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S. Korean banking groups race for global ESG approval

China iTech Ghana
Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | views Last Updated 2021-11-10T09:39:19Z
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With carbon-neutrality pledges and awareness in sustainability reshaping markets and industries around the globe, South Korean bank giants are in a fierce race to win global recognition on their respective drives designed to adopt environmental, social and governance values.


KB Financial Group, the nation’s No. 1 banking group by assets, said last month that it was officially endorsed by the Science Based Targets Initiative, stressing that it has become the first financial institution in Asia to receive the green stamp from the global body.


SBTi is an organization that assesses corporate green goals based on science. In recent years, its endorsement has become a key certificate for businesses seeking to validate their emissions targets.


Alongside KB Financial, French bank La Banque Postale and Swedish private-equity firm EQT AB were endorsed simultaneously by the organization backed by the United Nations Global Compact and became the first group of global financial institutions to receive a nod from SBTi. KB said at the time that the three were the first financial groups to clinch the endorsement.


KB Financial’s net-zero goal, dubbed “KB net zero star,” focuses on reducing its portfolio’s carbon emissions by 33.3 percent by 2030, 61 percent by 2040 and ultimately aims at going carbon neutral by 2050. It plans to give loan benefits in terms of line of credits and interest rates for corporates that can prove their carbon-offsetting plans.


KB Financial’s industry rivals Shinhan Financial Group, Woori Financial Group, Hana Financial Group and NH Financial Group recently announced their ambitions to receive stamps of approval from SBTi and other global organizations.


Woori on Nov. 9 said it has received an AA rating for its ESG goals from MSCI, formerly known as Morgan Stanley Capital International, a global provider of market indexes and analysis tools for ESG products. The AA rating is the second highest in the index provider’s seven-tier ratings system and classifies the recipient as an “ESG leader.”


Woori Financial also said last month it has decided to participate in SBTi’s “Business Ambition for 1.5 degrees Celsius” campaign which aims to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


NH Financial in May joined the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, a partnership between the UN and the global financial sector launched in 1992 to promote sustainable finance. Separately, NH Financial plans to funnel a combined 15 trillion won ($12.8 billion) for ESG investment by 2050.


Last year, Shinhan Financial’s flagship lender, Shinhan Bank, became the first banker to adopt the Equator Principles. A risk management framework developed for financial institutions for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risks in projects. The move prompted other bankers to adopt the framework as well.


The race for ESG recognition has intensified as they believe that winning the market reputation of being responsible and sustainable institutions are key to their future growth, at a time when they are losing their presence in the retail sector to fintech giants, according to market insiders. The green stamps are also important to win market credibility for their overseas expansion plans, they added.


Despite the banking industry’s efforts and ambitious plans, experts and onlookers claim that Korean financial firms are taking baby steps toward ESG at the moment.


Financial Supervisory Service data released by a ruling party lawmaker here last month showed that direct ESG investments accounted for merely 1.3 percent of the local banks, insurers and brokerages’ total assets which came to some 5,588 trillion won as of end-June. The value of money committed to ESG-related funds stood at some 2 trillion won, which was only 0.3 percent of the total 753.8 trillion won set up for all funds, in the same period.


“South Korean financial groups have been relatively lackluster in ESG investments compared with other economies,” Rep. Yoo Dong-soo of the Democratic Party of Korea said.


“Financial authorities need to set up and launch financing regulations tied to climate change and a solid monitoring system for ESG to help businesses carry out green investments,” he added.

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