Equality and the myth of Cakeism: How do we deliver the ‘S’ in ESGs?

The need for the financial sector to commit to equitable leadership - and to address the ‘S’ in ESG - was a dominant topic across all three days of Ethical Finance 2021.

The financial service industry has made commendable steps towards fostering more holistic progress-led and sustainable policies over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic alone, as illustrated both by the launch of TNFD last week, and the recent news that Monzo Bank will be offering all staff shared leave after any form of pregnancy loss from this year.

However, a new report from LSE and Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF) published this week paints a more troubling picture. Despite applauding examples of a sector-wide shift towards inclusive hiring policies, the report indicated that self-identifying women, and particularly women of colour, are still more likely to face increased levels of pressure to deliver consistently at work, and face more severe repercussions for lapses in performance, than their male counterparts.

The report drew attention to a pervasive trend of “mediocre men surviving the industry in high numbers”, whilst also citing a tendency for managers to fake empathy when managing women in a nod to its ‘value’ and ‘return rate’ among managers and customers alike.

The question of what value we place on individuals, and on the holistic or inclusive business models designed to support their wellbeing at work, has only been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Oliver Wyman’s Women in Financial Services 2021 report it was estimated that there is now a $700 billion revenue opportunity from better serving women as customers, including supplying products designed around demand from women, and recognising women entrepreneurs as potential loanees or investors. A growing momentum on the part of shareholders to see an implementation of  hybrid work patterns was also flagged by the report, and later seemingly corroborated by the news that Deloitte are now offering employees the possibility to work from home for life.

Over the course of Ethical Finance 2021, our panel discussions offered glimpses of what the seemingly unquantifiable 'S' of ESG governance might look like on an organisational level, and how organisations can lead with this ‘social’ purpose in mind. Mandatory disclosures for companies, public commitments to deliver policy and leadership change within organisations, and a shift to hybrid office culture, were all options recommended by panellists and audience members alike.

Yet, in the same week as our Ethical Finance 2021 discussions, Charlotte Wood APFS, Financial Planning Director at Rosewood penned an unflinching (and somewhat less optimistic) account of navigating a return to work in financial services after her first pregnancy. Reactions to her piece ranged from declarations of solidarity to Wood being repeatedly asked to justify why women should be spared from the ‘consequences’ of having children in their professional lives. Maternity leave was labelled an irresponsible act by several commentators, with Wood’s desire to return to a more flexible, supportive work culture after the birth of her child branded an example of ‘cakeism’– having your cake and eating it – on several occasions.

So how do we bridge the gap between the lofty goals of integrating the ‘S in ESG’ into financial decision-making, with the lived experiences of those who actually work in finance? How do we emphasise the need for social equality while maintaining the admirable progress finance has made on the environment? Ethical Finance 2021 and our recent Ethical Finance Round Table on Leadership have provided important entry points into this unfolding conversation. It is clear, however, that the financial services industry must do more to deliver on ESG and empower the companies they work with to do the same. The first part of this process must be one of accountability: a recognition of the unique experience faced by historically marginalised groups and the impact these experiences have on the ability to feel safe and secure at work- a step that feels particularly prescient as Pride Month draws to a close. But there also needs be a clearer acknowledgement that finance cannot be considered ethical based on environmental sustainability alone: financial institutions, and the companies they lend to and invest in, must work harder to foster equitable work environments.

When the right to bodily autonomy – to planning when and how one has a family – is dismissed as fatalistic career-sacrifice, we cannot be truly sustainable. Whilst a sector culture that allows contemptuous comments of ‘cakeism’ to flourish is still rife, finance cannot truly be ‘ethical’.

Without steps to foster genuine equality, including flexible work and equal parental leave for any men or women who need to use it, the ‘S’ in ESGs will only ever filter through in frustrating fragments: crumbs of a cake that was never intended to be sliced fairly. If the financial services industry wants to deliver on ESG commitments there must be a genuine appetite for equality at both an individual and organisational level, as well as a sharply renewed focus on the social dimension of our commitments to sustainability.

What will the UK Government's 'nature positive' response to Dasgupta mean for finance?

The UK government recently committed to a 'nature positive' response to Prof. Sir Partha Dasgupta's review of the Economics of Biodiversity. At Ethical Finance 2021 last week, Prof. Dasgupta called for a 'World Bank of Biodiversity', arguing that despite the complexity of nature and biodiversity, there are ways of reducing the issues to fairly simple economic principles. The biosphere should be treated as a global public good, argued Prof. Dasgupta at the annual Ethical Finance Summit, explaining that treating it as such would justify paying penalties for its desctruction.

