Banks in Asia-Pacific must ‘make up ground fast' in implementing sustainability practices, according to Mazars study

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Banks in the Asia-Pacific region need to “make up ground fast” in terms of implementing sustainability practices, as their global peers have made significant progress, according to a study by audit and advisory firm Mazars.

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The region’s lenders scored lowest in the categories of governance, risk management and disclosure, according to the “Responsible banking practices in APAC benchmark study 2021” report released on Wednesday.

“The diverse region faces a lack of standardised regulation and reporting methodology, where regulators in each market predominantly work in isolation. With Asia being the largest primary energy consumer, regulations must be bolstered to encourage sustainability-decision making and drive the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda,” said Justin Tan, a partner in financial services consulting in Asia-Pacific at Mazars.

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“The pandemic has served as a wake-up call for financial institutions in [the region] to strengthen their efforts in reorienting capital flows and financing innovation in support of low-emissions sustainable development.”

Now in its third year, the global study assesses the sustainability practices of 37 of the world’s largest banks by total assets in their respective geographies, including six in the Asia-Pacific region.

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The analysis was based on the banks’ 2020 to 2021 reporting period as well as publicly available information, such as their annual reports and data on websites up to July 2021.

The report said there were “significant discrepancies” in the region between the best-performing countries and China, without elaborating. Two Chinese banks – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Agricultural Bank of China – were among the six Asia-Pacific banks assessed.

While one Australian bank performed well in the governance and risk management categories, the overall scores for the region highlighted room for improvement.

New regulation across the region is expected to build climate resilience, Mazars said.

In Hong Kong, banks are expected to start making disclosures in line with guidelines from the international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) from mid-2023. This will become mandatory in 2025.

The TCFD requires scenario planning for different levels of global warming, and the disclosure of both medium- and long-term emissions targets.

Some 92 per cent of banks have made disclosures aligned with the TCFD recommendations, compared to 76 per cent in 2020, according to the Mazars study. This increase may be because more governments are considering making TCFD reporting mandatory.

According to Mazars’ global analysis, most banks have identified environmental targets for their activities, but only about a quarter of them have set net-zero financed emissions targets, in line with the Paris Agreement objectives.

Most banks have allocated formal responsibility for sustainability-related matters to their board and management functions. Two thirds have included sustainability targets among criteria determining the remuneration of certain staff, compared to 41 per cent in the 2020 study.

More standardised ESG data disclosure requirements for listed companies, banks and asset managers are expected to be rolled out in 2022 and beyond to enable greater transparency, Sustainable Fitch analysts said in a report in early December.

Earlier this month, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the city’s de facto central bank, issued the result of its first climate risks related stress test conducted on 27 banks in January 2021, and found that flooding and typhoons represented a major risk for the lenders.

More intense climate hazards would cause banks to suffer an annual operational loss of US$282 million, according to the HKMA.

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