Are you ready for higher expectations and peer comparison?
Since the RBI vote, this trend has not subsided. On 12 January 2021, Switzerland officially became a supporter of the international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The TCFD has developed recommendations to enhance companies’ transparency on climate change. The Federal Council has called on Swiss companies in all sectors of the economy to implement these recommendations on a voluntary basis from now on. A bill will be drafted this year to make the recommendations binding. Likewise, in December 2020, the Ethos foundation, like a number of other proxy voters, revised its voting guidelines for 2021 shareholder meetings, introducing a new chapter dedicated to the approval of companies’ climate reports and climate strategy (‘say on climate’).
Even more importantly, companies are realising that investors, potential partners and stakeholders are factoring in transparency on environmental, social and governance matters (ESG) when they choose who to do business with. On the one hand there are formal reasons for this. The UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), for example, require that signatories (among them many institutional investors and asset managers) seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues from the entities in which they invest. Similar requirements are at the heart of the first measures adopted under the EU’s Sustainable Finance Action Plan (the SFDR Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and the taxonomy). For banks and asset managers to advise their clients on the ESG-compatibility of their investments, investee companies must disclose key metrics on the risks and opportunities of their activities. Financial firms are thus urging the real economy to comply with meaningful transparency requirements.
But the reasons aren’t just formal. It’s also important to realise the interplay between non-financial and financial reporting. Companies have to disclose non-financial information in accordance with the regulations. These non-financials inform the assessment of the financials that define whether a company meets investors’ ESG requirements. So stepping up your ESG reporting isn’t just about producing a compliant sustainability report. It’s actually an opportunity to steer your business to becoming more ESG-compliant – which in turn has a financial impact.
It’s also crucial to understand the underlying developments. The regulators’ ultimate aim is that investors and lenders have the information needed to price ESG-related (and in particular climate-related) risks and opportunities. This implies that appropriate controls govern the production and disclosure of this information, similar to those used for the preparation of mainstream annual financial filings. At some point, a company’s ESG performance will be compared with that of its peers based on standardised criteria. The market will reject those that fail to meet the expected ratings. For the winners, by contrast, there will be rich potential rewards, including satisfied investor expectations, better business outcomes, lower costs, and an easier ride to fulfilling their ambitions.