' preferences - they believe consumers will place a higher emphasis on a company's environmental and CSR practices before making a purchase. In Asia-Pacific, 58 per cent of CEOs say they agree with the consumer preferences. HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia have taken initiatives to work with local communities on projects such as the environment, helping the elderly and other community charity services.