In the UK Government's response to Prof. Dasgupta's review, it committed toi a number of actions ahead of the crucial COP26 climate summit in November. These include:

  • Committing up to £3 million additional support to the development of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures framework – a market-led initiative which will support business in assessing emerging nature-related risks and opportunities
  • Working with the Office for National Statistics to improve the way nature is incorporated into our national accounts
  • Further improving Government guidance for embedding environmental considerations into policy-making processes
  • Incorporating biodiversity into the UK Government Green Financing Framework
  • Joining the OECD Paris Collaborative on green budgeting, an initiative to encourage governments to incorporate climate and environmental considerations into their financial and fiscal decisions

These are all no doubt positive developments - necessary steps on the way to creating global frameworks that protect biodiversity and the biosphere. However, given the scale of the challenges we face, are they enough? The Living Planet Report 2020 reports stark statistics regarding biodiversity, including:

  • An average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016
  • A 94% decline for the tropical subregions of the Americas over the same period
  • 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted
  • More than 85% of the area of wetlands has been lost
  • Until 1970, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was smaller than the Earth’s rate of regeneration. To feed and fuel our 21st century lifestyles, we are overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56%
  • Per person, our global stock of natural capital has declined by nearly 40% since the early 1990s, while produced capital has doubled and human capital has increased by 13%

Put simply, nature is in crisis, and as this crisis depens, it will affect our economies more and more. As the Dasgupta review pointed out nature suffers from a 'Tragedy of the Commons' effect - while the benefits for its destruction are privatised, the costs are public - a classic 'Principal-Agent problem', in the economists' parlance. To address this, we desparately need global cooperation between governments, finance, business and civil society on protecting biodiversity, and we need it now. THe steps the UK Government has committed to are a crucial step on the road to protecting nature with a 'World Bank for Biodiversity', but without committments to go further - to not just report and disclose impacts, but actively work to prevent them - there is a risk that this could be too little, too late.

The finance sector needs an urgent, credible plan to make TNFD reporting mandatory, as reporting in line with TCFD is likely to become soon. While TCFD's progress from idea to (in some territories) law has been admirably fast relative to the usual pace of public policy, it has still been too slow relative to the climate crisis. To respond to the crisis of nature and biodiversity that we are seeing, TNFD must be even faster.

At COP26, we will be exploring these issues as part of our Finance for Nature programme in our Path to COP26 campaign, with a dedicated focus on nature discussions in the unique setting of Loch Lomond. Click to learn more.

Sustainable Finance Qualifications - From Complete Beginners to Seasoned Professionals

The sustainable finance movement is rapidly growing, with a 55% predicted growth in 2021. Therefore, people at every career stage need to get involved. There has been a gap in qualifications to improve and enhance people’s knowledge of sustainable finance, but finally we are seeing qualifications emerging. There are qualifications available for people in varying stages of their careers.

Click to navigate to the relevant section:

Qualifications and Career Options for University Graduates in Sustainable Finance

Course NameLocationCost/PayLengthEntry CriteriaOverviewFurther Information
EY Sustainable Finance Graduate ProgrammeUK
  • Salaries start from £27,900 per year in regional based roles.
  • Salaries start from £31,750 per year for London only.
2 year programme
  • Working towards honours degree in Mathematics, Statistics, Economics, Finance, Business, Sustainable Development, Physical Geography or similar.
  • A master’s degree in subjects such as Environmental Economics, Sustainable Finance, Sustainable Development and Climate Change would be highly desirable, but is not essential.
  • Minimum of grade 4/C GCSE (or equivalent) in English Language and Maths, and three A-levels/Five Highers (or equivalent) to be eligible to apply.
  • Help organisations implement sustainability practises to deliver long term rewards and value.
  • Support in achieving a professional qualification in Financial Services, even when the qualification exceeds the 2 year programme length.
  • Work on market leading projects, build networks, and consult on key strategic problems facing the sustainable finance world.
To register interest to 2022 application openings and find more information click here.



MSc Climate, Management and FinanceImperial College London 

Cost: £30,700


One year course starting September 2021.
  • Undergraduate degree at First of 2:1 Honours (or equivalent).
  • An understanding of the industry you intend to work in. This is measured through career planning questions, internships and work experience.
  • Strong English language skills.
  • More details can be found here.
  • Learn how to put the most up to date academic findings, business and climate change strategies into practise.
  • Gives graduates interdisciplinary skills relating to issues of climate change and sustainability in businesses today.

Students will:

  • Learn about the challenges and opportunities change presents to companies.
  • Learn how innovation is crucial in organisations when dealing with climate change.
  • Develop an in-depth understanding of science, policies and technologies linked to climate change.
To apply and find out more information click here.
MSc Climate Change Finance and InvestmentUniversity of EdinburghCost:

  • Home students: £20,900
  • International students: £24,000


1 Academic Year: September 2021 to August 2022
  • UK first-class or 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in business, economics, engineering, or a social or physical science.
  • Relevant work experience is not required but desirable.
  • Preference given to those with grades above minimum requirements.
  • Strong English language skills.
  • More details can be found here.
  • Dedicated to developing professionals in the field of low carbon finance and investment.
  • Develop understanding of how the challenges of climate change are driving investment opportunities in a huge range of sectors.
To apply and find out more information click here.
MSc in Sustainability, Enterprise and the EnvironmentSmith School of Enterprise & the Environment at the University of OxfordCost:

  • Home students: £19,200
  • International students: £25,900


New 12 month course launching in October 2021.
  • First-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with Honours in any discipline (achieved or predicted).
  • Demonstrate an interest in sustainable development and net zero, and intersections with enterprise.
  • Strong English language skills.
  • More details can be found here.
The course addresses two prevalent and unmet challenges of today’s climate:

  1. Making the transition to a zero-carbon and environmentally sustainable economic model.
  2. Improving the quality of life for the world’s least advantaged people.
To apply and find out more information click here.

