New self-regulation in the area of Sustainable Finance: What does it mean for the development of competencies and life-long learning in banks?
The next stage will be implementation: the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) has issued two new Guidelines, effective 28 June 2022, setting out minimum requirements for the integration of sustainability criteria into investment and mortgage advice.
The new self-regulation is part of SBA’s comprehensive plan in the area of Sustainable Finance and is intended to further strengthen the high quality of advice provided by banks. Its purpose is also to ensure appropriate training and ongoing professional development of client advisors in ESG topics. This will not only support the transition towards a more sustainable financial centre, but also enhance the competitiveness and credibility of banks.
The new Guidelines are binding on all SBA member institutions. Non-members can adopt them on a voluntary basis. Both Guidelines come into effect on 1 January 2023, with various transition periods granted.
What implications does this have for the training and professional development of bank staff?
While the banks have already made significant efforts to orient their training and education processes towards sustainable goals, the new “Guidelines for financial service providers on the integration of ESG preferences and ESG risks into investment advice and portfolio management” now require SBA members to systematically integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) expertise in staff training and professional development. The purpose of this self-regulation is to ensure that all advisors have a sufficient understanding of ESG topics and incorporate this knowledge in the advisory process.
The Financial Services Act (FinSA) requires financial service providers to ensure that their staff have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to perform their activities. The new Guidelines mean that similar training will also be needed in future regarding sustainability, ESG investment solutions and applicable ESG approaches. In particular, the following themes should be part of the relevant training provided to client advisers:
- ESG fundamentals, including the various ESG risks
- Overview of international principles and regulations
- Knowledge of the various ESG approaches adopted by financial service providers in the area of investment advice and portfolio management
- Concrete knowledge and understanding of how the ESG investment solutions provided align with clients’ ESG preferences
- Knowledge of how existing investment solutions can be transformed into ESG investment solutions
- Fundamental understanding of greenwashing and how to avoid it
In a similar manner, the “Guidelines for mortgage providers on the promotion of energy efficiency” require mortgage providers to give their client advisors appropriate and regular training on approaches for ensuring long-term value retention and improving the energy efficiency of properties, as well as the financing of appropriate measures.
The new Guidelines build on the long-term initiatives already undertaken by banks and the SBA in the area of sustainable finance. What measures have been taken to date?
SBA’s active engagement centres on the further development of optimal framework conditions that enable banks to develop competencies in sustainable finance. In this sense, the SBA acts as an amplifier. It combines the efforts of all stakeholders in the financial sector and links them with the education market. Together, this creates enormous potential that amplifies the contributions made by individual banks. To this end, the SBA and the banks have already been systematically integrating ESG competencies into training and professional development for many years.
In basic training, for example, the SBA was able to integrate new performance targets as part of the reform of commercial training in 2023, which will support future learners both in company and inter-company courses. This was achieved in collaboration with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Federal Office of Energy (FOE) in 2020.
The SBA is also creating synergies for integrating sustainability into basic training. An overview can be found here of the available course providers in the sector and network partners such as the foundation Education 21.
In professional development the SBA has not only created new communication channels to work with all providers of training in the bank and finance sector in Switzerland, but also proactively supports the integration of ESG knowledge into SAQ certification in the client advisory process.
The SBA therefore wants to ensure that all client advisers have appropriate knowledge in the field of sustainability and put this expertise into practice in the advisory process.
In 2021 the new SAQ Sustainability Body of Knowledge was updated:
In addition, the SBA works with Swiss Sustainable Finance and other partner associations, and consequently with other business sectors too, to give advice to professional training providers on the implementation of sustainability goals, and now also on self-regulation.
Sustainable Finance is an important market of the future for banks. Demand for sustainable products continues to grow. By introducing the measures described, banks are seeking to make an effective and concrete contribution to the achievement of the Paris climate goals and at the same time create a platform for new growth.