3 Reasons Why All Startups Should Embrace ESG

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Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) issues are firmly on the board agendas of large, publicly-listed companies. 2021 marks the year in which VC-backed startups need to follow suit. What is the best way to achieve this change? 

Some smaller companies have already made the move. A recent survey (1) of pre-seed and series A startups found that almost two thirds already have some ESG policies in place. Of those who didn’t, over half were now seriously considering them.  

Startups can benefit from an ESG focus for three key reasons: a higher chance of investment, attracting better talent and risk mitigation.

 

Increased investment

Over the last five years there has been an explosion in VC funds focusing on startups in the ESG space. One such fund is DBL Partners. They are currently looking to raise $450m for their fourth fundt. Their mission involves investing in companies which provide capital returns while also enabling environmental and social benefits. 

More recently, an increasing number of non-ESG focused VC firms are embedding ESG values into the companies they invest in. For example, Christine Tsai, CEO of 500 Startups, one of the most active global early stage venture capital firms whose “unicorn investments” include Credit Karma, Canva, Grab and Talkdesk, said that startups should implement ESG early on (2)

If startups want to stand out, they should embed ESG policies into their business model, principles and culture at the beginning rather than trying to “retro-fit” policies later under the pressure of investors or others. 

 

Top talent attraction and retention

Startups with ESG values embedded in the business are more attractive to the best talent. This gives them a tangible competitive advantage.

Millennials currently make up 50% of the global workforce (3). A recent study (4) found that more than 40% said they had joined a firm because they performed better on sustainability. The same study showed that they are 70% more likely to stay longer if they feel the company has a strong sustainability plan. 

However, relying on ESG policies and reporting (internally and externally) alone is not enough to benefit. Startups need to embrace a culture of openness at the core of their business. They must be honest to their stakeholders about their ESG weaknesses as well as their strengths. Only then will their ESG communications be authentic and have real impact on talent attraction and more importantly retention. 

 

Risk mitigation 

ESG policies can de-risk young companies as policy adoption becomes more difficult as they grow. A recent white paper (5) argued that startups are even more vulnerable to negative reputational impacts compared to more established firms, given their relatively small size and high growth characteristics.

For example, German fintech success story Wirecard shook the financial world earlier this year as it became clear that over $2bn was missing from their balance sheet (6). Also, in late 2019, it was reported that the CEO and founder of luggage startup AWAY, which had raised over $31 million, openly bullied and belittled her employees (7). This led to a media backlash against the company which greatly impacted their growth and market position.

With stronger governance policies and procedures, these scandals may have been avoidable. Startups which embed strong governance policies early on are much less likely to run into such issues.

How to integrate ESG into a VC-backed startup

It can be difficult for founders to decide which ESG policies to apply, which areas to focus on and how to communicate their outcomes authentically to stakeholders. Yet this is something which investors and top talent are increasingly looking for.  

ESG action plans should follow a staged approach, with a roadmap assessed and realigned at each funding round:  

  • Map your current ESG strengths
     Work out what you are already doing right, supported by resources such as the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board Materiality Map to work out which ESG policies and metrics are relevant for your industry. Also, map out the ecosystem of the different stakeholders your company interacts with, including customers, suppliers, regulators and employees. 
  • Develop your goals and measure your progress
     Collect the relevant data to work out your current baseline and decide goals for the short, medium and long term, building a dashboard incorporating relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track progress. ESG standards are complex and can need a multitude of different data points depending on the type of industry.  
  • Communicate your position
    Regularly collect and communicate your ESG data to relevant stakeholders including investors, employees, regulators, consumers and the media. Publish your ESG successes and milestones on your social media channels and your recruitment page. You might also want to consider inviting in third party auditors to validate your ESG data and methods of collecting it, and look into external certification e.g B-corp status. 

This brief overview may not answer all your questions. 

If you would like to hear more about how we can help VCs and startups manage, improve and communicate their ESG impact please get in touch. 