Qualifications for Professionals in Sustainable Finance

Course NameLocationCostLengthEntry CriteriaOverviewFurther Information
Chartered Banker Institute Green & Sustainable Finance CertificateOnline£595 (including £30 annual subscription fee)
  • 12 unit programme that can be completed in as little as 12 weeks.
  • Registration lasts for 1 year so can complete at own pace.
  • Aimed at financial services professionals globally who are keen to develop their green and sustainable finance expertise.
  • Covers bankers, insurers, investment managers, central bankers and regulators, risk managers, analysts and consultants.
  • No entry requirements and no prior knowledge of the sustainable finance sector is expected.
  • The qualification will help individuals develop their understanding of green and sustainable finance principles, and allow them to implement these principles into practise within their work roles.
To apply and find out more information click here.



Climate Change Risk in FinanceUniversity of Edinburgh Business School (Online)£1500
  • 10 Week Course
Aimed at financial services and fintech professionals who are:

  • Interested in developing their knowledge of sustainable finance.
  • Want to learn the latest from academics and practitioners.
  • New to sustainable finance.
  • Tasked with developing new products and services.
  • Responsible for leading change.
  • Focuses on the consequences of climate change of finance.
  • Programme hopes to be a catalyst for change.
  • Learn about emerging theories and practises of sustainable finance and climate-related financial risks.
  • Understand the basics of climate change.
To register and find out more information click here.
Sustainable Finance Foundation CourseSmith School of Enterprise & the Environment at the University of Oxford
  • £5,000 for attendees from the private sector
  • £3,750 for attendees from the public sector and civil society.
  • 5 day residential workshop at the University of Oxford.
  • 6 month supported Capstone Project after the residential.
Applicants must show their suitability to the course in terms of:

  • The relevance of the course to their occupation and organisation.
  • Their experience and potential, particularly in areas related to course content.
  • Their initial objectives for learning and their intentions for their capstone project.
  • Provides an introduction to sustainable finance for professionals working in a variety of sectors.
  • Participants will engage critically with systems and theories in sustainable finance and investment.
  • After the 5 day residential, participants are supported on a 6 month Capstone Project, which is related to finance and sustainability.
To apply and find out more information click here.
CFA UK Level 4 Certificate in ESG Investing


Online£485 per candidate
  • The qualification takes 130 hours to complete.
  • This can be done at your own pace, as you decide when to take the final exam.
  • Exam is 2 hours 20 mins long.
  • No formal entry requirements.
  • Strongly recommended that candidates have a strong grounding in the investment process achieved from experience or formal education.
  • Designed for practitioners working in investment roles.
  • Delivers benchmark knowledge and skills necessary for investment professionals to integrate ESG into practise.
  • Expand your ESG knowledge and stay ahead in your field.
  • Successful completion can lead to the CFA UK Level 4 Diploma in Investment Management (ESG) for existing Level 5 IMC holders.
To register and find out more information click here.
Climate-Related Financial Risk CourseSmith School of Enterprise & the Environment at the University of Oxford
  • £3,750 for attendees from the private sector.
  • £2,625 for attendees from the public sector and civil society.
  • 3 day residential workshop at the University of Oxford.
Applicants must show their suitability to the course in terms of:

  • The relevance of the course to their occupation and organisation.
  • Their experience and potential, particularly in areas related to course content.
  • Applications will be reviewed and places awarded on an ongoing basis.
  • Explore emerging theories and practice of climate-related financial risks.
  • Develop understanding of how to critically analyse the key aspects and developments in climate-risks.
  • Ideal preparation for current and emerging professional examinations in sustainable finance and related areas.
To apply and find out more information click here.
ESG & Sustainable Investing Training CourseVirtual Training Course by ESG Investing£1990 + VAT
  • 12 hours.
  • 14th – 25th June 2021.
Should be attended by:

  • Investment managers, wealth managers and private banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, analysts, investment banks, pension funds, relationship and account managers.


  • Examines all areas of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing.
  • Explores how ESG information can be integrated into the investment process efficiently.
  • Learn about impact ESG ratings and stock prices.


To register and find out more information click here.

Accessible Qualifications for anyone interested in Sustainable Finance

Course NameLocationCostLengthEntry CriteriaOverviewFurther Information
Short Course in Sustainable FinanceUniversity of Cambridge (Online)£2,200
  • 8 weeks (excluding orientation)
  • 6-8 hours per week
  • Self-paced online learning


  • For anyone interesting in exploring the implementation of sustainable finance at both a micro and macro level, from aspiring professionals to NGOs.
  • Gives you tools to address and take advantage of changes to the commercial environment caused by global sustainability challenges.
  • Learn how the financial system can be changed to create better value for society and organisations.
  • Learn about financial success through sustainable approaches and initiatives such as ESG, impact investing, and positive screening.
To register and find out more information click here.



