Leading ESG practices for the road ahead
Organizations that incorporate an ESG posture into their TPRM programs stay one step ahead of the game and minimize negative impacts as investors, regulators and consumers place increasing focus on ESG concerns while also recognizing the upside opportunity of ESG programs. For instance, this approach may improve lending terms and enable the global growth of sustainable finance (e.g., financial services that incentivize the integration of long-term ESG criteria into business decisions). ESG-incentivized loans have grown in popularity around the world, including within Europe, Australia and Singapore. Conversely, a reduced focus on ESG considerations may adversely impact access to capital as this lack of insight may drive investors to raise an organization’s risk profile, ultimately hindering growth.
Regulatory developments are indicating future trends
Regulators who championed increased banking regulations and legislation in the past are looking at enhancing ESG oversight, signaling what is to come across both the financial services and nonfinancial services sectors that may further impact TPRM-related regulation. For example, in the European Banking Authority (EBA) 2018 Annual Report, the EBA identified sustainable finance as a key focus area in the coming years, including “how ESG considerations can be incorporated into the regulatory and supervisory framework of EU (European Union) credit institutions.”
In the United States, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) issued guidance on how financial institutions should address climate change. In a letter issued on October 29, 2020, the NYDFS highlighted several climate-related risks for consideration, including transition risk, physical risk, risks to depository and non-depository institutions, and the possibility that traditional risk management tools may not sufficiently address the distinctive characteristics of climate change.
Social risks are also of concern to regulators. When questioned about the importance of representation of people of color and women in the insurance industry, NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell stated, “To the extent that we as a regulator oversee the safety and soundness of financial institutions under our purview, it’s well within our prerogative to say — and we do — how are you doing on diversity? Because that makes you a stronger institution, and it’s of interest to us as we look at how you are dealing with all the evolving risks and challenges.”²
At the same time, in August 2020, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted final amendments to modernize Regulation S-K disclosures. One amendment to Item 101(c) requires registrants to provide a description of their human capital resources to the extent that such disclosure would be material to an understanding of their business.³ This includes the number of persons employed by the registrant, as well as any human capital measures or objectives that the registrant focuses on in managing the business. While the amendments also addressed other disclosures relating to business, legal proceedings and risk factors, then-SEC Chairman Jay Clayton noted that he was “… particularly supportive of the increased focus on human capital disclosures, which for various industries and companies can be an important driver of long-term value.”⁴ Other ESG factors and requirements have been around since 2010, with the last Regulation S-K updates covering climate change. The new presidential administration in the US has shifted the focus to further enhance these requirements to cover human capital, and there will likely be enhanced scrutiny of these topics in the future.
Beyond meeting investor and regulatory expectations, organizations should be prepared to face evolving consumer attitudes toward ESG considerations. According to the EY Megatrends 2020 report, Gen Z identified climate change, pollution and the loss of natural resources as important global issues. The report predicts that Gen Z activists are likely to continue to emerge and demand action from businesses and governments around the globe. Consequently, adoption of ESG business practices will not only boost an organization’s brand image but will also enhance its ability to attract and retain talent as future generations join the workforce.