Is COVID-19 Accelerating Responsible Investing in the Financial Services Sector? | Blog

Climate risk discussions and regulations had been gaining great momentum in the past six months as there had been increasing pushes from regulatory bodies and central banks to start stress testing climate risk scenarios. While the discussions have been somewhat back-burnered due to the pandemic, they will begin again in earnest during the post COVID-19 recovery period. And they will jump to the top of financial institutions’ (FIs) risk management agendas, instead of continuing to be considered a CSR activity.

Why COVID-19 will accelerate ESG reporting

Given the erosion in investment value across asset classes over the last couple of months, investors are looking to get better returns, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds have performed better. Indeed, a Morningstar analysis of 206 responsible investing funds found that 70% of these equity funds outperformed their peers in Q1 2020.  As the social component of ESG brings to focus companies’ relationships with their employees and customers, the governance aspect will also gain attention. Dedicated risk committees and boards of directors will set the tone for firms’ communication and branding strategies.

Another driving force will be the rising influence of millennial investors. As they move toward more socially responsible investing, firms that achieve high ESG scores will be the preferred choice for these investors. FIs won’t want to miss out on this growing segment and will look to align their portfolios accordingly to be an attractive investment opportunity. This change will spur the ESG reporting initiatives at these institutions and lead to evolution of the industry ecosystem as well.

Evolution of the industry ecosystem

FIs have ramped up hiring as they build their sustainability teams and task forces. Credit rating agencies and data firms like Moody’s and S&P have started to acquire climate risk analytics firms to enhance their coverage of ESG data reporting. Stock exchanges around the world are launching multiple ESG indices to measure listed companies’ commitment to ESG. Asset management firms are gradually incorporating ESG factors into their investment strategies while announcing divestment from industries that are considered problematic from an ESG reporting perspective. We are also seeing an uptick in the demand for sustainability consultants at financial services firms, with more than 15% year-on-year growth as demonstrated by job postings for sustainability roles in the financial services industry.

Current challenges for financial institutions

No clear framework has yet been institutionalized for FIs to start reporting their climate disclosures. Only broad frameworks exist that can serve as a baseline for them to start initiating stress tests and checking their exposures. Further, they face two major problems with consolidating and analyzing the right data sets. One is identifying the right data sources and the kind of data needed for analysis. The other is defining the methodology they should use to analyze these data sets. FIs’ existing analysis models and scenarios have been built with a timeline of five to 10 years. But incorporating climate risk into them requires scenario planning that looks 15 to 25 years into the future and into past data records as well.

So, what are the implications for FIs as climate talks and green investing discussions gain momentum?

  • Uptick in demand for data science teams and AI/machine learning themes FIs will need to set up extensive data warehouses and data lakes to analyze large and complex data sets to make efficient decisions. AI and machine learning themes will help in identifying correlations and anomalies in the comprehensive company data. There will be a rise in demand for AI programs and NLP algorithms that can help in assessing these data points.
  • Talent conundrum for executing sustainability initiatives In addition to the technology talent needed to tap into the data sets, there will be demand for sustainability consultants, ESG portfolio managers, and analysts who can act on the data insights. FIs will need to tap young talent from premier institutions and grow in-house talent to scale the talent landscape for sustainability initiatives.
  • Incorporate ESG data from partners into risk management FIs will have to embed ESG analysis into various facets of risk management like credit risk calculations and use it to identify and quantify the impact of emerging risks. The need for comprehensive climate risk data is fueling the emergence of ESG ratings data by start-ups and credit ratings firms like S&P. Partnering with one of these vendors will provide access to these scores that FIs can incorporate in the broader analysis.
  • Investments in communication and branding initiatives Given the rise of millennial investors who prefer to align their investments with their values, FIs will need to substantially invest in building a socially responsible brand to bring forth the right narrative. Thus, FIs will need to review their portfolios to align with ESG values and bring in the right industry leaders to drive the sustainability agenda.
  • Increased interest in service providers’ carbon footprints Increasing pressure on FIs for responsible and green investing will soon start to impact their sourcing decisions. Outsourcing and vendor management teams should start to assess their vendor portfolios on sustainability considerations like green procurement policy, waste management, carbon management, etc.

Everest Group’s take

Purpose-built platforms that are digital and cloud-ready for FIs to cost effectively scale their ESG strategies are currently in their nascent stages. There’s an urgent need to fill this gap.

There’s no single source of truth for the ESG data and the methodology to analyze it. FIs are unsure which data scores to utilize in their analysis and are increasingly setting up in-house ESG platforms to analyze ESG data and manage the end-to-end product value chain. This is a greenfield opportunity for vendors to gain first-mover advantage in this dynamic scenario and onboard FIs onto their platforms.

The current health crisis has only reinforced the need for sustainable investing, and governments have mobilized efforts to stress test their financial services sectors. As supply chains across the world are disrupted, investors are looking for safe havens in the form of companies that can weather such crises. FIs need to act fast to capture market share from the new generation of investors and tap into returns from ESG funds or risk being disintermediated in the long run.

What’s your take? What technology and data analytics challenges have you faced in your ESG journey? Please write to us at [email protected] or [email protected] to share your experiences, questions, and comments.

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