Ethical Finance 2021 | Day 3 | Beyond Climate | Round-Up

We hope you were able to join us for the final day of Ethical Finance as planned. We brought this year’s summit to a close with a truly incredible range of speakers and panels, who allowed us to successfully move ‘Beyond Climate’ to the leadership challenges and the ‘S’ in ESGs. The need to implement purpose-lead business models and to apply a macro-economic approach to questions of the fight against climate change came to the forefront of discussions across our illustrious range of speakers and varied panel sessions. With social inequalities thrown into stark relief by the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, aligning profit with societal and global purpose shone through as a key imperative facing the finance sector as the eyes of the world  turn towards COP26.

The day began with a welcome from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, before an interview with UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner by the Scottish Government’s Kat Feldinger. Dora Benedeck and Alexander Ferendec Tieman from International Monetary Fund gave a post-pandemic assessment of the SDGs, assessing how developing countries can finance the SDGs in the wake of COVID-19. A panel session followed with George LittleJohn in conversation with Arshad Mohammed Ismail, Bank Pembangunan, Sarah Norris, Aberdeen Standard Investments, Dr. Hayat Sindi, Islamic Development Bank and Abubaker Suleiman, Sterling Finance discuss financing of the SDGs from a range of perspectives around the world. A session on The UKIFC Global Islamic Finance & the SDGs Taskforce brought together John Glen, Sultan Choudary UKIFC, Stella Cox CBE to launch the UKIFC's new PRB report, setting a case for the role faith finance can play in delivering ESG goals. Read more here.

The next session covered social issues - the S in ESG - and began with a keynote from HE Dr Reza Baqir, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, who described how the role of central banks has shifted through the Global Financial Crises to the pandemic. Next, a panel saw Thom Kenrick of NatWest in conversation with Andrew Cave of Bailliee Gifford, Elena Espinoza of the PRI, Leslie Swynghedauw of MSCI and Lesley-Ann Vaughan of Mojaloop Foundation. The panel discussion some of the challenges around social finance, with insights including how MSCI use nutritional data to better understand food companies' health impacts. The session concluded with a spotlight on Tobacco Free Portfolios with GEFI’s own Gail Hurley, Dr. Bronwyn King, CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios and Ruben Zandvliet from ABN AMRO.

The final session of the day, and of Ethical Finance 2021 saw a series of keynotes around leadership. In one of the most unique presentations we have ever had at our Ethical Finance Summit, Louai Al Roumani taught us the lessons he learned from leading BANQUE BEMO SAUDI FRANSI through the Syrian Civil War. You can find his book, Lessons from a Warzone, here. We shifted our focus to a different type of purpose-led leadership which saw Farmida Bi interviewing Sir Howard Davies, Chair of NatWest Group about the development and implementation of the bank's purpose-led strategy. Our Fireside Chat: Steering a path to Net Zero was moderated by GEFI’s own Allan Watt, and drew on the extensive expertise of Keith Anderson from Scottish Power and Vivenne Yeda Apopo from the East African Development Bank and Kenya Power. Dr. Rhian Mari Thomas OBE lead our penultimate session, a conversation with Lord Mayor of London, William Russel, before George Hay of Reuters Breakingviews interviewed UN Special Envoy on Sustainable Investment and Innovative Finance Hiro Mizuno. Click here to watch the session, which covers the GPIF sustainable finance journey, the importance of governance and whether short-selling can ever be ethical.

With the Summit done for this year, our commitment to financing a sustainable future sees us turn our attention now to COP26 in Glasgow, which is just months away. We are committed to continuing the valuable conversations from Ethical Finance 2021, and encourage you to be part of this conversation at Path to Cop, to follow us @Finance4Change on Twitter and at on Linkedln to be part of this exciting next stage of the journey.

Ethical Finance 2021 | Day 2 | Sustainability | Round-Up

Day 2 of Ethical Finance 2021 was a jam-packed day of fascinating exchanges, unpicking the complex challenges of delivering Net Zero and the macro-economic factors underpinning them. Our sessions and speakers all pointed towards the need to shift global focus to issues of sustainability, prevent further nature loss and make a business case of biodiversity preservation. Together, they have layed the ground for our focus on Day 3 of our Ethical Finance Summit: How to move beyond climate to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions in finance and beyond ahead of COP26.

We started off with Kirsty Britz Director of Sustainable Banking at NatWest Group, highlighting how the #EthicalFinance2021 is an opportunity for NatWest Group and others to learn collaboratively. Next, Inger Andersen, Executive Director at United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), outlined her four-step action plans for financiers (watch now). Dr Werner Hoyer, President of European Investment Bank (EIB), then outlined the daunting set of challenges we face globally from the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis, emphasising that this is our last chance to make real change. Bill Winters, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank launched a new Carbon Dated report looking at the impact of MNCs’ #netzero intentions on suppliers in Asia, Africa and Middle East - read it now at sc.com/carbon-dated.

