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ESG: how to turn burden into benefit

ESG is a trend that cannot be overlooked in the business world anno 2024. From banks and insurance companies to listed organisations, the entire European business community is affected by stringent sustainability reporting requirements. Audrey Bostvironois, manager at international recruitment firm Robert Walters, explains how this resonates in the field.

Financial sector faces pressure

The urgency to promote sustainability and report transparently on environmental impacts is felt by all professionals in the financial sector. However, the extent to which organisations have already started implementing ESG measures varies. While large financial services companies are now required to submit ESG reports compliant with the new European Reporting Standards (CSRD) as of FY2024, other organisations have not reached this stage yet. "But the one thing that is present everywhere is the uncertainty around ESG," says Audrey. "Even big corporations are struggling with the question of how and by whom ESG should be addressed; everyone is looking for answers. However, there is no doubt that ESG is becoming an increasingly important part of business, not only for finance professionals but for the entire organisation."

ESG as business strategy

Audrey: "It is common knowledge that a focus on ESG is a way for companies to differentiate themselves from competitors. But how do you tell the difference between actions that actually have a positive impact and 'greenwashing', where organisations use sustainability claims to polish their image? In the future, we are likely to see a distinction between organisations that focus on ESG out of conviction, as part of their purpose and strategy on the one hand, and companies that do so 'because they have to' on the other. Companies are now in the midst of such considerations. After all, changing an organisation's DNA is a considerable task."

Integrating ESG

"Another issue organisations struggle with is where and how to integrate ESG within the organisation. For smaller organisations, ESG is usually part of the tasks of finance, legal or risk & compliance. These departments often work closely together to interpret new legislation and then implement it within existing processes. At larger organisations, however, we see dedicated, interdisciplinary ESG teams being built up. Therefore, the demand for ESG professionals will only grow in the coming year," explains Audrey.

Recruiting ESG-talent 

Both large and small players within the financial services industry face stiff competition in recruiting ESG talent. As this is a new field, the availability of experienced ESG specialists is still limited. "Therefore, organisations better not stare blindly at concrete experience," advises Audrey. "It is much easier to look for motivated professionals who have an affinity for sustainability and wish to specialise in this field. That way, you build a team that develops together and helps build the organisation's ESG policy."

"For organisations that require a quick solution and are under time pressure, using a specialist interim manager to implement ESG procedures and reporting can be a smart choice," continues Audrey. "Interim managers bring best practices thanks to their experience with various clients through temporary assignments."

How to turn the burden into benefit?

"Banks and insurance companies face the challenge of turning the burden of increasing ESG regulations into competitive advantage. They must be able to reconcile their sustainability promises with the commitment of financial growth to shareholders, investors and employees. Only then will they achieve the ultimate goal: a healthy, fair and above all sustainable future in which organisations take responsibility and 'earn' their right to exist," concludes Audrey.


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