Should financial services companies fight climate change?

Matt PalframanDirector, Financial Services Research
Todd DupeySenior Vice President of Market Research
January 28, 2021, 12:39 PM UTC

Global YouGov data reveals that half of consumers across 17 markets believe financial services companies have an obligation to help the environment

In recent years, the environment has become an important topic in the international conversation around financial services. As many countries move towards lower-carbon economies, the sector is coming under greater scrutiny: whether it’s of the risks of potential droughts, heatwaves, and rising sea levels; the environmental impact of investments into fossil fuels; and the overall contribution the sector is making to the global effort against climate change.

On the latter point, global YouGov data reveals that half of the public across 17 international markets (51%) – ranging from Europe to the Americas to East Asia and beyond – think they ought to be doing more.

Beyond the global average, the proportion who expect more from these companies is highly variable – and not necessarily consistent even among countries on the same continent. North America, for example, has both the highest and lowest level of agreement that the financial services sector should be doing more. In Mexico, which was an initial signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement, nearly seven in ten (69%) of those polled say that financial services businesses ought to be doing more in the fight against climate change. In the US, however – where successive presidential administrations have joined, left, and rejoined the Paris Accords in the space of a few years – levels of agreement are lower than they are in any other market. Just over a third (35%) of Americans think financial services companies should be making a greater contribution to the global effort to improve the environment.

Europe is similarly divided. Two-thirds of the French public (65%) are persuaded that financial services companies should be doing more to combat climate change, and three in five Italians (62%) are similarly inclined. But Britain and Germany – both homes to significant financial services industries - are less likely to believe the sector should be making a bigger contribution to the environment: comfortably under half of the former (43%) and the latter (41%) agree with the statement presented.

It’s not necessarily the case that countries where consumers are less concerned about whether or not financial services companies should help the environment are less concerned about climate change overall. In Australia, for example, just 41% want the sector to do more – but 63% say they’re worried about climate change; in Britain, where just 43% expect more from banks and similar organisations, 72% are worried about it. It may simply be the case that, when it comes to climate change, financial services is not seen as a priority area comparable to the automotive, energy, or agricultural industries. In any case, a significant proportion of consumers across these markets – whether they’re a substantial minority or an emphatic majority – want to see these firms take action to help the environment.

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