Greenwashing corresponds to a mismatch between investors' expectations regarding the sustainable financial products offered by banks and the actual characteristics of these products. Greater transparency (disclosure) and classification (taxonomy) of sustainable finance activities are essential to bridge this gap, educate end-investors and improve the training of investment advisors.
For perception and expectations to be aligned, end-investor needs to be clear on the sustainability goals they are aiming at achieving through their investments while the financial institutions need to set international standards to transparently define, classify and communicate the characteristics of the sustainable financial products they recommend to their clients.
Implementing a sustainable investment strategy is not as simple as it seems. Investors face two main challenges:
- At the national level, Swiss law imposes overly strict investment rules on pension funds
- At the international level, standardization of rules and definitions is still lacking
Regulation should focus on incentives, not coercion
Regulation and taxation are two ways to create incentives that support the development of new sustainable financial products. Government can signal its support by adopting a favourable legal framework. On the tax side, stamp duty and withholding tax are a major obstacle to the development of sustainable finance, especially for institutional investors.
The need for common international standards
It can be difficult for investors to identify sustainable investments that meet their requirements. Standardising rules and definitions would make it easier to compare different products in terms of sustainability.
The European Union (EU) adopted a sustainability Action Plan in 2018, followed in July 2021 by a new Sustainable Finance Strategy. To be effective, this plan will have to do three things:
- Standardise rules while minimizing the potential negative effects of over-regulation
- Promote transparency and prevent greenwashing
- Ensure that ESG reporting is not overly burdensome for companies
As part of this process, Switzerland should keep a close eye on regulations being developed by the European Union, still its main trading partner. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the Swiss government should align its regulatory framework as needed with the European one, and refrain from adopting more stringent rules than our neighbours. That would put us at a competitive disadvantage in a high-growth industry, for no good reason.