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Rethinking the nature of savings to accelerate change

Personal savings play a key role in the economy. Money held in the bank, which some may believe is stagnating, is actually used to finance private and public enterprises. However, the impact of savings doesn't stop there. By choosing certain criteria (environmental, social and corporate governance), individuals are not only deciding how their money should be used, but also that these choices should favour projects with a positive economic impact. Accordingly, it's up to players in the financial sector - banks, insurers and investment funds - to offer products that correspond to these new expectations in order to speed up the transition. BNP Paribas already offers many products and solutions to meet this growing demand for responsible savings and continues to adapt its offer on a regular basis.

The global economic environment: now is the time for responsible savings

Climate change, the health crisis linked to Covid-19, the strengthening of social inequalities, etc…. All environmental, economic and societal indicators across the world point to the need for greater awareness: the time has come for us to reflect on creating a more responsible world. There are two reasons why individual savings can play a key role in the achievement of this goal:

  1. On the one hand, a growing number of committed consumers are convinced that their way of living, producing and consuming could shake things up and have a positive impact on the economy and society. This awareness and willingness to act also covers their savings and what they intend to do with them. It is these savings that are financing the real economy. Savings also have a positive impact on investment choices. A survey by Morgan Stanley in 2019 found that 85% of individual US investors express an interest in responsible investment. Similarly, an IFOP survey carried out in September 2020 for the Responsible Investment Forum reveals that 62% of French people say they give a high priority to environmental and social impacts in their investment decisions: a desire for more meaningful investments shared relatively widely across the world.
  2. On the other hand, personal savings levels have rarely been so high. In many countries, periods of successive crises and, more recently, periods of lockdown have led savers to hoard. The European Central Bank as well as the OECD, have published studies showing an unprecedented peak in household savings (the household savings rate stood at 16.9% the eurozone in Q1 2020, compared with 12.7% in Q4 2019).

Responsible savings: where do we stand today?

Responsible savings refers to traditional format investment savings products (employee savings, life insurance, securities accounts), but which incorporate extra-financial criteria such as ESG (environmental, social and governance), which characterise sustainable finance. When these criteria, are taken into account, companies with irresponsible business practices or that belong to certain industrial sectors with a negative environmental public health impact can be excluded from these savings products’ investments. Preference is given to companies that are both the best performers and which have a real positive impact, such as certain socially responsible investment funds or the social and solidarity-based economy (SSE).

Consideration of ESG criteria is becoming increasingly important in the field of sustainable finance in general and for responsible savings in particular. On the one hand, companies are assessed on such criteria and must regularly report information with these data. On the other hand, investors are also required to produce regular reports on how they take these ESG criteria into account. For its part, BNP Paribas Asset Management already includes ESG criteria in the overall management of all of its funds open to the public, i.e. assets under management of €310 billion, as well as BNP Paribas Cardif, whose general fund totalled 123 billion euros in assets under management at the end of 2019. This principle of positive impact investing has given rise to increasingly stringent regulations across the world, through the creation of labels dedicated to sustainable finance. Socially responsible investment (SRI) funds, for their part, have experienced a 34% increase worldwide with Europe continuing to lead the way in responsible investment.

However, there are still two main obstacles to the expansion of responsible savings:

  • Knowledge and visibility of responsible savings products

Too few individuals know little or nothing about these products. It is up to financial players to educate savers and to the regulators to give them clear and transparent labels so they can better understand and compare in order to generate greater confidence.

  • Responsibility doesn’t mean loss of profitability

In making their investment choices, investors rely on three main criteria: reliability, liquidity and profitability.

"A fourth requirement has been added, across all generations, and this is a need for meaning," adds Laurent Monet, Head of Marketing Epargne France at BNP Paribas. Responsible SRI funds do in fact demonstrate strong growth and resilience and sometimes even perform better in times of crisis than traditional funds. During the economic crisis caused by Covid in early 2020, the CAC 40 in France fell by 17.5% while socially responsible investment funds lost only 6.5%. Dominique Brisse, savings and insurance advisor at BNP Paribas in France, noted the same performance: "Between 31 August 2015 and 31 August 2020, the CAC 40 increased by an annualized 3.57%, the index of our Aqua thematic fund by 9.01% and the index of our Smart Food fund by 3.82%."