1. 500 Startups (2020) Survey results: The Impact of Covid-19 on the Early-Stage Investment Climate,  https://survey.500.co/investor-survey-report-download/
2.
Venture Capital Journal (Jun 2020) 500 Startups makes ESG top of mind going forward,https://www.venturecapitaljournal.com/500-startups-makes-esg-top-of-mind-going-forward/
3.
KMPG (2017) Meet the millennials https://home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/uk/pdf/2017/04/Meet-the-Millennials-Secured.pdf
4. Fast Company (Feb 2019) Most millennials would take a pay cut to work at a environmentally responsible company,https://www.fastcompany.com/90306556/most-millennials-would-take-a-pay-cut-to-work-at-a-sustainable-company
5. CDC investment works & FMO Entrepreneurial Investment Bank (Jan 2020) Responsible venture capital Integrating environmental and social approaches in early-stage investing,  https://assets.cdcgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/16092500/Responsible-Venture-Capital.pdf
6. Markets Insider (Jun 2020) How $2 billion vanished from the balance sheet of Wirecard, according to a forensic financial expert,
https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/wirecard-scandal-numbers-financial-forensic-expert-breakdown-2020-6-1029332810
7.
The Verge (Dec 2019) Away’s founders sold a vision of travel and inclusion, but former employees say it masked a toxic work environment, https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/5/20995453/away-luggage-ceo-steph-korey-toxic-work-environment-travel-inclusion

 

 

 

 

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"Startups can benefit from an ESG focus for three key reasons: a higher chance of investment, attracting better talent and risk mitigation."

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text disabled_on="on|on|off" _builder_version="4.4.8" min_height="15px" custom_margin="452px||133px|||" custom_padding="8px|||||"]

"If startups want to stand out, they should embed ESG policies into their business model, principles and culture at the beginning rather than trying to “retro-fit” policies later under the pressure of investors or others."

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text disabled_on="on|on|off" _builder_version="4.4.8" min_height="15px" custom_margin="427px|||||" custom_padding="1px|||||"]

"ESG policies can de-risk young companies as policy adoption becomes more difficult as they grow."

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Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) and Sustainable Investment

Client propositions and products in data-driven transformation in ESG and Sustainable Investing.

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Upcoming blogs:

 

This is the fourth in a series of blogs that will explore the ESG world: its growth, its potential opportunities and the constraints that are holding it back. We will explore the increasing importance of ESG and how it affects business leaders, investors, asset managers, regulatory actors and more.

 

Artificial Intelligence: the Solution to the ESG Data Gap? In the second part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Anya explores the potential opportunities surrounding Artificial Intelligence and responsible investing.

 

Riding the ESG Regulatory Wave: In the third part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Alejandra explores the implementation challenges of ESG regulations hitting EU Asset Managers and Financial Institutions.

 

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How Leading Point can help

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By using our cloud-based data visualisation platform to bring together relevant metrics, we help organisations gain a standardised view and improve your ESG reporting and portfolio performance.  Our live ESG dashboard can be used to scenario plan, map out ESG strategy and tell the ESG story to stakeholders.

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AI helps with the process of ingesting, analysing and distributing data as well as offering predictive abilities and assessing trends in the ESG space.  Leading Point is helping our AI startup partnerships adapt their technology to pursue this new opportunity, implementing these solutions into investment firms and supporting them with the use of the technology and data management.

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Implementing ESG regulations and providing operational support to improve ESG metrics for banks and other financial institutions. Ensuring compliance by benchmarking and disclosing ESG information, in-depth data collection to satisfy corporate reporting requirements, conducting appropriate investment and risk management decisions, and to make disclosures to clients and fund investors.

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Artificial Intelligence: The Solution to the ESG Data Gap?

The Power of ESG Data

It was Warren Buffett who said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” and that is the reality that all companies face on a daily basis. An effective set of ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) policies has never been more crucial. However, it is being hindered by difficulties surrounding the effective collection and communication of ESG data points, as well a lack of standardisation when it comes to reporting such data. As a result, the ESG space is being revolutionised by Artificial Intelligence, which can find, analyse and summarise this information.
 

There is increasing public and regulatory pressure on firms to ensure their policies are sustainable and on investors to take such policies into account when making investment decisions. The issue for investors is how to know which firms are good ESG performers and which are not. The majority of information dominating research and ESG indices comes from company-reported data. However, with little regulation surrounding this, responsible investors are plagued by unhelpful data gaps and “Greenwashing”. This is when a firm uses favourable data points and convoluted wording to appear more sustainable than they are in reality. They may even leave out data points that reflect badly on them. For example, firms such as Shell are accused of using the word ‘sustainable’ in their mission statement whilst providing little evidence to support their claims (1)

Could AI be the complete solution?

