Top of main content
Corals

Why investors cannot ignore the ‘S’ in ESG

ESG and Sustainable investments
Investing
Sustainability
ESG

Why investors cannot ignore the ‘S’ in ESG

Apr 25, 2022

For businesses and investors, ESG (environmental, social and governance) integration is not just a nice to have: it has become core to strategic and sustainable growth.

The ‘S’ in ESG in particular is moving rapidly up the agenda due to the effects of the pandemic, which highlighted inequalities in health and wider society; recent social and labour movements; and awareness of the wide and commercially tangible benefits of diversity, inclusion and employee wellbeing.

“Society is looking for fairer economies and fairer companies,” says Willem Sels, Global Chief Investment Officer, HSBC Global Private Banking and Wealth. “We believe those companies that behave in a fair way are going to be the ones that win in the longer term, and investors positioned to anticipate the change will benefit.”

Powering a new social conscience

The COVID-19 pandemic has put social inequalities into sharp focus. One example is stark differences in access to vaccines across the world based on socioeconomic status. Just 14 per cent of the population of low-income countries has received at least one vaccine dose for COVID-19, compared with 79 per cent of the population in high- and upper-middle-income countries.1

Unequal access to healthcare, coupled with longer life expectancies and ageing populations worldwide, has triggered intense demand for sustainable healthcare – that which is affordable and accessible.

“Innovative new technologies are enabling healthcare services to be delivered in novel ways, often at lower overall cost and with better patient outcomes,” Sels notes. “This presents a fascinating investment opportunity with the potential for both social and financial rewards.”

Ethnic minorities, lower-income households and women have also been disproportionately economically affected by the pandemic. In the US, female participation in the labour force is at a 33-year low. Black women, senior managers and women with young children have experienced the greatest challenges: some 23 per cent of women with children younger than 10 considered leaving the workforce in 2020.2

Yet we know greater diversity means greater productivity, greater creativity and therefore greater profits – and increasingly so. One analysis found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile – up from 21 per cent in 2017 and 15 per cent in 2014.3

Another key talking point around ESG in recent months has been labour standards, as company supply chains come under scrutiny and consumers push companies to treat employees, customers and society more fairly. 

Everyone is a stakeholder in social issues

Judy Kuszewski is Chief Executive at Sancroft, a sustainability consultancy that works with companies to improve their environmental, ethical and social impact. She explains that regulation has been an important contributor to companies’ new focus on social factors.

“Governments and regulators worldwide are starting to tackle major issues of social concern in a big way,” she says, pointing to the UK Modern Slavery Act, and new rules on human rights due diligence in the EU and Japan. Meanwhile, in China, authorities are pursuing a ‘common prosperity’ drive – an effort to correct social inequalities and bridge the wealth gap.

“China has seen a significant shift from the decades-long focus on quantity of growth to high-quality, low-carbon and inclusive growth,” says Cheuk Wan Fan, Chief Investment Officer, Asia, HSBC Global Private Banking and Wealth. “China’s vision to promote common prosperity and other initiatives under the 14th Five-Year Plan will create new opportunities for growth.”

But there is not just top-down direction from governments on social issues. Shareholders feel empowered to hold companies to account, because the ‘S’ is all about society and people, making everyone a legitimate expert, says Kuszewski. Investors and executives are leading a shift around the role of businesses in society, she suggests, realising that companies need to build and maintain their reputation and “social license” to operate. 

Plus, there is evidence that shareholders and consumers are increasingly willing to pressure companies on social values through their buying habits. A survey from Euromonitor found that more than a third of consumers are willing to boycott brands that don’t align with their values, and switch to those that engage in social issues.4

Corporate social responsibility: cost versus benefit

Being socially responsible does not come at a cost to business. “On the contrary,” notes Sels. “Research shows it is likely to boost their bottom line over time, with additional benefits for employees, customers, investors and the wider economy.”

A truly open and inclusive company culture can also help businesses attract and keep the best talent, which is crucial at the time of the ‘Great Resignation’, and can make employees more motivated and engaged. One study found that organisations with more diverse teams have a 22 per cent lower turnover than those without.5 They can also serve their clients better, boosting sales and profits.

“Gender diversity has been an important investment theme for us through the years,” says Sels. “We believe that diverse teams benefit from diversity of thought and make fewer mistakes because they challenge each other. They are also more aligned with their clients, tend to be stronger when it comes to marketing and have products that are better adapted to the needs of their customers.”

