Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) initiatives are a growing focus of corporations across all mass market sectors. Though cynics may argue that the policies function largely as a public relations exercise, for Robert Hoskin this is far from the case.
To date Hoskin’s career reflects the ever-changing landscape of igaming, witnessing first-hand PartyGaming’s transition through subsequent M&As with Bwin, GVC Holdings and a sector defining merger with Ladbrokes Coral that subsequently led to the creation of Entain Plc.
Irrespective of changes, he has served as a stalwart for the group’s governance directives and responsibility charter, having been promoted to the FTSE100 gambling group’s board as Chief Governance Officer on 1 January 2021.
Though the blunt reality of igaming valuations points towards shareholder interests being served by transactions and acquisitions, Hoskin maintained that sustainability remains a key priority and objective of investors.
“ESG has become ever more important, particularly in the last two or three years. What it underlines is that people see that the most sustainable businesses are usually the most successful businesses,” he remarked.
“Shareholders want you to be as successful as possible. So whilst they like us to enter into these corporate transactions and successful M&A and build JV partnerships, they expect us also to take a wider perspective and engagement with all our stakeholders and to manage our relationships appropriately.”
Investor interest in ESG initiatives requires extensive and transparent reporting in order for a company to prove to its primary stakeholders, be it customers, regulators, employees, communities etc, that sustainability is a recognised and valued discipline.
Yet beyond its investor appeal, ESG is a difficult competence to achieve or even identify for corporations as the environment, sustainability and ethics of governance are not static factors. Instead they tend to be largely influenced and changed by society, markets, consumer and cultural demands.
“Each company needs to report on its own ESG matters,” the CGO continued. “Every business is different, but one of the key things is to show transparency and responsibility.
“Our Entain Sustain conference really showed that transparency. You need to regularly report where you are on your ESG journey so that you can be held responsible and people can see where you are making investments and how these are working.”
Hosting a dedicated ESG conference last year, Entain secured ‘extremely positive’ feedback from attendees, providing transparency and clarity on ESG as the topic becomes ever more important in the contemporary gambling sector.
The company has been a guiding principle since its inception in November 2020, with the firm having sought to adopt “higher standards of corporate governance across the group” whilst also “looking to continue to grow and evolve”.
Describing Entain’s approach towards ESG, Hoskin detailed the ‘four limbs’ to the group’s strategy – the first two being making a commitment to operating only in regulated markets and adopting high standards across the company whilst striving to “review, improve and evolve corporate governance itself”.
The third limb, one which is of major significance to the firm, is its ARC (Advanced Responsibility and Care) programme, whilst Hoskin highlighted the fourth as a commitment to “provide the best place to work for colleagues and also invest in our local communities”.
He added: “It’s the right thing to do, but also for colleagues it builds an additional bond as they see us investing in the community that we have an impact on.”
With regards to Entain’s approach to its workforce, diversity and inclusion has also been a core goal of its governance policies, with Hoskin highlighting how a diverse workforce leads to a stronger cross-group combination of skills, experiences, perspectives and capabilities.
“Our colleagues interact in various ways with customers – we’re a global business,” he commented. “Customers have their own experiences that have come from their own culture and so the more diverse our colleagues’ spectrum is the better we are at being able to service our customers. It’s an area we were focused on, we know we need to improve on and that’s very much our aim.”
Entain’s inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), on Bloomberg’s list of the top 50 sustainable companies and most recently its place on the list of the UK’s most admired companies as a result of its approach to ESG are well publicised.
However, an additional benefit of ESG is not only that it promotes a positive image of a company to consumers but also to its own workforce, whether this be on issues such as diversity, support for sports or environmentalism.
“We’re proud of being one of the very small number of companies in the FTSE100 that has a female CEO, and our board is 40% women,” Hoskin continued.
“Colleagues want to see companies mature and properly engage in matters around diversity and inclusion, they want to see programmes implemented which improve diversity matters, which is very much what Entain has been doing since 2018.”
“They also want to feel proud of the company they’re working with, where the group is engaging with communities whether via the Pitching In initiative providing funding for football clubs, whether its funding for Olympic athletes – these are projects which are very important to sports bodies but also to colleagues.”
This too, is the case on environmental issues, Hoskin added, an area which has seen Entain lay out an ambition to become carbon neutral by 2035. The CGO stated: “We’re all human beings and see the debate around environmentalism, and we see that it’s the right thing for the company to look at its footprint and impact on the environment, and plan to minimise that.
“It’s the right thing to do. The feedback we’ve had from colleagues in years gone by, we’ve seen they want us to focus on the environment and our impact on the environment, and that’s what we’ve been doing and will continue to do.”
Meanwhile, on customer protection, the aforementioned ARC programme in particular has been one of Entain’s biggest developments with regards to ESG. It has fit neatly with the agenda that has been at the forefront of its operations since 2020 – namely that companies which place sustainability as a property often experience the best performance.
The proof of ARC’s success is in its results, Hoskin maintained, with 91% of higher risk customers moved into a medium or low-risk category as a result of their interaction with the programme. Meanwhile, there has also been a 30% reduction in customers being transferred into higher-risk categories.
“We want to use our technology to provide the best environment for players – not just entertaining them but also protecting them,” he added.
“Our ARC programme is key to that. We don’t see customers as a pool of people, we aim to understand the risks applying to and the experience of each individual customer, and to manage them.
“The vast majority of customers experience gambling with no issues at all, and it’s just that very small minority that are potentially at risk. The ARC programme allows us on an individual tailored bassis to manage any risks and ensure people are enjoying the experience.”
Entain aims to focus on rolling out ARC internationally to fulfil a number of key ambitions for 2022. Looking to the US, where the firm was recently the recipient of the Socially Responsible Operator of the Year at the SBC Awards, Hoskin predicted that ARC could play a role in the stateside betting sector as it continues to evolve.
“I think that as the US market matures – we’ve already started to see some debate on advertising in the US – that ARC will figure in the debate, and we will obviously discuss with our joint venture partner MGM, and with the management at MGM at the appropriate time, how ARC may assist the BetMGM offering in the states.”
As BetMGM scales across US states, Entain has bolstered its JV with an uncoachable ESG mandate and corporate identity beyond gambling… let’s hope other incumbents are paying attention.