BANKS and investors in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are lagging behind their international counterparts in adopting environmental and sustainability standards, a new report has found.

The non-government conservation group WWF examined the policies, products and processes of 18 domestic banks in the three countries, and compared them to four global banks. While the report had focused on those three countries, a spokesman said, other ASEAN countries were not likely to fare any better.

The report was launched at yesterday’s second Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel. The event was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

The domestic banks included Singapore’s DBS, OCBC and UOB, Indonesia’s Bank Negara Indonesia and Malaysia’s Maybank, Hong Leong Bank and CIMB. The international banks – ANZ, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Westpac – were chosen for comparison because they are mainstream banks with a significant presence in Asia-Pacific markets.

Ms Jeanne Stampe, WWF Asia finance and commodities specialist and the report’s co-author, said: “There is mounting evidence across Asia that environmental and social issues present growing risks to economic growth and social stability.”

The report noted: “The global banks appear to recognise and take steps to manage reputational and credit-related risks from (sustainability) issues, as well as to identify opportunities.

“This contrasts strongly with the domestic banks reviewed, which as a group are only just starting to consider the issues.”

The four global banks, for example, have policy statements setting out minimum sustainability requirements that clients must meet. Stanchart will provide financial services to clients in the palm oil sector only if they do not convert or adversely impact high-conservation-value forests, and meet other standards.

In contrast, only three of the 18 domestic banks explicitly referenced sustainability standards in their client approval processes, WWF said. These were Bank Negara Indonesia, Bank Rakyat Indonesia and Maybank.

Mr Steve Waygood, Aviva Investors’ chief responsible investment officer, said policymakers should integrate sustainable development issues into capital and lending market policymaking for the health of the economy, society and the environment.

He added: “There are plenty of steps banks and investors can take now even without regulation, to ensure their investment and lending portfolios have taken into account sustainability risks and opportunities…”

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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