A 2015 report forecast that USD12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.6 In contrast, globally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality alone is estimated at USD160.2 trillion,7 so the stakes are high.

Measuring the ‘S’ in ESG

Key to understanding the ‘S’ in ESG and the impact it is having is quantifying success.

ESG rating agencies and investors are enhancing their analysis of social issues and putting pressure on companies to be more transparent. Increasingly, shareholders are asking businesses for more detailed disclosures about outcomes and impact of their initiatives and commitments.

This should add up to clearer ways to assess the impact of company policies and practices on social issues in the future, so investors know where to put their money for best effect.

“Environmental issues may take the spotlight, but social issues are just as important,” Fan says. “Investors have a key role to play in building a future that prioritises resilience, social mobility and the environment alongside economic growth.”

Read more insight from our investment experts here, and discover our high-conviction investment themes in our latest Investment Outlook.

“Sustainable investments” include investment approaches or instruments which consider environmental, social, governance and/or other sustainability factors (collectively, “sustainability”) to varying degrees. Certain instruments we include within this category may be in the process of changing to deliver sustainability outcomes.

There is no guarantee that sustainable investments will produce returns similar to those which don’t consider these factors. Sustainable investments may diverge from traditional market benchmarks.

In addition, there is no standard definition of, or measurement criteria for sustainable investments, or the impact of sustainable investments (“sustainability impact”). Sustainable investment and sustainability impact measurement criteria are (a) highly subjective and (b) may vary significantly across and within sectors. 

HSBC may rely on measurement criteria devised and/or reported by third party providers or issuers. HSBC does not always conduct its own specific due diligence in relation to measurement criteria. There is no guarantee: (a) that the nature of the sustainability impact or measurement criteria of an investment will be aligned with any particular investor’s sustainability goals; or (b) that the stated level or target level of sustainability impact will be achieved.

Sustainable investing is an evolving area and new regulations may come into effect which may affect how an investment is categorised or labelled. An investment which is considered to fulfil sustainable criteria today may not meet those criteria at some point in the future.

The following may be subject to local requirements.

 

This is a marketing communication issued by HSBC Private Banking. This document does not constitute independent investment research under the European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (‘MiFID’), or other relevant law or regulation, and is not subject to any prohibition on dealing ahead of its distribution. HSBC Private Banking is the principal private banking business of the HSBC Group. Private Banking may be carried out internationally by different HSBC legal entities according to local regulatory requirements. Different companies within HSBC Private Banking or the HSBC Group may provide the services listed in this document. Some services are not available in certain locations. Members of the HSBC Group may trade in products mentioned in this publication.

 

This document is provided to you for your information purposes only and should not be relied upon as investment advice. The information contained within this document is intended for general circulation to HSBC Private Banking clients and it has not been prepared in light of your personal circumstances (including your specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs) and does not constitute a personal recommendation, nor should it be relied upon as a substitute for the exercise of independent judgement. This document does not constitute and should not be construed as legal, tax or investment advice or a solicitation and/or recommendation of any kind from the Bank to you, nor as an offer or invitation from the Bank to you to subscribe to, purchase, redeem or sell any financial instruments, or to enter into any transaction with respect to such instruments. The content of this document may not be suitable for your financial situation, investment experience and investment objectives, and the Bank does not make any representation with respect to the suitability or appropriateness to you of any financial instrument or investment strategy presented in this document.

 

If you have concerns about any investment or are uncertain about the suitability of an investment decision, you should contact your Relationship Manager or seek such financial, legal or tax advice from your professional advisers as appropriate.

 

Market data in this document is sourced from Bloomberg unless otherwise stated. While this information has been prepared in good faith including information from sources believed to be reliable, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is or will be made by HSBC Private Banking or any part of the HSBC Group or by any of their respective officers, employees or agents as to or in relation to the accuracy or completeness of this document.

 

It is important to note that the capital value of, and income from, any investment may go down as well as up and you may not get back the original amount invested. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Forward-looking statements, views and opinions expressed and estimates given constitute HSBC Private Banking’s best judgement at the time of publication, are solely expressed as general commentary and do not constitute investment advice or a guarantee of returns and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other market participants and are subject to change without notice. Actual results may differ materially from the forecasts/estimates.  When an investment is denominated in a currency other than your local or reporting currency, changes in exchange rates may have an adverse effect on the value of that investment. There is no guarantee of positive trading performance.

 

Foreign securities carry particular risks, such as exposure to currency fluctuations, less developed or less efficient trading markets, political instability, a lack of company information, differing auditing and legal standards, volatility and, potentially, less liquidity.

