Navigating the increasingly important and complex ESG agenda

January 2021

At the beginning of 2020, senior leaders’ conversation on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues focused almost exclusively on climate change. As global leaders assembled for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in January 2020, climate-related issues occupied the top five spots on the list of risks they expected the world to confront in the year ahead. The sweeping consequences of COVID-19 and the social unrest following the deaths of George Floyd and other people of color have fundamentally changed the narrative. While climate change remains central as the world seeks to “build back better” after the pandemic, the events of the last several months have heightened awareness around racial and social equity, the treatment of customers and employees affected by the pandemic, and even questions relating to the social license to operate for some firms. The ESG agenda has emerged from 2020 as more important and more complex than ever, presenting leaders of large financial institutions with both difficult challenges and significant opportunities.

On November 10–12, directors and senior executives from among the largest banks and insurers globally joined regulators, investors, service providers, and other experts, including senior financial services leaders from EY, for the 2020 Financial Services Leadership Summit (FSLS). The FSLS, which took place via video conferences, covered the ESG agenda, the role of technology in driving competitive advantage across the industry, and potential changes to financial policy moving into 2021. This ViewPoints focuses on the ESG portion of the FSLS and reflects the discussion on the following points:

  • An increasingly complex ESG agenda

  • ESG’s opportunities

  • An investor’s perspective: BlackRock’s 2021 stewardship expectations

  • Key challenges to progress