On 9 November 2022 PwC hosted the 4th Sustainable Finance Conference. The aim was to find out what top international thought leaders in business and academia have to say about current developments in sustainable finance and impact investing. Thanks to new green regulations, sustainability is no longer a topic for individual companies’ corporate responsibility departments alone. It’s become part of the core business of entire industries. Our speakers have lessons for us that we don’t want you to miss.
The CEO of PwC in Switzerland, Andreas Staubli, kicked off the conference boldly: “Climate change and dealing with the consequences of the destruction of our planet is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.” He went on to describe how ESG factors and sustainable development have gained much importance among financial market players. Thanks to Switzerland’s leading universities, strong financial industry and high levels of awareness of sustainability, it’s more than well-placed to drive growth and have a meaningful impact.
Lesson no. 2 concerns the growing imperative of considering sustainability in financial choices. Sabine Döbeli, CEO of Swiss Sustainable Finance, outlined three compelling grounds for integrating sustainability into financial decisions: financial performance, value alignment and positive change. Specifically, she talked about how greater transparency based on uniform standards, clearer communication about the sustainability goals of financial products, and more sustainable finance education at all levels are also needed to strengthen the lever of finance.
Francesca Spoerry, Head of Trainings and Outreach at the CSP at the University of Zurich, and Sofia Jaccard from PwC Switzerland demonstrated that setting sustainability targets is only the first step, and that the growing offering of sustainable investing products and services needs to be re-oriented for impact. She explained that there are three big barriers to integrating sustainable investing in daily business:
On this basis, their recommendation is that client interactions related to sustainable investing require thorough procedures and qualified advisors.
The next lesson emerged from a presentation by August Benz, Deputy CEO and Head of Private Banking & Asset Management at SwissBanking, the Swiss Bankers Association. He talked about how Swiss banks are contributing to the goals of the Paris Agreement by:
He pointed out that guidelines already exist to help banks integrate sustainability criteria into investment and mortgage advice. You can find them here.
The next insight is that net zero alliances and initiatives are becoming the standard for net zero engagements in the financial services industry, and that net zero is a key element of ESG strategy. In their presentation, Marc Lehmann and Antonios Koumbarakis, both from PwC Switzerland, explained how larger organisations are paving the way for this. They went into more depth about specific things that help address the challenges of net zero, such as a cross-functional approach, validating multiple net zero frameworks, and setting targets that focus on the impact on the real economy.
Rupert Welchman, Portfolio Manager for Impact Equities at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP), and Grant Rudgley, Nature-related Finance Lead at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), showed that there is now data that can be used to assess certain nature-based financial risks. They explained that tools are available to capture the exposure of financial portfolios to natural hazard risks, and that some responses to natural losses can now be modelled with limited technical guidance. They also noted that initial assessments of natural risk encourage engagement within financial institutions and businesses, and that a lack of supply chain transparency is a major obstacle to assessing the extent of risks.
No matter where you are, you as a company have to decide which issues are most important to you. We in the Swiss financial sector have an advantage because of our exceptional positioning and role model function. We have to use this advantage! If we all invest sustainably together, we will have a great opportunity to make a huge impact. Remember that we’re in a privileged position, and we must make something of it. See what you can take away from these lessons and start implementing them yourselves. It will pay off!