Will COVID promote ESG or destroy it?

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This time last year I was talking with BNY Mellon about using AgeWage as an ESG platform to help investors vote their shares. It’s not we decided to do (though there is one Fintech that’s taken up the challenge). The BNY Mellon office is largely empty today and I’m writing to them to turn off the 24 hour a day street lighting it provides to the Blackfriars backstreets (where I’m locked down).

Today the air I breathe is cleaner and corporate leaders are forced to consider how to be a good employer amid record job cuts.  But will the immediate improvements in ESG be maintained or will we return to a 1970s style dystopia as imagined by Robert Shrimsley

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Regress or Progress?

Before the pandemic I was reading the optimistic  thinking of Rebecca Henderson and John Elkington in their new books about the future of capitalism

I have no reason to suppose that a nation that has voluntarily locked down for the NHS, would not be prepared to pay in higher taxes and lower wages for an economy where environmental , social and governance values were prized higher than they were.

Put very simply, people want purpose and the pandemic has given us purpose in abundance. Which is why I am optimistic that Henderson and Elkington are right and that the pandemic will be a green rather than a black swan.

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Driven from below

Yesterday we were asked to cast our minds back to May 8th 2045 when Europe started a period of peace that has lasted 75 years. What we won most on VE day, was a victory over war. What was created in the 1940s and 1950s, the welfare state and the NHS, are replicated throughout Europe. The pandemic is posing the greatest threat to this new world order since the war ended. But reading a recent article by Lottie Meggitt – (my reason for talking with BNY Mellon) , I got my answer to the question in the title of this blog.  Lottie wraps up her article

Not since the Second World War has the concept of ‘shared value’ been so relevant.

If we maintain the purpose with which we are tackling COVID-19, not just in the UK but around the globe, then I think Lottie and those like her – will be the people to make it happen. But doing business differently , as the  “shared value” approach demands, is only possible with a social consensus.

The strong sense of purpose that brought in the NHS and welfare state after the war, enabled these forces for good to be constructed when Britain was financially least robust. It was the determination of the British people that what had been fought for , should materialise that made social progress in the decades following the war, a reality.

COVID-19 will promote shared value and the ESG agenda

Irrespective of the price of oil , the state of the aircraft industry or any of the other reasons why ESG funds have outperformed, the key argument for ESG is the social purpose that is carrying us through this lockdown as it carried people through the last war.

We want a Britain fit to live in and the pandemic has shown us just how fragile our stewardship is. We are not masters of our own destiny but subject to the malign influence of COVID-19. When we are rid of COVID-19 we will remain vulnerable to the  next existential threat.

And in the knowledge of our vulnerability , the great issues of sustainability – asked by the ESG agenda become a lot more urgent

Not since the Second World War has the concept of ‘shared value’ been so relevant.


Lottie Meggitt 




About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to Will COVID promote ESG or destroy it?

  1. Ian Neale says:

    Henry, thank you; I fully agree. The way forward for business must be based on alignment of interests, of all stakeholders, IMHO. At the moment, most companies have gone no further than alignment of interests of directors and shareholders (sadly, some have been ‘captured’ by directors to whom compliant shareholders have ceded primacy). it is indeed about creating shared value: factoring in the interests of employees, customers and suppliers. Only when our industry adopts this way of thinking can the societal status of financial services begin to rise from the floor.

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