Investors increasingly require information on more than just the financial performance of companies. For this reason, too, more and more companies in addition to explaining their profit and loss figures also provide an understanding of, for example, their sustainability policy. As a result, supervising that sustainability principles are applied carefully within the financial sector becomes more and more important.
Insufficient focus on sustainability by the financial sector impacts the long-term sustainability of the financial system in the Netherlands. It is therefore good that increasing attention is being given to sustainability in both the demand for and the supply of financial products and services. As an independent conduct supervisor the AFM is committed to promoting fair and transparent financial markets. As an independent market conduct authority, we contribute to a sustainable financial system and prosperity in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has committed to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, as well as to the Paris Agreement on climate change. The question is not so much whether a sustainable society and economy is necessary, but rather how quickly and effectively the transition can be achieved. In this context, the climate-related issues demand extra attention.
Role of the financial sector
The financial sector plays a key role in mobilising the capital required to fulfil the global sustainability agenda. At the same time, we see that investing in activities that result in more social inequality, irreversible ecological damage and climate change call forth ever-greater resistance from society.
Investors also have an increasing need for reliable information on a company's sustainability goals and non-financial performance. We observe many financial enterprises investing effort in a sustainable future, in itself both a major and a positive development.
The AFM considers it important that the financial sector applies sustainability principles in an honest and transparent manner. This enables consumers and financial companies to take decisions on how they can help make the future sustainable.
The ever-greater demand for sustainability and the tougher standards society places on this therefore require the AFM to carry out its supervision with a focus on this theme.
Sustainability and the part the financial sector plays in it raise new supervisory issues for the AFM. Sustainability issues also present companies and the supervisor alike with the challenge to strike a balance between divergent interests and standpoints. What are the implications for pursuing a sustainable financial system if, for example, an asset manager's investment policy is a factor that disturbs social relationships? What does climate change mean for the way in which consumers insure themselves against various risks? What are the possibilities for investors to weigh up the sustainability risks and opportunities when making investment decisions?
What is the AFM's objective?
For some years, integrated reporting has been a foundation of the AFM's approach to reporting supervision. The essence of integrated reporting is that financial as well as non-financial aspects come under the heading of accountability. A uniform international standard for corporate integrated reporting does not yet exist. A first step towards integrated reporting could be the Decree on the disclosure of non-financial information (Besluit Niet-Financiële Informatie, or BNFI), which took effect in the Netherlands in 2017.
We strive for a clear and transparent definition of sustainability as it applies to financial products and services. Given the increasing demand and supply regarding financial products and services labelled as sustainable, it is important that this word has the same meaning for consumers and market parties.