We then moved on to our 'Global Trends in Sustainability' Panel with Dame Susan Rice from FSCB, Tan Sri Dato’Zeti Aziz, former Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia and Katie Murray, Group Chief Financial Officer at NatWest Group, who unpicked some of the challenges around sustainability finance globally. Our last session of the morning saw Dr. Sarah Ivory from University of Edinburgh Business School in conversation with Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors, spotlight the International Platform for Climate Finance (IPCF), and its work building consensus ahead of COP26.

To kick off our Net Zero session, Kaisie Rayner FRSA Rayner, Climate Change Lead at Royal London interviewed Manuel Pulgar-Vidal Global Energy and Climate Practice Lead at WWF and former COP President, who advised Alok Sharma to "be the DJ", mixing all the avenues for climate action together to create the right sound! Our approaches to 'Delivering Net Zero in Banking and Investment' Panel discussion was lead by David Pitt-Watson, Visiting Fellow at Cambridge Judge Business School. He challenged Deirdre Michie OBE, CEO at OGUK, Masja Zandbergen-Albers , Head of Sustainability Integration at Robeco, Kaitlin Crouch-Hess, Sustainability Manager at ING and Joanne Manda, Regional Advisor, Climate Change and Innovative Finance at UNDP Indonesia on greenwashing, practical tools for Net Zero, the role of the fossil fuel sector, transparency, and the responsibilities of the financial sector. Our Initiative Spotlight profiled the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC). Clare Foster, Head of Clean Energy and Green Recovery Lead at Shepherd and Wedderburn was joined by Daisy Streatfeild, Investor Practices Programme Director at the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) and Dewi Dylander, Deputy Executive Director at PKA, who outlined how the framework grew from a small group of investors interested in the Paris Agreement, to a vital tool in assessing investment portfolio alignment to science-based targets.

Our Nature session opened with Greg Ritchie in conversation with Prof. Partha Dasgupta, author of the review into the Economics of Biodiversity, who called for a 'World Bank for Biodiversity' (read more in Bloomberg or watch now). Our last session panel saw Andrew Mitchell from Global Canopy bring together Antoine Sire from BNP Paribas,  Charlotte Kaiser from NatureVest, Madeleine Ronquest from First Rand and Reza Marvasti from ISS ESG, for a lively panel exploring the routes to practical action on biodiversity from a range of viewpoints. The day closed with and initiative spotlight lead by Natalie Jackson, which highlighted the work of TFND, which launches tomorrow, drawing on the expertise of Elizabeth Mrema from UN Biodiversity and Mikkel Larsen from DBS Bank.

Tomorrow, we will be looking ‘Beyond Climate’ which will be opened by The Scottish Government First Minister herself Nicola Sturgeon at 09.20 BST.

Remember to sign in using our EfX Global login: https://www.efx.global/ethical-finance-2021-sign-in/

You can find more ore information about all of sessions and speakers at ethicalfinancesummit.com

Ethical Finance 2021 | Day 1 | Regional Showcase | Round-Up

We hope you were able to join us for  our regional showcase Day 1 of Ethical Finance 2021 as planned. In a fitting tribute to broader conversations around  World Ocean Day 2021, Day 1 of Ethical Finance 2021 brought together a fascinating range of discussions featuring experts from Australasia, South East Asia, South Asia and West Africa. Common global challenges such as inclusion and diversity (notably around gender), as well as ongoing Covid-19 recovery emerged across the panels. The global steps needed to implement sustainable finance strategic and integrate ESG frameworks into investment models were equally prevalent across each of panel sessions.

Like many of you, we were impacted by today's global web outage which also affected Amazon, The New York Times, Reddit, The UK Government, and the Guardian. We would like to apologise to those of you who were impacted by our technical difficulties experienced at the start of the South Asia session. Unfortunately, our video platform Vimeo was impacted by the global internet outage. We hope you were able to access the backup stream that we quickly implemented, and that the rest of the summit will proceed with any issues.

You can find summaries of each of our sessions below.


Session 1: Australasia


We kicked off the Australasia Regional Showcase session with a keynote from Chris Whitehead, the CEO of FINSIA drawing on Australasia's economic recovery post COVID to increasing Climate Change concerns in the area. The panel was led by Giles Gunesekera, the CEO of the Global Impact Initiative. Panel members included Katherine Tapley, Head of Sustainable Finance at ANZ; Lucy Thomas, Head of Investment Stewardship at NSW Treasury Corporation; Talieh Williams, Head of Investment Stewardship at VFMC; and finally Dr Stuart Palmer, Head of Ethics Research at Australian Ethical Investment. Topics discussed included frameworks for measuring sustainability and social impact, systems thinking, defining ESG, and the importance of regulations.


