Round Table Explores Innovations in Social and Blended Finance

The 19th Round Table discussion continued the series of topics on the social impact sector and focused on recent developments in social impact investment and philanthropy. The underlying theme of the discussion was to understand how these can form part of blended finance supporting partnerships between investors and the public and third sectors addressing specific social needs.

Jonathan Flory (Director, Social Finance) started off by discussing the concept of social investment in the wider context of impact investing. Founded in 2007, Social Finance is a non-profit organisation working in the social impact arena, famously known for developing the first Social Impact Bond (SIB) in the UK. While the market for social investment is fluid, it forms part of a growing market of nearly USD 228 billion in impact assets and a larger movement in which governments, corporations, fund managers, investors and individuals are increasingly focusing their attention on achieving positive social outcomes by means of their investments. While social investment means different things to different people, unlike other investment approaches it focuses on addressing pressing social issues. As a UK term, it describes investments that intentionally target specific social objectives along with a financial return and measure the achievement of both.

While the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 clearly signalled the importance of social value in public procurement, a range of motivations continue to exist on the investor side. While international investment giants such as UBS support the “doing well by doing good” theory of impact investing, suggesting that financial returns do not have to be traded off against social objectives, they also recognise the need for softer, philanthropic capital. Given the spectrum of investors’ expectations, it is essential to align the interests of organisations with expectations of investors, but in many cases for a partnership to work there is a need for some element of soft capital in the overall funding structure.

Partnerships can play an important role in scaling up impact. A good example of this is the Positive Families Partnership, a London-based programme seeking to divert adolescents from entering the care system. The partnership brings together central government, local authorities, funders, and programme delivery partners. It applies the blended finance model and mixes grant and investment funding. Following a successful pilot by Essex County Council, the partnership model has been adopted by 5 other boroughs in London and now looks likely to be expanded to include all London boroughs.

The key challenge is putting the partnership together. For partnerships and blended finance to work, there must be a place where funders feel safe to partner. Potential solutions include building a new brand for the partnership, forming a joint venture or an innovative funding structure. The latter is particularly effective in bringing together investors with different financial needs and social objectives as the funding is often structured in tiers. An example is the Arts Impact Fund blending public, private and charitable funding in which the junior tier with first loss is provided by the Arts Council.

Social Finance is optimistic about future developments in social investment. It sees a lot of potential in improving financial inclusion by expanding affordable credit and social housing. In terms of partnership structures, more cross-developmental cooperation is on the way with funds pooled from separate budgets. There is a clear trend in themed funding, in which partners group around themes, which gives the partnership a clear focus.

Jonathan’s presentation was followed by a talk by Kenneth Ferguson, the Director of the Robertson Trust, and Christine Walker, their Head of Social Impact, who presented their innovative model of a public-third sector partnership. The Robertson Trust is a well-established organisation in Scotland with a 6o-year history of improving social outcomes for individuals and communities. It operates by means of providing grants to other charitable bodies and over the course of its history has awarded £250m to 467 organisations.

Back in 2012, the Robertson trust wrestled with the issues of sustainability and scalability of the impactful work charities were delivering. There were very few innovative financing models in Scotland. The Scottish government’s attempt to set up public-private partnerships (PPP) contained no obligation on the public sector to sustain a project while the Robertson Trust believed in the need for systemic change and moving away from high cost reactive services towards lower cost preventative models. They were eager to develop models that would expand impact to the national scale, achieving systems change on the one hand, and providing charities with much needed long-term funding on the other.

Their Social Bridging Finance concept aims to support this through the development of a contract with the public sector. The model has elements of both SIBs and PPPs, but is grant-funded. It is used to sustain projects that have already proved their effectiveness. The strength of its programme is its simplicity. The standard contract is only 10 pages long and contains a maximum of 3 success criteria. The crucial part of the process is defining the success criteria and making sure they are clear, measurable and meaningful. The success criteria are assessed at the outset by a third sector organisation in consultation with the public sector body, which creates a dynamic discussion between the two sides. The local authorities, in turn, are well-positioned to identify potential savings from an early intervention. Once the contract is signed, the Robertson Trust then fund the demonstration period, which usually lasts around 2 years. If the success criteria are met, the public body ensures the continuity of funding thereafter. This gives the charity the certainty of stable funding and for the public body it de-risks change. If the project is not successful, there is no obligation on anyone to pay back the funds. This way the Robertson Trust assumes the financial risk by providing the bridging finance to facilitate the switch to a low cost preventative model.

An example of the model is MCR Pathways, one of Scotland's biggest PPP agreements, which aims to widen opportunities for Glasgow’s most disadvantaged young people by offering a school-based mentoring and employability programme. The Robertson Trust initially supported the project by funding the demonstration period, but the premature success of the programme allowed it to expand quickly to include 200 schools across Scotland. Importantly, the model has brought in systemic change. “This model has allowed us to create a new approach which is now business as usual”, said Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education Services, Glasgow City Council.