AI could be the key to help investors analyse the mountain of ESG data that is yet to be explored, both structured and unstructured. Historically, AI has been proven to successfully extract relevant information from data sources including news articles but it also offers new and exciting opportunities. Consider the transcripts of board meetings from a Korean firm: AI could be used to translate and examine such data using techniques such as Sentiment Analysis. Does the CEO seem passionate about ESG issues within the company? Are they worried about an investigation into Human Rights being undertaken against them? This is a task that would be labour-intensive, to say the least, for analysts to complete manually.  

 

In addition, AI offers an opportunity for investors to not only act responsibly, but also align their ESG goals to a profitable agenda. For example, algorithms are being developed that can connect specific ESG indicators to financial performance and can therefore be used by firms to identify the risk and reward of certain investments. 

 

Whilst AI offers numerous opportunities with regards to ESG investing, it is not without fault. Firstly, AI takes enormous amounts of computing power and, hence, energy. For example, in 2018, OpenAI found the level of computational power used to train the largest AI models has been doubling every 3.4 months since 2012 (2). With the majority of the world’s energy coming from non-renewable sources, it is not difficult to spot the contradiction in motives here. We must also consider whether AI is being used to its full potential; when simply used to scan company published data, AI could actually reinforce issues such as “Greenwashing”. Further, the issue of fake news and unreliable sources of information still plagues such methods and a lot of work has to go into ensuring these sources do not feature in algorithms used. 

 

When speaking with Dr Thomas Kuh, Head of Index at leading ESG data and AI firm Truvalue Labs™, he outlined the difficulties surrounding AI but noted that since it enables human beings to make more intelligent decisions, it is surely worth having in the investment process. In fact, he described the application of AI to ESG research as ‘inevitable’ as long as it is used effectively to overcome the shortcomings of current research methods. For instance, he emphasised that AI offers real time information that traditional sources simply cannot compete with. 

 A Future for AI?

According to a 2018 survey from Greenwich Associates (3), only 17% of investment professionals currently use AI as part of their process; however, 40% of respondents stated they would increase budgets for AI in the future. As an area where investors are seemingly unsatisfied with traditional data sources, ESG is likely to see more than its fair share of this increase. Firms such as BNP Paribas (4) and Ecofi Investissements (5) are already exploring AI opportunities and many firms are following suit. We at Leading Point see AI inevitably becoming integral to an effective responsible investment process and intend to be at the heart of this revolution. 

 

AI is by no means the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to ESG investing and depends on those behind it, constantly working to improve the algorithms, as well as the analysts using it to make more informed decisions. AI does, however, have the potential to revolutionise what a responsible investment means and help reallocate resources towards firms that will create a better future.

[1] The problem with corporate greenwashing

[2] AI and Compute

[3] Could AI Displace Investment Bank Research?

[4] How AI could shape the future of investment banking

[5] How AI Can Help Find ESG Opportunities

 

"It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it"

 

AI offers an opportunity for investors to not only act responsibly, but also align their ESG goals to a profitable agenda

Environmental Social Governance (ESG) & Sustainable Investment

Client propositions and products in data driven transformation in ESG and Sustainable Investing. Previous roles include J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and EY.

 

Upcoming blogs:

This is the second in a series of blogs that will explore the ESG world: its growth, its potential opportunities and the constraints that are holding it back. We will explore the increasing importance of ESG and how it affects business leaders, investors, asset managers, regulatory actors and more.

 

 

Riding the ESG Regulatory Wave: In the third part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Alejandra explores the implementation challenges of ESG regulations hitting EU Asset Managers and Financial Institutions.

Is it time for VCs to take ESG seriously? In the fourth part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) blog series, Ben explores the current research on why startups should start implementing and communicating ESG policies at the core of their business.

Now more than ever, businesses are understanding the importance of having well-governed and socially-responsible practices in place. A clear understanding of your ESG metrics is pivotal in order to communicate your ESG strengths to investors, clients and potential employees.