Session 2: South East Asia

Cecile Thioro Niang, Lead Economist at the World Bank Group began the showcase with an overview of the South East Asia region making a clear economic case for financing climate action and increasing finance for transition, as well as the importance of Green Finace in ASEAN nations.

You can see the whole of Cecile’s Thioro Niang’s speech on YouTube.

The panel was led by Prasad Padmanaban, Chief Executive of AICB. He was joined by Dr Hamim Syahrum, Deputy Director of Islamic Banking & Takaful, Bank Negara Malaysia; Lavanya Rama Iyer, Head of Policy & Climate Change at WWF Malaysia, Cedric Rimaud, Fund Manager at Earthwake Green Impact Fund, David Smith, Head of Corporate Governance, Asia Pacific at Aberdeen Standard Investments, and finally, Rafe Haneef, Chief Executive Officer of Group Transaction Banking & Group Chief Sustainability Officer at CIMB.

You can head over to our twitter page to see snippets from our panel discussions throughout the session.

Session 3: South Asia



Madame Sima Kamil, Deputy Governor at the State Bank of Pakistan began our South Asia session with a regional overview of South Asia.

Watch Sima Kamil’s speech in full on Youtube

The panel was led by GM Abbasi, Director of Islamic Banking Division at the State Bank of Pakistan. The panel members in this regional overview are Azhar Aslam, Head of Islamic Banking & Governance Head Central & North Region at Standard Chartered Bank; Mujahid Zuberi, Head Corporate & Investment Banking, Pakistan at Dubai Islamic Bank; Dr. Shah Md. Ahsan Habib, Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM); Muhammad Shoaib, CEO at Al Meezan Investment Management; Khawlah Usman, Director of Marketing & Sales at The Institute of Bankers Pakistan.

Session 4: West Africa


Arise News Anchor  Boason Omofaye, and Al Hamdou Dorsouma, Division Manager, Climate and Green Growth at African Development Bank provided a regional overview of West Africa to begin our showcase, emphasising the need for finance, particularly private finance, to contribute to climate resilience in West Africa and offsetting the devastating impacts of climate change on major industries across the region.

The session was led by Abdelkader Benbrahim, Partnership Coordinator for Making Finance Work for Africa. Panel members for the West Africa regional showcase are Elsie Addo Awadzi, Deputy Governor at Bank of Ghana; Garba Mohammed, Group Head Sales, Non-Interest Banking at Sterling Bank Plc.; Karima Ola, Partner at LeapFrog Investments; Jules Ngankam, Group CEO at African Guarantee Fund; and finally, Hajara Adeola, CEO & Managing Director at Lotus Capital.

Tomorrow, we will shift our focus to nature and climate ahead of the crucial COP26 UN climate summit for Day 2 of Ethical Finance 2021 ‘Sustainability’. With sessions exploring global trends, net zero and nature and biodiversity, the day will be an opportunity to understand both the macroeconomic issues facing the world beyond World Ocean Day,  and will position some of the key tools available to address them.

Read the full agenda for Day 2 here.

Remember to sign in via EFx.global

Ethical Finance Round Table Summary: Leadership is crucial in driving better economies

Leadership is crucial in driving better economies. From fighting the climate crisis, to driving inclusion across business and society, we cannot build a better world without effective leadership. The pandemic, combined with the threat of the climate crisis, has created a uniquely challenging set of circumstances for leaders across the spectrum.

In the latest Ethical Finance Round Table, taking place on 5 May 2021 and entitled ‘Leadership: Embedding Responsibility’, Michael Cole-Fontayn, Chairman at the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) and the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME); Helen Cook, Chief HR Officer at NatWest Group; and Karina Robinson, CEO at Robinson Hambro joined moderator Graham Burnside of GEFI to discuss the role of leadership in driving social and environmental responsibility in organisations. Despite the scale of the challenge, the panel offered optimism that leadership in the finance sector is moving in the right direction.

While the current global health and economic crisis has tested the resolve of leaders throughout finance, Michael Cole-Fontayn emphasised that climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality offer a challenge many times greater. He added that, on top of these existential pressures, managers in the finance sector are facing increasingly complex demands from clients, governments and regulators.

Helen Cook discussed NatWest Group’s journey to put their purpose at the centre of the bank’s strategy, stressing the importance of action over words. While the NatWest journey began 5 years ago, it has become the bank’s ‘North Star’ during the pandemic by providing a guiding purpose through its three core tenets: enterprise, learning and climate. One manifestation of this has been the shift towards hybrid working, likely to continue after the pandemic. Helen also remarked on the ways in which her role has changed over the years, with investors more concerned than ever about the practical steps companies are taking to look after their employees.

Karina Robinson gave an optimistic view of the future: while the finance sector is in no way perfect, there is an effective ‘carrot and stick’ across the industry, with incentives to perform well allied with much-needed effective regulation. Even prior to Covid-19, Karina argues that there was general dissatisfaction with capitalism, consistent across generations and even income levels, and only by addressing this dissatisfaction can the business sector make the case for capitalism.

