UN PRIs Pass the Baton

On 26th November 2018 28 banks from 20 countries came together as the founding members of the UN Principles for Responsible Banking (UN PRBs). In this historic move, despite a diversity in culture, beliefs and systems, these financial institutions, representing $17 trillion in total assets, showed a common interest to align business with society’s goals.

The UN PRBs, launched in draft format by UN Environment Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) at its global round table in Paris, offers the first comprehensive framework on the integration of sustainability through every function of a bank. It comes twelve years after the UN Principles for Responsible Investment was launched with 20 signatories representing $2 trillion in 2006, which has now grown to 1750 signatories with $70trillion in AUM. The global banking industry is at least twice that much in size ($134 trillion, 2016, MarketLine). It is very interesting to see this sector dislodge from its inertia and pave the way to far greater positive change than defined in the UN PRIs.

The six principles are presented below alongside the UN PRIs for comparison.

Perhaps the UN PRIs need to be updated to reflect the SDGs now. Currently, it is limited to ESG issues prime to the period when it was launched but which represent a minor area covered by the SDGs. It’s marginally effective if one part of the industry is dancing to a different tune.

Having said that, the responsible investor movement is more mature than the responsible banking movement in a greater sense. It took inspiration from the lives lost in the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of the environmental and socially conscious newer generations with growing affluence and the track record of faith-based investors since as far back as the 1600s.

It is the less mature responsible banking movement that needs a push. The UN PRBs tackle the industry’s consciousness. If implemented well, we could see greater alignment between banks and investors whether the UN PRIs are updated or not. This could unlock significantly more capital towards SDG-linked investment opportunities and the four Ps: people; planet; prosperity; peace.

During their consultation period open until May 2019, we will post insights on the UN PRBs regularly.