A lively question and answer session followed, in which participants shared their impressions of the results achieved by the Robertson Trust. It is important to have an organisation which takes the initiative and brokers the connection between the third sector and public bodies. There was a shared concern that some investors in the impact investment landscape have high expectations in terms of the financial return, which was thought to be inappropriate in the context of funding public services. It is believed to be of the reasons why the SIB model was not fully embraced in Scotland due to some of the ethical considerations involved. Jonathan stressed that social impact requires thinking about how to support vulnerable groups of people. Impact investing is about creating value as opposed to extracting value, and it does not always imply cashable savings; rather is about spending money better and in a more productive way.

However, given the genuine interest among mainstream banks increasingly seeking to put money where it is most impactful, how can we capitalise on institutional capital in attaining compliance with the SDGs? Kenneth believes that achieving scale is not possible for any one organisation and there is a spectrum, in which every organisation involved can contribute in its unique way. The Robertson Trust currently assumes the “risk bit” and their role is to participate in the early stages of a project to demonstrate its effectiveness while capital markets can bring the project to scale. For the model to work, though, there should be more discussion about making sure philanthropic funds are available.

While both organisations attempt to scale impact, there are some differences in their approaches. While the Robertson Trust suggests that scale should be achieved in cooperation with the public sector, Social Finance aims to do so by bringing in new capital and new players. However, both organisations continue to share common aspirations to achieve social change and there are already some early examples of their models converging.

EFRT on Social and Blended Finance Slides - June 2019


GEFI Round Table Discusses Ethical Finance Approaches in the Debt Capital Markets

The Ethical Finance Roundtable was held on Feb 27th at Baillie Gifford in Edinburgh. Entitled "Ethical Finance Approaches in the Debt Capital Markets", the round table covered market developments in the $1.45 trn climate-aligned bonds market (such as green bonds) along with innovative trends in ESG and SDG bonds.

Following a welcome by Chair Omar Shaikh, Graham Smith (Director - Sustainable Finance Unit - Global Banking, HSBC) provided an update on HSBC's strategy to deploy $100bn in sustainable financing and investment by 2025, and an overview of the bank's SDG bond and how it has integrated the Green Loan Principles and Green Bond Principles into its financial products and instruments:

The $100bn is typically deployed through: 1) bonds 2) loans and 3) investments where HSBC maintains a focus on returns. The green agenda is being driven by regulation where some governments are taking measures that encourage responsible lending in the private sector. The Paris Agreement, which set out national contribution guidelines in the form of NDCs, prompted legislation such as the Clean Air Act in the UK. Furthermore, in France, the Government issued Law 173 in making investors disclose green assets from brown banks are obliged to rebalance their assets with a higher ratio of green to brown.

HSBC is a leader in green finance and is committed to investing in green assets that drive the market forward. With the examples of Clean tech growing by 4% to 5% Graham suggested that investors should be interested in the space green or not.

In March 2018 the Green Loan Principles were published. Graham explained that this important development, with a similar rationale to the Green Bond Principles, applies to broader sections of business and society and has now become the “gold standard” for green loans. Banks can now offer products that they understand.

Graham explained the emergence of products (such as green, social, sustainability bonds and loans to transition loans) and that the Loan Association is likely to provide a much-needed definition for ESG loans in March this year.

With ESG products positioning businesses as good corporate citizens and green products highlighting a commitment to the environment there are PR benefits to be derived from businesses engaged in sustainable finance. In terms of pricing, there is no financial penalty for investing in green bonds but they still prove costly for issuers.

HSBC launched the world’s first bond that directly supports the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. The US$1 billion raised through the bond finances projects that benefit communities and the environment, including hospitals, schools, small-scale renewable power plants and public rail systems.

The key message is that regulations are driving the development of the market, leading to change at the commercial level. A prime example is the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD).

Caspar Cook (Head of Analysis, Cameron Hume) then outlined Cameron Hume's client-led approach to ESG, which focuses on a combination of values-based and returns-based strategies, and how this has evolved to successfully grow the Global Fixed Income ESG Fund.

Cameron Hume, an active fixed income specialist, is a signatory to UN PRI. Caspar started by explaining the considerations of applying an ESG approach to fixed income, which differs from its integration into equity investments. There remains a lot of confusion as to the definition of ESG so Cameron Hume has divided its approaches into two categories: returns-driven (ESG factors that are material to performance) vs values-driven (implement ethical social and environmental objectives of different investors). Cameron Hume focuses on returns-driven investment and only practices values-driven investing in segregated accounts that mandate it.