The session ended with a Q&A; one particularly interesting question asked about the challenge of leading hybrid workforces, creating cohesive teams while some employees are in the office and others work remotely. Michael pointed out that those physically present tend to unconsciously exclude virtual participants, with Karina arguing for effective education to resolve this issue and Helen highlighting the role of behavioural scientists employed by NatWest Group to understand the psychology behind the challenges of a hybrid workforce. “Middle manager” might be a term with negative associations, but as Helen pointed out, it is becoming an increasingly difficult job as working patterns become more complex.

Financing A Sustainable Future- Global Ethical Finance Summit Speakers Revealed

The Earth Day Summit convened by President Biden has put delivering finance front and centre of the world’s efforts to deliver climate change. Countries and companies not only need to make commitments but also must have clear plans in place to deliver them.

A major UK summit on climate finance this summer will bring together global finance leaders, the head of the European Investment Bank, CEOs of major banks and UN chiefs ahead of COP26 The summit builds on ten years of work by the Global Ethical Finance Initiative to reshape the finance sector for a sustainable future.

Ethical Finance 2021, to be convened virtually in Scotland, will include leadership showcases from fourglobal financial centres with more than 3000 delegates from over 100 countries expected to participate in the three-day event. Free registration is now open.

The Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI) summit is hosted by NatWest Group, and supported by Chartered Banker and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, as well as the Scottish Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Keynote speakers include:
• Dr Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank.
• Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator
• Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF’s climate and energy global practice leader, a former Environment Minister of Peru and chair of COP20.
• Hiro Mizuno, UN special envoy on innovative finance and sustainable investments, and former executive management director of the Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan – the largest pool of retirement savings in the world.
• Bill Winters, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank
• Inger Anderson, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
• Dora Benedek, deputy division chief, fiscal affairs department of the International Monetary Fund.
• Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Frank Ramsey Emeritus Professor of Economics at Cambridge University and author of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review.
• John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and City Minister.

With a global footprint and Scottish roots, GEFI is leading a ‘Path to COP26’ campaign which has united major financial services institutions representing over £2 trillion in assets to help build more resilient economies which support the transition to a greener, net-zero planet.
The finance sector needs to act together to achieve decisive action at COP26, the most important climate summit since Paris, and the campaign will deliver a series of over 30 events and projects leading up to Glasgow.
This includes Ethical Finance 2021, the flagship global summit to be convened in June.

Omar Shaikh, co-founder of the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, said:

“Today’s Earth Day Summit shows that the financial services sector has a fundamental role to play in delivering targets such as the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to fix our planet. However, despite its potential, the current financial system can be a cause, rather than a solution, to some of the pressing challenges our planet and its people currently face.

“Ethical Finance 2021 will show how financial services can support inclusive economic growth without depleting natural resources or leaving anyone behind. We’re very proud to have convened so many leading professionals from across the world, bringing them together virtually in Scotland to address the pressing issue of climate finance and turn talk into action.”

Greenwashing - what it is, and how to avoid it

What is greenwashing, and why does it happen? With Earth Day 2021 coming up, we take a look at a phenomenon which threatens the credibility of green businesses across the spectrum. For those inside the sustainable finance movement, the term is familiar. It is a common enough phenomenon that it has even made its way into the dictionary, with Cambridge Dictionary defining it as “mak[ing] people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. In finance, this could mean a “green” investment fund which invests in unrepentant fossil fuel companies.

It is not hard to see how this could harm the credibility of both individual businesses and the green business movement more generally. If there are persistent gaps between how companies present themselves and their products and what they are actually doing, this will harm trust, putting customers off green products and causing genuine damage to the environment in the process. To mitigate this risk to both the environment and businesses operating in good faith, there have been numerous attempts to standardise what it means for a financial product to be considered “sustainable”, most notably the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy.

The rise of legal standards around sustainable finance implies three distinct types of greenwashing – scientific, legal, and perception. Legal greenwashing refers to falling short of legal standards, scientific to being assessed to fall short of some standard – for example, being consistent with limited global temperature rises to 1.5C – and perception to falling short of public expectations of what a product should mean.

This suggests that there can be both deliberate and accidental greenwashing. As more customers across the financial system demand sustainable products, the incentives to label products as green have increased, and consequently fund managers may consciously or subconsciously respond to this incentive. Fund managers might also sincerely believe in a product which turns out to fall short of legal, scientific or perception standards for what that product should be.

For example, many in the finance industry, such as Lothian Pension Fund’s David Hickey, strongly believe in the power of equity engagement on “brown” stock. The public – as shown in this video from pension campaign group Make My Money Matter – may have limited understanding of the details of how pensions operate and expect even those funds not explicitly engagement in ethically-aware investing to avoid some types of businesses.

With the complex spectrum of greenwashing in mind, it is difficult to put a number on the exact scale of the problem, in finance and beyond. As regulation around sustainable finance improves, and consumers demand more integration of ESG concerns, we will no doubt see some fall short.

