StanChart’s Marisa Drew on transition finance and moving on from Credit Suisse
Standard Chartered’s new chief sustainability officer is not shying away from the reality of what the energy transition looks like in emerging markets.
“When you’ve been at one institution for nearly 20 years as I had, feeling like part of the furniture as I did, and then you make a move, you never really know what you’re going to inherit.”
Speaking to Euromoney from her home north of Cape Town in South Africa, Drew has just come back from a run in the mountainous landscape that surrounds the house.
Given the length of time she was at the Swiss firm, it is hardly surprising that she occasionally still mistakenly refers to Credit Suisse in conversation instead of her new employer. But she has wasted no time in making her presence felt in her new home.
“I sponsored our team to take part in the Polar Expedition Challenge, trying to get as many people from the bank as possible to run, swim, cycle enough miles to cover the distance between the Arctic and Antarctic poles,” she explains with endorphin-fuelled enthusiasm.
Her last two years at Credit Suisse were spent as chief sustainability officer and global head of the Sustainability Strategy, Advisory & Finance Group. She sat on sustainability leadership committees, led environmental, social and governance steering groups, and witnessed the pandemic serving as a call to action on climate, as Euromoney wrote in 2021.
She built up an impressive portfolio of work across biodiversity and climate finance at a bank whose footprint included some emerging markets but whose income came mainly from servicing the wealthy. Now Drew is looking straight on at the reality of transition finance and what it means for the rest of the world.
“When people ask me: 'Why Standard Chartered and not another bank?' the attraction for me was the deep commitment of the bank's leadership toward sustainability and our developing markets footprint, which presented the opportunity to achieve impact at scale in the places that matter.”
Embedding the strategy
Drew joined StanChart in July last year. The first six months in her new role have been about assessing the existing sustainability skillset, formulating a strategy and getting the blessing of the board.
She is also the bank’s very first CSO.
Creating the role and recruiting one of the most influential voices in sustainable finance for it is a big power move from StanChart. The bank has been eager to illustrate its commitment to sustainability since including it as one of its four strategic pillars in 2021.
In the same year, it committed to $300 billion in green and transition finance by 2030.
Now, the core CSO team – or as she calls it, the squad – counts 125 people, but Drew insists on the fact that the sustainability drive is coming from the board and resonates across the global workforce of 83,000.
“I inherited three pre-existing teams, and part of my job is to bring them together into one cohesive sustainability strategy for the bank," she says. "The existing level of innovation that was permeating through the sustainable finance team was an unexpected joy.”
What I worry about is that without a set of transition principles at industry level, we will end up with confusion, an inability to scale, or greenwashing accusations, even if you’re well intended
The transition finance team will need to be front and centre if the bank doesn’t want to miss its emissions reductions targets. These include reaching net zero in its operations by 2025, and by 2050 for its supply chain and financed emissions, with interim 2030 targets for highest-emitting sectors.
But it is financed emissions that will be the most challenging place to find reductions.
“Getting to net zero is a different kind of challenge when you look at where we work,” admits Drew.
Out of the 59 markets in which StanChart operates, 33 don’t have a current commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
That is why the transition team includes an acceleration squad of 15 ‘non-traditional’ bankers looking at how to implement transition plans at industry level.
“With some clients, a conversation about transition quickly turns to operational competence," Drew says, "so it is useful to have non-traditional bankers – engineers, climate scientists and academic practitioners – on board.”
StanChart’s sustainable finance business sits alongside the bank’s ESG advisory business, led by Maria Lombardo. Its mandate is to propose sustainability solutions to corporate and public-sector clients with things such as establishing frameworks or getting inaugural ESG ratings.
Working in emerging markets doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity. On the contrary, Drew has created four innovation hubs to tackle the monetization of carbon, biodiversity, adaptation finance and blended finance.
Through these hubs, the CSO is inviting partners across the bank to help figure out how to approach some of the topics of interest in the global sustainable finance conversation in a way that make sense to StanChart clients.
“I realised that some of the work I had been doing previously around nature and conservation finance would be highly applicable here because we operate in so many biodiverse markets with the largest stores of terrestrial natural capital and where livelihoods are dependent upon healthy oceans,” she says.
The challenges that Drew and her team are facing reflect the need for clarity on what transition finance actually is.
“The market needs to get crisper on what transition means and come up with common market-recognised principles,” she says, alluding to a white paper she had worked on with The Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) in 2020.
“What I worry about is that without a set of transition principles at industry level, we will end up with confusion, an inability to scale, or greenwashing accusations, even if you’re well intended.”
Three years ago, the CBI had already identified the need to have a more precise conceptualization of transition for different industries. Today, Drew sees the need to adapt the concept for different regions, the climate realities they are facing, and consequently, what they need to prioritize.
In the West there is an assumption that the world is off coal, or on its way to phasing out coal. But looking at StanChart’s core markets, coal is still the primary source of energy. It is also an industry that employs hundreds of thousands.
And it is not a reality the bank is prepared to ignore.
The CSO team contributed to the private investments of both Indonesia and Vietnam’s Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in 2022; as a result, it brought in former COP26 envoy John Murton CMG, as senior sustainability adviser.
Murton led negotiations for the Vietnamese JETP, as well as the South African one.
In South Africa, the practice of load shedding – or initiating rolling power cuts throughout the day – has become a common tactic to deal with a serious electricity shortage crisis.
The state-owned utility company Eskom claims its ageing coal-fired power plant fleet is the source of the persistent power shortage, deflecting from widespread accusations of mismanagement and corruption.
It is no surprise then, that a brief power cut was part of the interview. As she jokes about waiting for the backup generators to kick in, it is clear that Drew’s mandate at StanChart is very different to her previous role at Credit Suisse.
Joining an emerging markets bank means the pace and priorities are going to be different. In addition to promoting innovative banking products and services, the inaugural CSO will also be preoccupied with topics like how to keep the lights on.