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Toward Transparency: The Need for Standardized ESG Metrics

As environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have become increasingly important to investors, the demand for high-quality, standardized ESG data has grown exponentially. Hedge funds, asset managers, and other buy-side firms are under mounting pressure from clients, regulators, and the public to integrate ESG data into both the investment and reporting processes. Unfortunately, current ESG data and metrics remain highly fragmented, inconsistent, and often unreliable, which presents a significant challenge for buy-side firms looking to manage ESG risks and opportunities effectively.

The Challenges

One of the primary issues buy-side firms face is the lack of a universal, standardized framework for ESG data and metrics. While there are numerous ESG rating agencies, data providers, and sustainability reporting standards, each uses its own methodologies and approaches. This results in widely divergent assessments of any one company’s ESG performance. This lack of consistency makes it extremely difficult for investors to compare metrics and make informed decisions.

Within this confusing mix of metrics and scores, there is also a lack of clarity about how the numbers are calculated. This lack of standardization not only complicates the due diligence and investment processes but also undermines funds’ ability to effectively report on the ESG performance of portfolios.

Another challenge is the quality and reliability of ESG data itself. Much of the information used to assess a company’s ESG practices is self-reported, often with limited third-party verification or assurance. This can lead to greenwashing, when companies present an exaggerated or otherwise misleading picture of their sustainability efforts. ESG data also tends to be backward-looking, or focused on historical performance, rather than forward-looking, or indicative of a company’s future ESG risks and opportunities.

Resources devoted to ESG data is another major pain point for the buy side. Funds and asset managers spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to validate ESG data, reconcile disparate sources, and fill in the gaps. This diverts attention away from the more strategic aspects of ESG integration and portfolio construction.

The Importance of Standardized ESG Metrics

Addressing these challenges is critical for funds and asset managers incorporating ESG factors into investment decision-making and reporting. Standardized, reliable ESG metrics would provide a common language and framework investors can use to assess and compare the sustainability of companies and investment products.

This is why standardized ESG metrics could be a game changer for the asset management industry. Standardized ESG metrics would allow funds to benchmark companies and portfolios against their peers, identify material risks and opportunities more accurately, and make more informed, data-driven investment decisions. This would enhance the ability to deliver on fiduciary duty to clients and meet the growing demand for sustainable investing solutions.

Beyond the benefits for individual firms, standardized ESG metrics would promote greater transparency and accountability in the broader financial system. Consistent, reliable ESG data would empower investors to hold companies and asset managers more accountable for sustainability claims and performance, driving real progress on critical environmental and social issues.

The Path to Standardization

Recognizing the pressing need for ESG data standardization, various organizations and initiatives have emerged to address the challenge. One prominent example is the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), established by the IFRS Foundation in 2021. The ISSB is working to develop a comprehensive global baseline of sustainability-related disclosure standards to provide investors with high-quality information about companies’ sustainability-related risks and opportunities.

Another initiative is the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which has developed industry-specific sustainability accounting standards to guide companies in their ESG reporting. SASB’s standards have been widely adopted by large public companies and are increasingly being incorporated into the investment processes of buy-side firms.

At the regional level, the European Union has taken a leading role in driving ESG data standardization through the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and the development of the EU Taxonomy, a classification system for sustainable economic activities. These regulations aim to provide investors with more reliable, comparable information on the sustainability characteristics of financial products and the underlying companies.

Standardization: A Work in Progress

While these and other efforts are encouraging, the journey toward truly standardized, globally harmonized ESG metrics is still a work in progress. Buy-side firms must continue to advocate for and actively participate in the development of these standards, ensuring that the unique needs and perspectives of the buy side are represented.

Funds and asset managers have a crucial role to play in shaping the future of ESG data and metrics. Firms should take every opportunity to engage with standard-setting bodies, data providers, and regulators to ensure that forthcoming ESG data standards are fit for purpose and address the real-world challenges funds face with respect to integrating ESG factors into investment processes.

In the meantime, buy-side firms should explore technology-based solutions to help manage the complexities of ESG data. ESG data management platforms can assist in aggregating, normalizing, and analyzing ESG data from multiple sources, while advanced analytics and artificial intelligence can help identify material ESG risks and opportunities more effectively. By taking a proactive, collaborative approach to ESG data standardization and leveraging the latest ESG data management solutions, buy-side firms can navigate the evolving ESG landscape and deliver superior, sustainable investment outcomes for clients.

How IVP Can Help

The IVP ESG Management platform is a comprehensive solution specifically designed for buy-side firms. It provides all the capabilities funds need to source, manage, and effectively utilize ESG data for investing and reporting. By leveraging the IVP platform for ESG data management, firms can streamline portfolio construction, enhance asset allocation, strengthen risk management and compliance practices, and ensure accurate regulatory reporting. In addition, IVP offers an ESG Center of Excellence that serves as a valuable resource for funds seeking to establish a reliable framework for ESG investing.

Learn more about the IVP ESG Management platform or contact sales@ivp.in to schedule a live or online demo.

ESG Management

An ESG platform that helps asset managers implement an ESG framework, perform ESG data management, align with global mandates, and streamline disclosures.

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