How do we solve a problem like greenwashing? Sadly, it seems unlikely that the problem will just go away of its own accord. As sustainability becomes an ever more important part of economic life, greenwashing will continue to be an issue, but one that can be mitigated as regulators, consumers and the financial industry improve their understandings of sustainable finance. In future, assessing whether a financial product’s green credentials are grounded in reality will be as important as assessing whether its financial claims stand to muster.

One innovative solution, touted by Kaisie Rayner, Climate Change Lead at Royal London, at our Ethical Finance 2020 panel on greenwashing, is to flip the situation on its head. With food, Kaisie pointed out, we do not highlight the vegetable content, but rather the sugar and fat. Likewise, instead of labelling some products as “green”, perhaps we should instead be putting health warnings on those that are not.

What can we do to prevent greenwashing?

Be open, honest and transparent about financial products

Financial institutions should disclose the details of their products, and not try to optimistically claim unearned green credentials. Consumers should be able to easily find out the principles and strategies of ethical finance products.

Call out bad practices

Where greenwashing is taking place – intentionally or not – we should call it out.

Strengthen regulation and standardise terminology

Historically, the ethical finance sector has run largely on trust. Firms have been responsible for labelling products as “green”, “ethical” or “ESG”, and consumers have been responsible for assessing whether these labels match their expectations. A standardised set of terms for ethical finance should improve transparency.

Move towards “health warnings”

It should become standard practice to highlight the aspects of a financial product that consumers might not want to be associated with.

Why Nature Needs To Be On The Finance Agenda This Earth Day

With Earth Day 2021 right around the corner on Thursday 22nd April, we at Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI) are taking the opportunity to look ahead to November 2021, when Glasgow will host COP26, the UN climate change summit. This is the most important climate summit since the landmark COP21 summit in Paris in 2015, when heads of state committed to restricting global temperature rise this century to 'well below' 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, in the Paris Agreement. COP26 is a crucial opportunity for nations to come together to review their commitments and strengthen ambition for the decade ahead.

Scotland is already leading by example with the Climate Change Bill making a commitment to becoming a net-zero society by 2045 – five years before the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government has also responded to the global climate emergency by adopting an ambitious new target to reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. The Scottish National Investment Bank, which will be operational in the second half of 2020, will support the transition to net zero through a range of debt and equity products.

The financial opportunities and risks of transitioning to a low carbon, resilient global economy have catapulted climate change to the top of the agenda for investors, lenders and insurers across the globe. As well as setting ambitious targets to minimise their own greenhouse gas emissions many financial institutions are driving reductions in the climate impact of their financing activity by decarbonising their portfolios and increasing investments in solutions to climate change. With Earth Day coming up, it is timely to reflect on the key role nature plays in regulating climate as well as helping us to adapt to and mitigate against climate change. By conserving nature and restoring ecosystems we reduce climate vulnerability and increase resilience.

The sustainable management and use of nature can help tackle wider socio-environmental challenges such as water security, water pollution, food security, human health and disaster risk management. However, with ecosystems declining in size and condition by 47 per cent globally, and species populations facing extinction, the wake-up call on nature loss arrived at this year’s World Economic Forum where, for the first time, the Global Risks Report ranked biodiversity loss as one of the top-five global risks in terms of likelihood and impact in the next 10 years.

Around $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – depends on nature and its services and sustainable use of our environment in Scotland accounts for 11 per cent of our total economic output – worth £17.2 billion a year – and one in seven full-time jobs. The global coffee market had retail sales of $83 billion in 2017 but 60 per cent of coffee varieties are at risk of extinction from a combination of climate change, disease and deforestation.

Nature and biodiversity loss therefore represent a significant financial risk. Insufficient accounting for the risks posed by nature loss have unintended consequences, such as short or long-term risk mispricing, inadequate capital buffers, and in extreme cases the potential for stranded assets.
In boardrooms nature loss continues to be largely a hidden risk. This needs to change, and quickly.

GEFI is working with the United Nations Development Programme and Scottish Government on a programme of collaboration that aims to raise awareness and position nature at the forefront of the COVID-19 economic recovery and for the long-term well-being of people and the planet. Within the programme, which forms part of our wider Path to COP26 campaign, we are actively looking to develop a financial instrument that accelerates nature-friendly investments at scale as well as draw upon our extensive global network to support other initiatives such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Wildlife Trust’s challenge to unlock £1 billion of new investment for nature conservation in Scotland. We are also looking to explore the feasibility of a global framework for financial institutions measure and disclose nature-based risk.

With Covid-19 exposing the fragility of health security and financial systems there is a pressing need to build social, environmental and economic resilience. At GEFI, as we approach COP26, we are committed to working with our partners ensure nature joins climate at the top of the finance agenda to underpin a green and sustainable recovery, positioning Scotland as a leading global centre for ethical finance this Earth Day and beyond.

*A version of this blog post was published in The Herald on the 8th August 2020; it has been updated for 2021 .

Chris Tait
Executive Manager
Global Ethical Finance Initiative