Yvonne Suter, our Head of Corporate Sustainability & Responsible Investment and Director of the Sustainability Board, explains why now is such a critical juncture in Julius Baer’s sustainability story. She also shares her outlook on what we can expect next. Download our Sustainability Report 2020 to get the full picture!
How have the challenges of 2020 impacted the finance sector – and specifically responsible investing?
Yvonne Suter: “Long before 2020, the world had been grappling with a number of existential challenges – from growing populations and wealth inequality, to climate change and ecosystem destruction. But it had also been making great strides in zero-carbon innovation and sustainable development. With the pandemic came an almost instantaneous reminder that we – and the systems we depend on – are fragile – and dependent on one another. For finance, the spotlight was firmly on sustainable investing – an approach that had already been on the rise for the last decade. Whilst the economic case for low-carbon investing had been well established, in 2020 social issues like unequal access to healthcare became part of the daily news. Wealth inequality as a whole can erode trust in institutions and destabilise entire societal and political systems. It can also reduce consumer spending, creating deflation and asset bubbles. In sum, 2020 brought the issues already being addressed through sustainable investing even closer to home, reaffirming appetites to invest with integrity.”
What were the key milestones for Julius Baer’s sustainability journey in the last 12 months?
“As with the wider industry, we saw the highest-ever uptake of our sustainable and impact investing offerings. So it felt like the right time to launch a new impact investing ecosystem, bringing thought leadership and tailored solutions together to create a ‘menu’ from which clients can choose those items that will fulfil their own personal or family values. Another milestone was certifying 27 of our investment professionals in ESG through the UK Chartered Financial Analyst Institute in 2020 – I’m excited to see more and more colleagues building their expertise through this programme in the coming years. And finally, I’m proud of the extra mile that my team and colleagues across the business have gone to make sure our updated sustainability strategy raises the bar for Julius Baer in how we align with global best practices – and in how Julius Baer strives to create value beyond wealth.”
What role can Julius Baer – and your wider sector – play in a more sustainable future?
“As a leading wealth manager, we have an important role to play in redirecting capital towards a more equitable future and healthier planet for the next generations. We are ultimately led by our clients and in the last year, both client surveys and informal feedback have highlighted a growing appetite for ESG risk-screened portfolios and a desire to create societal and environmental value. Listening to our clients – and recognising our opportunity to enable responsible decision-making – we continue to refine our ESG integration approach, as well as enabling clients to finance topics they care about. Within Julius Baer – and through our excellent relationships with issue experts in sustainability – we’ve built a solid foundation in thought leadership around the myriad of risks and opportunities within sustainable economic development. In order to help our clients navigate this evolving landscape, we’ve established two strategic ‘super-themes’, or drivers of a sustainable economy: the overuse of natural resources and the underuse of human resources.”
We invite all business units to embrace our strategy and to truly unlock its potential.
What lies between the current status quo and a truly sustainable financial system?
“In two words: action and collaboration. At Julius Baer, we have committed to bringing together experts and non-experts to elevate the topic of sustainability. For example, our Insights article ’Profit with purpose’ asks how we can transform the wider financial system so that the notion of value is redefined and that associated incentives are established and priced effectively. But turning thoughts like this into action requires multilateral partnerships. For instance, if we are to steer capital away from fossil fuel subsidies towards impact-positive and lucrative investments for a zero-carbon future, we must work with many partners across both the governmental and non-governmental sphere.
What’s next for sustainability at Julius Baer?
“In our 2019 Sustainability Report, I stated three main ambitions: to improve our client reporting; to enhance our impact investing offer; and to deliver more front-line training in ESG management. In this report, you will see how we’ve delivered on our expectations in many areas. If 2020 was the year to develop our holistic sustainability framework and sharpen our focus, 2021 is the year to bring this framework to life and fully embed sustainability across the Group. We invite all business units to embrace our strategy and to truly unlock its potential. I’m excited to take this next step to empower our clients to create a positive impact for a better future.”