 

Investment in emerging markets may involve certain additional risks, which may not be typically associated with investing in more established economies and/or securities markets. Such risks include (a) the risk of nationalization or expropriation of assets; (b) economic and political uncertainty; (c) less liquidity in so far of securities markets; (d) fluctuations in currency exchange rate; (e) higher rates of inflation; (f) less oversight by a regulator of local securities market; (g) longer settlement periods in so far as securities transactions and (h) less stringent laws in so far the duties of company officers and protection of Investors.

 

You should contact your Relationship Manager if you wish to enter into a transaction for an investment product. You should not make any investment decision based solely on the content of any document.

 

Some HSBC Offices listed may act only as representatives of HSBC Private Banking, and are therefore not permitted to sell products and services, or offer advice to customers. They serve as points of contact only. Further details are available on request.

 

In the United Kingdom, this document has been approved for distribution by HSBC UK Bank plc whose Private Banking office is located at 8 Cork Street, London W1S 3LJ and whose registered office is at 1 Centenary Square, Birmingham, B1 1HQ. HSBC UK Bank plc is registered in England under number 09928412.  Clients should be aware that the rules and regulations made under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 for the protection of investors, including the protection of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, do not apply to investment business undertaken with the non-UK offices of the HSBC Group. This publication is a Financial Promotion for the purposes of Section 21 of the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 and has been approved for distribution in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Financial Promotion Rules by HSBC UK Bank plc, which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

 

In Guernsey, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Banking (C.I.) a division of HSBC Bank plc, Guernsey Branch which is licensed by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission for Banking, Insurance Intermediary and Investment Business. In Jersey, this material is issued by HSBC Private Banking (Jersey) which is a division of HSBC Bank plc, Jersey Branch: HSBC House, Esplanade, St. Helier, Jersey, JE1 1HS. HSBC Bank plc, Jersey Branch is regulated by the Jersey Financial Services Commission for Banking, General Insurance Mediation, Fund Services and Investment Business. HSBC Bank plc is registered in England and Wales, number 14259. Registered office 8 Canada Square, London, E14 5HQ. HSBC Bank plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

 

In France, this material is distributed by HSBC Europe Continental. HSBC Private Banking is the private banking department of the HSBC Group in France. HSBC Europe Continental is subject to approval and control by the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution [Prudential Control and Resolution Authority] as a credit entity. HSBC Private Banking department of HSBC Continental Europe, Public Limited Company with share capital of 491,155,980.00 €- SIREN 775 670 284 Trade and Companies Register of Paris Bank and Insurance Intermediary registered with the Organisme pour le Registre des Intermédiaires en Assurances [Organisation for the Register of Insurance Intermediaries] under no. 07 005 894 (www.orias.fr) - Intra-community VAT number: FR 707 756 702 84. HSBC Private Banking - HSBC Europe Continental – Registered office: 38, avenue Kléber 75116 Paris- FRANCE- Tel. +33 (0) 1 49 52 20 00.

  

In Switzerland, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA, a bank regulated by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA, whose office is located at Quai des Bergues 9-17, 1201 Genève, Switzerland. This document does not constitute independent financial research, and has not been prepared in accordance with the Swiss Bankers Association’s “Directive on the Independence of Financial Research”, or any other relevant body of law.

 

In Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) by HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, ADGM Branch, 3526, Al Maqam Tower, ADGM, Abu Dhabi, is regulated by the ADGM Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA). Content in this material is directed at Professional Clients only as defined by the FSRA and should not be acted upon by any other person.

 

In Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) S.A., DIFC Branch, P.O. Box 506553 Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and is permitted to only deal with  Professional Clients as defined by the DFSA.

 

In South Africa, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA’s Representative Office approved by the South African Reserve Board (SARB) under registration no. 00252 and authorized as a financial services provider (FSP) for the provision of Advice and Intermediary Services by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority of South Africa (FSCA) under registration no. 49434. The Representative Office has its registered address at 2 Exchange Square, 85 Maude Street, Sandown, Sandton.

 

In Bahrain and Qatar, this material is distributed by the respective branches of HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, which is locally regulated by the respective local country Central Banks and lead regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

 

In Lebanon, this material is handed out by HSBC Financial Services (Lebanon) S.A.L. (“HFLB”), licensed by the Capital Markets Authority as a financial intermediation company Sub N°12/8/18 to carry out Advising and Arranging activities, having its registered address at Centre Ville 1341 Building, 4th floor, Patriarche Howayek Street, Beirut, Lebanon, P.O.Box Riad El Solh 9597.