By using our cloud-based data visualisation platform to bring together relevant metrics, we help organisations gain a standardised view and improve your ESG reporting and portfolio performance.  Our live ESG dashboard can be used to scenario plan, map out ESG strategy and tell the ESG story to stakeholders.

AI helps with the process of ingesting, analysing and distributing data as well as offering predictive abilities and assessing trends in the ESG space.  Leading Point is helping our AI startup partnerships adapt their technology to pursue this new opportunity, implementing these solutions into investment firms and supporting them with the use of the technology and data management.

We offer a specialised and personalised service based on firms’ ESG priorities.  We harness the power of technology and AI to bridge the ESG data gap, avoiding ‘greenwashing’ data trends and providing a complete solution for organisations.

Leading Point's AI-implemented solutions decrease the time and effort needed to monitor current/past scandals of potential investments. Clients can see the benefits of increased output, improved KPIs and production of enhanced data outputs.

Implementing ESG regulations and providing operational support to improve ESG metrics for banks and other financial institutions. Ensuring compliance by benchmarking and disclosing ESG information, in-depth data collection to satisfy corporate reporting requirements, conducting appropriate investment and risk management decisions, and to make disclosures to clients and fund investors.

 


Regulatory Risk: Getting away from Whack-a-Mole

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Senior Management is under more pressure than ever to demonstrate compliance and risk-sensitive decision making - but the process by which they do it is straining under the sheer number and weight of obligations to manage.

36% of fines handed out by the FCA over the last 3 years - over a third - have been for failings related to management and control (PRIN 3)*. With an average penalty of £24 million firms cannot afford to be lax in this.  Transparency of their firm’s systems and controls continues to be vital for leaders at Board level and within Senior Management Functions to ensure that their business is compliant and within risk tolerances. 

Increasingly, during the ongoing pandemic, regulators expect comprehensive, responsible, and tangible governance and control to be operated by regulated firms. Creating transparency of firms’ regulatory activity across the business paramount. Not just for leaders at Board and Senior Management Functions levels (SMFs) but also in the supporting infrastructure within Compliance, Operations, Technology, Finance, Legal, and HR.

In their recent Joint Statement for Firms, the UK regulators outlined that firms must:

“Develop and implement mitigating actions and processes to ensure that they continue to operate an effective control environment: in particular, addressing any key reporting and other controls on which they have placed reliance historically, but which may not prove effective in the current environment. .. Consider how they will secure reliable and relevant information, on a continuing basis, in order to manage their future operations.”**

Joint statement by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), 26th March 2020

‘Securing reliable and relevant information’ is harder than it sounds. The information required for this is frequently cobbled together in PowerPoint, Excel or other tools from a wide variety of disparate sources. This is inefficient and time intensive, and is subject to inconsistencies. Information may be out of date by the time it is produced, and often does not meet the level of detail required by the various audiences. 

More than that, Senior Managers lack a consolidated view of their regulatory risk across their business. This is difficult to achieve given the number of areas they need to monitor, ongoing regulatory change, and the pace of digital transformation. Managers are often spending more time piecing together a picture of their overall regulatory ‘health’ and fighting fires than they are developing the business.

Compliance issues become like Whack-A-Mole, as soon as one gets whacked, another one pops up, and then another. Senior Management are effectively blindfolded holding the ‘mole hammer’ and have to ask a business analyst or a compliance officer “are there any moles today?” and “what do I hit?”. 

These regulatory moles are not common or garden business problem moles. There may be hundreds of moles to whack at any given time. As a result, managers need the ability to triage the reports of mole sightings to decide which is most pressing. Which is most likely to ruin his or her lawn? Is it the Sanctions Breach mole, the Data Protection mole or Transaction Reporting mole? 

Not only are there many of them - you need to keep records of which ones you’ve whacked and why. At some point you’ll need to evidence why you didn’t whack the Sanctions Breach mole immediately and provide the context for that decision. If you fail to whack enough of them, or the right ones, your business could be fined, or worse, you personally could end up in court.

This is a much more pressing issue due to the level of personal accountability, and broadened personal liability,  introduced by the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SM&CR). The SM&CR, which came into force on 9th December 2019, overhauled the Approved Persons Regime for individuals working in UK financial services firms. Placing more stringent requirements on senior managers to take responsibility for their firms’ activities through a ‘Duty of Responsibility’ to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent or stop regulatory breaches. 

