As environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment products become more popular, sparking concerns about “greenwashing,” the CFA Institute released draft voluntary disclosure standards it hopes fund companies around the world will adopt.
The institute consulted with industry on the draft after proposing ESG disclosure standards for investment funds last summer. The CFA will again seek feedback on the draft standards until July.
The draft released Wednesday differs from the architecture set out in the initial consultation paper. While last summer’s proposal was built around a matrix matching common client needs with six “ESG-related features” of funds, the draft standards won’t require investment products to have specific ESG-related features.
The ESG-related features in the original consultation paper included ESG integration, exclusion, impact, thematic focus and best-in-class.
Instead, the draft “considers an ESG-related feature to be any aspect of an investment product’s strategy that uses ESG information or addresses ESG issues.” This includes a product’s objectives, benchmarks, constraints, security selection, financial analysis and valuation, portfolio construction and stewardship.
“The standards would take a disclosure-based approach to describe individual investment products as they are, rather than a prescriptive-based approach that would dictate features that an investment product must have, types of investments that the product could or could not make, or best practice for a particular investment approach,” the draft said.
As a result, the standards won’t require products to have specific ESG-related features or prohibit specific investments, and they won’t establish a minimum threshold for labelling a product as ESG, impact, responsible or sustainable.
As various regulators develop rules for how particular terms are used in investment products, the CFA said it wanted to avoid such restrictions so as not to conflict with local regulations.
Still, the standards aim to facilitate advisors’ discussions with clients about ESG products by making it easier to evaluate a product’s features and to make recommendations that align with clients’ ESG preferences, the document said.
“What sets the standards apart from others is that they are suitable for all types of investment vehicles, all asset classes, all ESG strategies and all markets,” said Paul Andrews, managing director of research, advocacy and standards at the CFA Institute, in a press release.
“They harmonize many of the product-level ESG disclosure requirements found in existing regulations and other more narrowly focused voluntary standards, as well as address gaps where no standards exist. The standards will become the first global standards for product-level ESG disclosures.”
The standards would apply at the product level, rather than at the firm level, which the CFA Institute said would be duplicative of existing disclosure requirements for firms. Fund companies will be able to choose which products they submit to the standards.
The draft document contains a couple of examples of what an investment product’s disclosure would contain. Find the complete draft standards here, along with feedback forms to submit before July 14. The CFA Institute plans to release the final standards in November.