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Opinion

Macaskill on markets: US banks exploit ESG’s move beyond a cancel culture

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is moving beyond a compliance-focused cancel culture, giving US banks an undeserved chance to win market share from European firms.

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When Credit Suisse announced its second quarter results on July 30 it unveiled a new sustainability, research and investment solutions function, highlighting its executive board leadership under Lydie Hudson.

This marked an attempt to coordinate sustainability initiatives across the bank and was accompanied by some tangible changes to policy. Credit Suisse aims to provide at least SFr300 billion ($332 billion) of sustainable financing over the next 10 years; it will no longer provide lending or capital market underwriting to companies deriving more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal extraction and power, or finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic; and the bank intends to reposition its corporate oil and gas business to support companies in their own energy transition.

The announcement of board level leadership for the new sustainability function was something of a public relations sleight of hand, however. Hudson was already on the executive board in her capacity as head of compliance for Credit Suisse and her new role conveniently avoids a possible demotion for one of the few high-ranking women at the bank as a result of a merger of its risk and compliance functions, which was also announced on July 30.

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