Caspar believes that ESG is a good risk indicator and cited the example of PG&E, a prolific bond issuer known as the cleanest provider of energy in USA. Carbon conscious investors would have found this an interesting play but they filed for bankruptcy following their link to the California wild fires. ESG analysis, using MSCI, would have highlighted risks relating to its poor land use and diversification thereby discouraging investment.

A further example was shared by Caspar. Equifax, the biggest US credit scoring company, had a substantial data breach recently that severely impacted its shares and bonds. MSCI had ranked Equifax 1 out of 10 in data security and flagged this as a material risk. These factors do not typically appear in annual accounts or financial ratios that many investors focus on.

ESG factors help investors focus on neglected risk that leads to more sustainable long-term investing. Cameron Hume’s Global Fixed Income ESG Fund uses responsible investing to bring ESG factors in to the investment process tilted towards higher ESG rated companies.

Following the formal presentations a lively and lively question and answer session followed. Some of the key points raised included:

  • It is easier to influence sovereigns through the bond markets than corporates.
  • ESG policies in businesses tend to be top down and not always filtering to the bottom layer of people making decisions.
  • ESG factors influence investment performance but not necessarily on a consistent basis. Some studies show that it can add 0.5% to 0.8% a year in performance. Participants were skeptical because it is hard to disentangle ESG from other factors.
  • Clients have fiduciary duty towards performance so it is a challenge for fund managers to integrate a universally agreed ethical stance into a portfolio (e.g. Calpers divested from tobacco stocks 15 years ago and recently published that that decision cost them USD6bn).
  • Even if findings suggest that ESG is good for performance over the last few years there is a lack of evidence indicating that it will improve performance going forward.
  • The bond industry must evolve to ensure bonds fulfil their green promises. At the moment they just get declassified but there should be penalties. And declassification often takes place long after the bond has de-greened (e.g. Mexico City airport project).

The session concluded with a discussion on the role the debt capital market industry can play in driving standardisation in pricing, measuring and reporting. The key points raised were:

  • At the moment the industry tends to tick boxes and gets PR recognition for this (e.g. the CDP used by the TCFD).
  • There is no perfect measure for transition risk, which will play a key role in consolidating many sectors in the medium term.
  • A nuance that influences the development of the industry positively is that asset managers pay for MSCI scorings while issuers pay for credit ratings.
  • As investors increasing focus on analysing and challenging data a virtuous cycle will be created to drive up the availability and quality of data.
  • A limitation on green bond reporting is the risk of breaching client confidentiality.
  • The proof of concept is just as poor in green project proposals that are submitted for debt funding. This leads to a serious lack of viable sensible pipeline to invest in (especially in the SDG space). Large lenders end up majority invested in their own assets as a result (e.g. HSBC’s SDG Bond

Overview of Ethical Debt Instruments

Introduction 

Debt instruments that provide a coupon as well as a social or environmental return are broadly dubbed as ethical debt instruments. They come in a variety of forms, and innovative new structures are increasingly coming to market.

The major driver of this is investor demand (such as pension funds, insurers and millennials) and issuers keen to tap into this rich pool of investment capital at equal to lower cost than purely financial return focused bonds. Investors increasingly believe that these forms of debt financing better capture long term and existential risks as well as seek to provide non-financial returns.

The most important factors to focus on when evaluating such instruments is whether the issue meets a common set of Social Bond Principles, namely use of proceeds, project or investment selection process, management of funds in accordance with a pre agreed framework that has been evaluated by a third party (e.g. Sustainalytics or CECERO) and aligns with a recognized global or national set of principles (such as the Green Bond Principles, the Social Bond Principles and/or the Sustainability Bond Guidelines) and impact metrics monitoring and reporting.

Green Bonds

By far the largest ethical debt market place at the moment, with USD11.9bn issued to date in 2019 alone. Last year there was USD167.3bn in issuances. This year is forecasted to mobilise USD250bn in issues. The majority of these bond issuances are aligned with the Climate Bonds Initiative to provide environmental integrity. A few are certified by the climate bond standard which is backed by a board of investors that represent USD34tr in AUM.

Essentially the proceeds of the bond must be used in areas that are consistent with the 2-degree Celsius warming limit specified in the Paris Agreement. BNP Paribas is consistently in the top five underwriting league tables for green bonds. Several stock exchanges have a dedicated section allocated to green bonds, such as Oslo, London, Mexico, Luxembourg, Italy, Shanghai, Taipei, Johannesburg and Japan. Interestingly the US, China and France are the largest sources of labelled green bonds.

Issuers range mostly from multi sector to energy or building related. Structures are sophisticated and diverse ranging from covered bonds and asset backed securities to green Schuldschein, green sukuks, mortgage backed securities and medium-term notes. Apart from issuing its first green bond (USD500mn) as early as 2015, HSBC has also issued an equity linked green bond for EUR34mn (2017) that pegs returns to the performance of a basket of ESG compliant listed companies that are measured against 134 KPIs (STOXX Europe ESG Leaders 30 Index). The proceeds are dedicated to projects that improve energy efficiency.

