Investors find world’s top banks taking climate more seriously – but failing to institutionalize management of climate risk or opportunities at rate required
A new report examining 28 of the world’s largest banks on their management of climate-related risks concludes they are failing to align their business practices with targets to keep global temperature rises below two degrees. The investor assessment comes despite praising banks for introducing measures such as climate stress testing, carbon foot-printing and governance for climate risk.
The report, backed by investors with $500 billion in AUM and led by Boston Common Asset Management, is a follow up to the 2015 report “Are Banks Prepared for Climate Change?”. Today’s analysis finds some notable progress by major banks over the last year including:
- Over 70% of responding banks now undertaking carbon footprints or environmental stress tests, including banks such as
- Over 85% of responding banks disclosed financing or investment in renewable energy. For example, National Australia Bank plans to invest AUD 18 billion over seven years in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and low-emissions transport.
- Over 80% have adopted more explicit oversight of climate risk at board level; and almost two-thirds have established performance goals.
- Some banks, such as Credit Suisse now revising their policies to restrict lending to the coal mining and thermal power generation sectors. Others such as Standard Chartered are developing additional assessment criteria on climate risk for energy sector clients aligned with the Paris 1.5 degrees climate scenario.
However with the Paris Agreement now entered into force, the report concludes that banks are still not doing enough to embed climate risk into their assessment of credit, or taking full advantage of the opportunities the low-carbon transition presents. Shortcomings of the banking sector include:
- Over 80% of responding banks are not yet integrating the results of environmental stress testing into their business decisions.
- Only 35% of banks disclosed goals for energy efficiency financing, and less than 40% have set targets for renewable energy financing.
- Only 50% of banks have explicitly linked climate-strategy goals to executive compensation.
Boston Common is encouraged by the marked progress at many of the largest global banks in addressing climate change, and commend their willingness to hold in-depth discussions and advance the dialogue around climate risk. Notably, over 80% of the banks engaged have implemented substantive policy changes since the end of 2015 related to climate risk. However the core conclusion that the banking sector as a whole is not doing enough to measure and manage the material risks from carbon intensive sectors is a major concern to investors. For example, bank lending and investment to carbon intensive sectors (e.g. coal mining, extreme oil such as Arctic drilling or LNG) continues to significantly outpace green financing. In the past three years, European and North American banks have financed $786 billion to some of the most carbon intensive sectors.
Lauren Compere, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management, said:
“From stress tests to strategy, bonuses to benchmarks, investors are very pleased to see the new tools, policies and programs that banks are adopting to manage climate risk. But there remains room for improvement and serious issues of integration that must be resolved. The investors behind this report call on banks to not only expand the use of tools to collect climate data – but most crucially to integrate this data into their decision making process. There is no point in having tools without putting them to effective use.
“It makes little financial sense that bank financing of carbon intensive sectors such as coal – likely to become stranded assets, still outpaces green financing.”
The investors call on banks to take actions such as:
- Introducing goals and executive compensation linked to climate strategy;
- Expanding the use of carbon assessment tools (such as environmental stress tests) and integrating them into the decision-making process;
- Establishing explicit targets to reduce exposure to sectors vulnerable to climate change and increasing investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate adaptation; and
Support industry collaborations (such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) that increase the pace of change and use their public voice on climate action to encourage better government policy aligned with a below 2 degrees Celsius future.
Sara Nordbrand, Church of Sweden
“The impact of the Paris Agreement is clear – climate change is rising up the agenda and several banks are trying to grasp opportunities in line with the world’s climate goals. SEB is one example, being one of ten banks and investors launching the Positive Impact Manifesto and representing 7.6 % of the global green bonds market. At the same time all banks are grappling with how to measure and manage risks. The questions we are raising during this engagement aim to make them dive deeper and review strategies and policies in order to contribute more to the urgent transition”.
Stuart Palmer, Australian Ethical Investment
“This global initiative has contributed an important international voice to local investor and community scrutiny of the Australian major banks’ climate responses. Following the initial engagement, each of the banks made encouraging statements at the end of 2015 to align their businesses with the 2 degree future agreed in Paris. The ‘refreshing’ of the engagement in 2016 was again well-timed, coinciding with a focus on practical questions about whether the banks will fund specific thermal coal projects planned for Queensland – leading to some welcome indications that the answer will very likely be ‘no’.”
A quarter of banking customers noted an improvement in customer service over lockdown, research shows
SAS research reveals that banks offered an improved customer experience during lockdown
This represents some good news for banks in an extremely challenging time, with 59% of customers also saying they’d pay more to buy or use products and services from any company that provided them with a good customer experience over lockdown.
The improvement in customer experience also coincides with a rise in the number of digital customers. Since the pandemic started, the number of banking customers using a digital service or app has grown by 11%, adding to an existing 58% who were already digital customers. Over half (53%) of new users plan to continue using these digital services permanently moving forward.
Brian Holden, Director, Financial Services at SAS UK & Ireland, said:
“It’s notable that in times of need customers value being able to communicate with their bank and place an even higher value on good customer service. A rise in the number of digital customers means banks can now reach a wider audience online, leveraging AI and analytics to offer a more personalised experience.
“There is work to be done, though. Even greater personalisation is needed if banks are to win over the 12% of customers who felt banking services deteriorated over lockdown. And this personalisation will need to get right down to a segment of one to properly reflect the unique circumstances some individuals now find themselves in due to the pandemic.”