As the FCA Handbook states in their “Specific guidance on individual conduct rules” (COCON 4.2) addressed to Senior Managers: “SC2: You must take reasonable steps to ensure that the business of the firm for which you are responsible complies with the relevant requirements and standards of the regulatory system.”***

We believe that one of these ‘Reasonable Steps’ is having appropriate reporting to achieve a clear view of the ‘Regulatory Health’ of their business and their risk points. Firms and Senior Managers need the ability to:

  1. Capture key regulatory risk metrics
  2. Link them to the appropriate compliance monitoring data
  3. Put those risk metrics into context across the business
  4. Generate a consolidated view of the business’ regulatory health and risk points
  5. Make it accessible & easily understandable to the relevant managers
  6. Make it ‘persistent’ over time to and allow ‘point in time’ views of risk levels

A solution that could a) take existing and live compliance data b) isolate the risk metrics that really ‘matter’, and c) present them in context across regulations and business areas is really needed for Senior Managers to have a picture of their overall risk. 

Senior Management should know where the regulatory moles are - without having to ask. Rather than having to review reams of documentation, it could allow managers a more holistic and focused view of regulatory risk across their business, as well as save time and resource spent creating, managing, and reviewing PowerPoints. Knowing what to look for is half the battle after all.  

Don’t let the moles ruin your lawn.

 
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References

1. Leading Point analysis of FCA fines related to PRIN 3 Management and control: A firm must take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems.” FCA Principles for Business https://www.handbook.fca.org.uk/handbook/PRIN/2/?view=chapter

2. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/prudential-regulation/publication/2020/joint-statement-on-covid-19.pdf?la=en&hash=28F9AC9E45681F3DC65B90B36B5C92075048955F

3. “Specific guidance on individual conduct rules” (COCON 4.2) addressed to Senior Managers: https://www.handbook.fca.org.uk/handbook/COCON/4/2.html


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On July 14th, experts from banks, hedge funds and market infrastructure providers will discuss how financial institutions can create transparency and insights from their regulatory risk data, and Leading Point will introduce their new industry-leading regulatory risk data system SMART_Dash. 

Panellists will discuss:

- The challenges of internal regulatory oversight that all financial services firms are facing

- How businesses can create a consolidated view of their regulatory risk

- The ways that regulatory monitoring data can be more accessible

- An introduction to SMART_Dash; a revolutionary tool providing regulatory risk reassurance

*Regulatory Risk, not moles
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Join our webinar to learn more about how to create transparency and insights from regulatory risk data
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Senior Management are effectively blindfolded holding the ‘mole hammer’ and have to ask a business analyst or a compliance officer “are there any moles today?” and “what do I hit?”. 

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36% of fines handed out by the FCA over the last 3 years - over a third - have been for failings related to management and control (PRIN 3).

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"[Firms must] Consider how they will secure reliable and relevant information, on a continuing basis, in order to manage their future operations."

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"firms need to ensure that their cloud-based operating models are not only safe and secure, but address the capabilities required for operational resilience testing. Investment in frameworks and data analytics that can support these capabilities are essential"

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Thushan Kumaraswamy
Head of Solutions

Architecture lead with over 20 years’ experience helping the world’s biggest financial services providers in capital markets, banking and buy-side to deliver practical business transformations in client data, treasury, sales, operations, finance and risk functions, and major firm-wide efficiency initiatives. Mastery in business and technical architecture, with significant experience in end-to-end design, development and maintenance of mission critical systems in his early career. Specialities – business and technical architecture leadership, data warehousing, capital markets, wealth management, private banking.

 

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Rajen Madan
Founder & CEO

Change leader with over 20 years’ experience in helping financial markets with their toughest business challenges in data, operating model transformation in sales, CRM, Ops, Data, Finance & MI functions, and delivery of complex compliance, front-to-back technology implementations. Significant line experience. Former partner in management consulting leading client solution development, delivery and P&L incl. Accenture. Specialities – Operating Models, Data Assets, Compliance, Technology Partnerships & Solutions in Capital Markets, Market Infrastructure, Buy-Side, Banking & Insurance.

 
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