 

In Hong Kong and Singapore, THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT HAVE NOT BEEN REVIEWED OR ENDORSED BY ANY REGULATORY AUTHORITY IN HONG KONG OR SINGAPORE. HSBC Private Banking is a division of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. In Hong Kong, this document has been distributed by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in the conduct of its Hong Kong regulated business. In Singapore, the document is distributed by the Singapore Branch of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. Both Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and Singapore Branch of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited are part of the HSBC Group. This document is not intended for and must not be distributed to retail investors in Hong Kong and Singapore. The recipient(s) should qualify as professional investor(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Ordinance in Hong Kong or accredited investor(s) or institutional investor(s) or other relevant person(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Act in Singapore. Please contact a representative of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited or the Singapore Branch of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited respectively in respect of any matters arising from, or in connection with this report.

 

Some of the products are only available to professional investors as defined under the Securities and Futures Ordinance in Hong Kong / accredited investor(s), institutional investor(s) or other relevant person(s) as defined under the Securities and Futures Act in Singapore. Please contact your Relationship Manager for more details.

 

The specific investment objectives, personal situation and particular needs of any specific persons were not taken into consideration in the writing of this document. To the extent we are required to conduct a suitability assessment in Hong Kong where this is permitted by cross border rules depending on your place of domicile or incorporation, we will take reasonable steps to ensure the suitability of the solicitation and/or recommendation. In all other cases, you are responsible for assessing and satisfying yourself that any investment or other dealing to be entered into is in your best interest and is suitable for you.

 

In all cases, we recommend that you make investment decisions only after having carefully reviewed the relevant investment product and offering documentation, HSBC’s Standard Terms and Conditions, the “Risk Disclosure Statement” detailed in the Account Opening Booklet, and all notices, risk warnings and disclaimers contained in or accompanying such documents and having understood and accepted the nature, risks of and the terms and conditions governing the relevant transaction and any associated margin requirements. In addition to any suitability assessment made in Hong Kong by HSBC (if any), you should exercise your own judgment in deciding whether or not a particular product is appropriate for you, taking into account your own circumstances (including, without limitation, the possible tax consequences, legal requirements and any foreign exchange restrictions or exchange control requirements which you may encounter under the laws of the countries of your citizenship, residence or domicile and which may be relevant to the subscription, holding or disposal of any investment) and, where appropriate, you should consider taking professional advice including as to your legal, tax or accounting position. Please note that this information is neither intended to aid in decision making for legal or other consulting questions, nor should it be the basis of any such decision. If you require further information on any product or product class or the definition of Financial Products, please contact your Relationship Manager.

 

In Luxembourg, this material is distributed by HSBC Private Banking (Luxembourg) SA, which is located at 16, boulevard d’Avranches, L-1160 Luxembourg and is regulated by the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (“CSSF”).

 

In the United States, HSBC Private Banking offers banking products and services through HSBC Bank USA, N.A. – Member FDIC and provides securities and brokerage products and services through HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., member NYSE/ FINRA/SIPC, and an affiliate of HSBC Bank USA, N.A.

 

Investment products are: Not a deposit or other obligation of the bank or any affiliates; Not FDIC insured or insured by any federal government agency of the United States; Not guaranteed by the bank or any of its affiliates; and are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal invested.

 

Australia

If you are receiving this document in Australia, the products and services are provided by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (ABN 65 117 925 970, AFSL 301737) for “wholesale” customers (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001). Any information provided is general in nature only and does not take into account your personal needs and objectives nor whether any investment is appropriate. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited is not a registered tax agent. It does not purport to, nor does it, give or provide any taxation advice or services whatsoever. You should not rely on the information provided in the documents for ascertaining your tax liabilities, obligations or entitlements and should consult with a registered tax agent to determine your personal tax obligations.

 

Where your location of residence differs from that of the HSBC entity where your account is held, please refer to the disclaimer at https://www.privatebanking.hsbc.com/disclaimer/cross-border-disclosure for disclosure of cross-border considerations regarding your location of residence.

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, on any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of HSBC UK Bank plc.

 

A complete list of private banking entities is available on our website, https://www.privatebanking.hsbc.com.

 

©Copyright HSBC 2022

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Listening to what you have to say about services matters to us. It's easy to share your ideas, stay informed and join the conversation.