While the number of digital users grew over lockdown, there is still a quarter (24%) of the banking customer base that have chosen not to make the switch to digital services.
Meanwhile, failure to offer a consistently satisfactory customer experience could prove costly for banks, with a third (33%) of customers claiming that they would ditch a company after just one poor experience. This number jumps to 90% for between one and five poor examples of customer service, so this just underlines how much retail banks can win or lose in these difficult times.
For more insight into how other industries across EMEA performed during lockdown, download the full report: Experience 2030: Has COVID-19 created a new kind of customer?
Swedish Bank Stress Tests in Line with Recent Rating Actions
The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority’s (FSA) latest stress test results show major Swedish banks’ robust ability to absorb credit losses. The results support Fitch Ratings’ view that short-term risks have abated in recent months, and are in line with Fitch’s assessment of major Swedish banks’ capitalisation at ‘aa-‘, which was a factor when Fitch removed the ratings of Handelsbanken, Nordea (not covered by the FSA’s stress test) and SEB from Rating Watch Negative in September.
The FSA estimated about SEK130 billion of credit losses over 2020-2022 for the three largest banks (Swedbank, Handelsbanken and SEB) under its stress test. This represents about 220bp of their loans, or about 70bp annually. However, the banks’ pre-impairment profitability in the stress test could absorb credit losses of up to about 110bp of loans annually. Fitch’s baseline expectation is for credit losses below 20bp of loans in 2020 and 8bp-12bp in 2021.
Capital remained strong under the stress test. The average common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio fell by only 2.8pp (1.9pp if banks did not pay dividends) from 17.6% at end-June 2020. The capital decline was not driven by credit losses, which could be absorbed by pre-impairment profitability, but by risk-weighted asset inflation.
The three banks’ 3Q20 results showed that capital has been resilient despite the coronavirus crisis. The banks had a CET1 capital surplus over regulatory minimums, including buffers, of almost SEK100 billion (excluding about SEK33 billion earmarked for dividends). SEB had a CET1 ratio of 19.4% at end-September, Handelsbanken’s was 17.8% and Swedbank’s 16.8%.
The SEK130 billion credit losses under the latest stress test are lower than under the FSA’s spring 2020 stress test (SEK145 billion), which also covered a shorter period of two years. However, they are still larger than the actual losses incurred by the three banks during the 2008-2010 crisis. This is despite tightened underwriting standards by the three banks in recent years, including, in the case of SEB and Swedbank, in the Baltics, the source of most of their loan impairment charges in the previous crisis.
In its baseline economic forecasts, the FSA assumes a harsher shock to Sweden’s GDP in 2020 and 2021 (-6.9% and 1%, respectively) than Fitch’s baseline (-4% and 3.4%), although it assumes a similar recovery by end-2022. It also assumes real estate price corrections, which appears particularly conservative in light of a 11% housing property price increase over January to November 2020.
The ratings of Handelsbanken (AA), Nordea (AA-) and SEB (AA-) are on Negative Outlook due to medium-term risks to our baseline scenario. The rating of Swedbank (A+) is on Stable Outlook, reflecting significant headroom at the current rating level following a one-notch downgrade in April due to shortcomings in anti-money laundering risk controls.
Future success for banks will be driven by balancing physical and digital services
Digital acceleration due to COVID-19 has not eliminated the need for bank branches
Faster service (23%), smaller queues (26%) and longer opening hours (31%) are among customers’ biggest asks of their bank branch, new research from Diebold Nixdorf today reveals. But with 41% consumers saying they would be comfortable to engage with all banking services via an app, it is vital that banks respond to the full spectrum of customer needs – balancing and evolving their offerings on multiple fronts.
A third (35%) of customers say they will always want access to physical, in-branch banking services in some capacity and one in ten (10%) consumers will never bank predominantly online in the future. This demonstrates that there remains an important role for the services a branch provides. This role, however, continues to shift away from purely transactional banking:
A quarter (26%) value face-to-face advice when it comes to their banking needs
One in five (18%) seek advice on different products
17% want to speak to the staff or other customers.
Matt Phillips, Diebold Nixdorf vice president, head of financial services UK & Ireland, said: “The majority of banks have spent the last decade focusing on their digital strategies and investing in improving – or establishing – their online customer experience. However, the data shows that there is still an essential role for physical branches. Banks now increasingly face the challenge of continuing to provide customers with access to a range of physical and as well as digital services, giving them the flexibility to choose the best service for them at any given moment in time.”
When looking beyond the impact of COVID-19, planned branch visits by customers are expected to rebound to 28%, following a dip to 11% during lockdown. And when asked about the new services they’d like to see inside their bank, sixteen percent of respondents said more self-service machines would improve their in-branch experience.
Matt Phillips continues: “In a world that is fast evolving and where the future is digital, there’s no doubt that high street banks must, and are, responding to the needs of highly digital customers. But not every customer requirement is digital. There is still a strong need for physical bank branches and the interaction and services they offer, and striking this balance between physical and digital is where the industry must come together to provide solutions. For example, building a strong, leave-behind strategy is something we’re seeing across the board when banks have to close branches, ensuring customers have access to self-service machines to complete all their transactional needs.”
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