SDG Bonds

SDG bonds are a type of sustainability bond that aligns the projects it finances or refinances with social and / or environmental impact linked to specific SDGs. These may include all the SDGs or only some of them, such as in the case of the ANZ SDG Bond that seeks to contribute to the achievement of nine of the seventeen goals including health, education, sustainable cities and climate action or the HSBC UN SDG Bond that uses proceeds towards projects that achieve one or more of seven specified SDGs including clean water, energy, education and infrastructure.

In both cases the proceeds can also be used on its own operating or capital expenditures as long as it contributes to the achievement of one or more of the nine SDGs identified.

In HSBCs case the bond is majority invested in two of its LEED Gold certified headquarters in the Midlands and in Dubai. The HSBC bond which was launched in 2017 was USD1bn, 3x oversubscribed and matures in 2023. The more recent SDG bond issued by the World Bank links return on investment to the stock performance of thirty listed companies that make up the Solactive Sustainable Development Goals World MV Index. Proceeds will be used to finance their development projects. BNP Paribas arranged the bond while Banque SYZ placed it.

ESG Bonds

ESG is now a mainstream topic steering investment towards it, and this will continue at a steady pace given that Millennials, who put greater emphasis on adopting these values, will become 75% of the work force by 2025. One of the challenges the industry faces however is a lack of standardization making it difficult for investment funds to set a fixed ESG criteria. In addition, the size of ESG bond issues are generally small relative to their conventional peers and are issued by those with no track record thereby making it difficult for large institutional investors to participate. In fact 50% of European investors in a recent report said they did not think there were enough ESG products in the fixed income space. Another influencing factor in the debt capital markets is that whether labelled as a type of sustainability bond or not, 85% of European investors apply ESG criteria to at least investment grade bonds. (RBC Global Asset Management & Cerulli Associates)

Blue Bonds

These are bonds that raise financing for projects that support the sustainable use of ocean resources, inspired by the green bond movement but at a naisant stage. Only one issuer has raised a blue bond so far and that is the Seychelles, an island highly dependent on the ocean for its livelihood. The issue size was a modest USD15m and the coupon is part guaranteed by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility. Considering the size of the issue only three investors participated: Calvert Impact Capital, Nuveen and Prudential.

Vaccine Bonds

Vaccine bonds were in fact pioneered in 2006 by the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) launched by GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) and began the movement by the financial sector towards developing a set of principles to hold the socially responsible bonds universe together. Vaccine bonds are directly aligned to SDG 3, which aims to end the preventable death of children under 5 years of age by 2030. GAVI has been able to raise USD5.7bn so far as effective bridge financing until grant providers can step in.

Other Bonds

Other kinds of social & development impact bonds include Tobacco Social Impact Bonds (TSIB), a rhinoceros conservation impact bond, a cocoa and coffee production bond in Peru and a youth unemployment program bond in Serbia. Sometimes referred to as a pay for success model or a social benefit bond, these innovative financial instruments tend to be driven by private investors with an interest to offer upfront capital for a particular and specific social or environmental goal. These investors work with governments, philanthropists and/or aid donors to come up with mutually beneficial structures that reward them if outcomes are met.

Conclusion

Although the green bond marketplace has taken off well over the last few years, it is not enough to fill the USD3 to USD5 trillion annual gap that is required to meet the SDGs. Banks are in a perfect situation to align just part of their broad loan books towards SDGs that are material to them to drive more capital towards the achievement of the SDGs. Certain sectors can be identified as most closely aligned and a framework for tracking and reviewing annually can be put in place based on industry learnings from the green bond issuance space. As a result, banks will not only be able to expand their product offering and client base but also support their clients who wish to similarly begin engaging with and reporting on their contributions to the UN SDGs.

References: ICMA, UN, Dealogic, MSCI, European Commission, Climate Bonds Initiative and HSBC

Ethical Finance Round Table

HSBC is an active lender in the sustainable finance industry globally and a member of The ICMA Green Bond Principles Executive Committee, The Catalytic Finance Initiative, The Equator Principles Association, The WEF Climate Leaders CEO Group, The Climate Bonds Initiative, The Social Bond Guidance Steering Committee, China’s Green Finance Committee, and the Adopted Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosure. It is the founder of the HSBC Centre of Sustainable Finance and the award-winning Climate Change Centre of Excellence and the first sovereign Green Bond arranger (EUR750mn Polish Bond 2016). HSBC will be speaking at the Ethical Finance Roundtable in Edinburgh hosted by GEFI on Feb 27th 2019. To be considered for an invitation, please click here.