Measuring the Work That Impacts the Soul of a Company
Reflections on data’s essential role in a corporate responsibility program.
There has never been a time during Johnathan Kearney’s career when he has not been drawn to data. For nearly 25 years, the self-described data geek leveraged data and its increasingly abundant and sophisticated capture mechanisms to lead risk management and credit risk reporting functions for some of the largest banks in the Southeast before taking on his current data-intensive role as business analytics group manager for PNC’s Corporate Responsibility Group.
“I have always had a deep appreciation for data, what it can tell us and how it can help us develop solutions to business challenges,” says Kearney, a North Carolina State University graduate who joined PNC Bank through its acquisition of RBC Bank (USA) more than one decade ago.
Kearney’s unrelenting commitment to accuracy and data integrity proved to be integral to the success he found in his former role managing balance sheet analytics and modeling for PNC’s business-critical enterprise and credit risk reporting team. Meanwhile, his passion for mentorship and employee development helped shape a pipeline of PNC leaders, while his membership in the North Carolina Bankers Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Council is helping create impact within the financial services landscape of his home state. So it should come as no surprise that when PNC’s Corporate Responsibility Officer was searching in 2020 for a talented visionary to oversee data analytics and reporting for PNC’s increasingly extensive and far-ranging community commitments, he turned to Kearney.
A pronounced focus on corporate responsibility and its measurement was not at all new for PNC at the time of Kearney’s appointment; the bank has consistently produced data to quantify its community commitments and earn an 'Outstanding’ Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rating in every performance evaluation issued since enactment of the CRA more than 40 years ago. But when Kearney joined PNC’s Corporate Responsibility Group in 2020 against the backdrop of immense change, opportunity and growth within the company, the importance of elevating awareness, accountability and transparency for corporate responsibility efforts had never been more important.
Contributing to the magnitude of that consequential period was PNC’s impending acquisition of BBVA (USA), which when completed in 2021 resulted in a significantly expanded geographic footprint and employee base. Accompanying this acquisition was PNC’s development of an ambitious $88 billion, four-year Community Benefits Plan, designed to create meaningful – and measurable – impact for LMI individuals, communities and people of color through financing for residential mortgage and home equity lending, small business loans, community financing loans and investments, and additional charitable giving.
“During the development of the Community Benefits Plan, there was no question that data would play a central role in defining, quantifying and communicating the company’s deployment of capital and resources to deliver on its commitments, while providing visibility to tangible outcomes of its nationwide corporate responsibility efforts,” says Kearney. “A corporate responsibility program or initiative is about so much more than compliance or checking boxes. I heard our CEO, Bill Demchak, reference this as the work that impacts the soul of a company. And data is integral to understanding how and where we can most effectively maximize our impact, setting goals, measuring progress and shining a light on the stories that emerge from our community commitments.”
While Kearney’s colleagues may synonymize his work with the sophisticated reporting dashboards and data visualizations for which he has become known, these finished deliverables represent just a small fraction of what his role entails. “I spend the majority of my time exploring, researching and discussing with business partners the challenges and opportunities the company is looking to address, as well as relevant trends and indicators that provide context for those challenges and opportunities,” he says. “Only then do I step away and use data to address the objective or question at hand.”
As digital and information technology innovations lead to increased availability and access to data, Kearney emphasizes that the business imperative of data stewardship cannot be overstated – and that more data doesn’t always translate to better data. “When leveraging data for measurement and reporting, it is essential for organizations to preserve the integrity of that data by understanding and respecting its intended use – and by being transparent about methodology,” he says.
For organizations in the process of implementing and enhancing corporate responsibility programs, Kearney encourages leaders to be intentional about developing measurable objectives that can be shared with their employees for accountability and transparency. “Once a corporate responsibility program is put in place, employees want to see it continue,” he says. “Incorporating data-driven metrics from the outset – and then regularly reporting on progress –will go a long way when it comes to demonstrating impact and integrity.”