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ESG CONSIDERATIONS HAVE CHANGED

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The pandemic has shifted ESG considerations to highlight the importance of social considerations in business, and Carol noted this is part of an ongoing story. Governance once had the lion’s share of attention, but in the last five to ten years the environmental side of ESG has gotten more play with a focus on climate risks. “The pandemic has shone the spotlight on the S”, she said. “Now social considerations, both within business such as the health and safety of their people, and externally on the role business plays in social issues like equity, justice and human rights. The importance of social impacts and risks have come to the fore.”

CFOs’ ESG concerns today are not exclusively focused on the pandemic. In telecoms, one CFO described initiatives such as letting customers defer payments and cancelling roaming charges. But this was also among multiple companies where diversity and anti-racism have also become prominent concerns recently. A commercial real-estate firm’s undertaking not to make any layoffs during the crisis also spoke of a sense of duty towards employees.

Other participants highlighted the growing social awareness of investors and entrepreneurs. “Investors are now becoming very attuned to those components beyond just the straight return,” said one finance-industry CFO. In the Canadian start-up space, a recent survey showed that more than 80% of companies considered themselves to have a social purpose.

While the social part of ESG may now be taking a front seat, governance concerns, in relation to disclosure, still need to be an important focus for CFOs. This now goes beyond financial disclosure to include reporting on ESG performance, which is becoming more important to firms’ customers and investors.

A payments industry CFO pointed out how different standards in ESG reporting pull companies in different directions, and asked how her peers in other organizations could “add our voice to creating a unified standard.” This is one area where environmental concerns have highest prominence, as risks and targets.

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