A Partial Pivot During Covid-19 Saw This Company Produce A Virtual ESG Strategy For Businesses

Edward Senju, Sansan’s Regional Chief Executive Officer

Business contact management solutions provider, Sansan had to make a partial pivot when Covid-19 struck last year which then led to a sudden drop in the number of paper business cards being exchanged due to lockdowns.

June last year, the pivot materialised in the form of a paper-free business card solution that is now called the Sansan Virtual Card.

“These not only help people exchange cards during online meetings but also provide a ESG-friendly way of doing so,” Edward Senju, Sansan’s Regional Chief Executive Officer tells BusinessToday via an email exchange.

Since the innovative inception, Sansan saw a big spike in awareness and demand for the virtual business cards among companies in Malaysia and the wider region. “Not only do they appreciate the ESG credentials of digital versus paper-based business cards, but they know how easy it is to exchange these virtual cards during online meetings.”

Over 4,300 customers have adopted these virtual cards and with a handful of them from Malaysia.

At the end of last year, Sansan integrated its virtual cards into the Microsoft Teams platform and have also made it easy for users to set them in a QR code format as their virtual backgrounds in Zoom.

“We see a lot of pros to the Sansan virtual business card, while the cons are really very insignificant given the digital world we are currently living in. In addition to being more green as already mentioned, they offer all the rich, accurate, first-party data of paper business cards,” Senju says.

Senju highlights that the move to virtualise the cards comes as a significant part of the business’s broader digital transformation strategy.

The con, of course as Senju says, is the absence of a paper copy of the card. But in the digital age today, it is not as big of a problem as it might have been 20 years ago in the rolodex era.

Raising Awareness

“The best way to increase awareness around virtual business cards is to shout about not only their ESG credentials but also the deeper business case in terms of data,” he says.

Business cards are considered first-party data, implying consent to do business with the person exchanged. This, Senju considers to be very valuable to companies and is different from second-party data, which is shared with partners.

Third-party data, like lead lists, may be sold widely and may even be outdated, not to mention some of the gray privacy issues it can create.

One Google study found that 93 percent of leading marketers stressed the importance of first-party data in learning what people want.

And with more companies embracing ESG strategies, Sansan believes this initiative will improve their ESG credentials via the shift from paper to digital business cards. 

According to a recent MSCI 2021 Global Institutional Investor survey, around 79 percent of investors in Asia-Pacific increased ESG investments “significantly” or “ moderately” in response to Covid-19.

This is a slightly larger share than the 77 percent of investors globally who upped sustainable investments during the period. Overall, the figure rose to 90 percent for the largest institutions , or those with over $200 billion of assets, the survey found.


“We would love to see government agencies in countries like Malaysia but also the wider Southeast Asia region and internationally, trialling virtual business cards in pilot projects,” Senju says.

“If they like the result, they can then roll out the virtual cards more widely across government bodies and agencies.”

Senju also highlights that public-private-collaborations not only makes the government department more resilient during lockdowns and helps to drive digital transformation of the public sector, but also increases ESG awareness and efforts.

And while Sansan does not directly work with partners to evaluate the environmental impact of their businesses, the company is aware through conversations that virtual cards are viewed as an important ESG initiative by many of them.

“In terms of our own environmental efforts at Sansan, we are very proud of our tree-planting initiative, which has planted a total of 7,227 trees as of August 1, 2020 .We believe sustainably growing our business will lead not only to solving social issues, but also maximising shareholder and corporate value,” Senju tells BusinessToday.

“We recognise the social importance of restoring natural capital in order to maintain sustainable business activities, and are carrying out our CSV activity, “Scan for Trees,” through our core business,” he goes on to say.

Sansan plants one tree — in areas in Japan impacted by disasters — every time the total number of business cards digitised via Sansan reaches the equivalent of one tree.

So far, trees have been planted in areas in Japan affected by disasters such as Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, and Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture.


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