Understanding how responsible savings work

  • Background: socially responsible investment funds

    In order to enable clients to make informed choices in terms of socially responsible investment, we can direct them towards thematic investment funds. These funds finance positive impact companies and projects:

    - Funds with environmental themes: energy transition, energy efficiency, sustainable food and agriculture, waste management, etc.
    - Funds with social and societal themes: well-being at work, job creation, inclusive education, sustainable mobility solutions

    Within the Group, BNP Paribas Asset Management builds and manages these thematic funds, many of which have been awarded labels: the SRI label, Finansol and Greenfin in France, FNG-Siegel in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Towards Sustainability in Belgium, LuxFlag in Luxembourg, etc. There is now a range of funds to meet many of these environmental and societal challenges: BNP Paribas Smart Food, BNP Paribas Climate Impact, BNP Paribas Energy Transition and BNP Paribas Human Development.

  • Engaging with clients: retail banks, wealth advisers and insurers, employee savings schemes

Steering individual savings towards responsible investment requires advice from financial specialists: retail banking networks, private banks such as BNP Paribas Wealth Management, employee savings specialists such as BNP Paribas Epargne et Retraite Entreprises, and insurers such as BNP Paribas Cardif.

For example, BNP Paribas Wealth Management provides its clients with tools to help them make responsible investment decisions in line with their convictions. For example, it offers the MyImpact(Opens in a new tab) simulator. Using a simple and quick questionnaire accompanied by a full explanation of the concepts of sustainable development, the programme enables clients to assess their profile as responsible investors and provides them with advice on the most appropriate investments in terms of responsible investment and philanthropy. Another example is Clover, a methodology for assessing funds and asset managers that steer these funds based on sustainable development criteria. Using this tool, clients can decide how much "sustainability" they wish to give to their investments.

"We offer our clients not only sustainable investment solutions, but also education and advice to guide them towards the most relevant choices," says Eléonore Bedel, Global Head of Sustainable Investment at BNP Paribas Wealth Management.

Leader in the SRI market in France and in sustainable theme funds in Europe, BNP Paribas has placed sustainable finance at the heart of its strategic choices and regularly makes new commitments in order to further this form of investment. BNP Paribas Cardif has therefore decided to increase its positive impact investments to €11.5 billion by the end of 2024 by investing an additional €5 billion in activities with a positive environmental and social impact. In addition, at the end of 2019, in France, BNP Paribas Cardif held €6.7 billion invested in unit-linked products considered as "Socially Responsible Investments", including € 4.3 billion in labelled products.

We offer our clients not only sustainable investment solutions, but also education and advice to guide them towards the most relevant choices

We are equally involved in promoting sustainable investment through BNP Paribas Asset Management, which is positioned as number 1 in SRI in France in terms of both funds and assets under management and is at the forefront of responsible asset management. The BNP Paribas Group asset manager is ranked 8th worldwide and 4th in France by RIBI (Responsible Investment Brand Index). This index assesses the asset management sector on its commitment as a responsible investor and the ability of asset managers to translate this commitment into the core of their corporate identity. BNP Paribas' asset manager is also regularly recognised for its involvement through its voting policy.

As Antoine Sire, Director of Corporate Commitment at BNP Paribas, puts it: "BNP Paribas Asset Management is one of the two global investors that vote the most climate resolutions at company shareholders' meetings."

Rethink the nature of savings, to accelerate change

Rethink the nature of savings, to accelerate change.

Investing in the next generation, to accelerate change. 1/2

Investing in the next generation, to accelerate change. 1/2

Investing in the next generation, to accelerate change. 2/2

Investing in the next generation, to accelerate change. 2/2

Responsible savings in a few figures


- 1,000 labelled responsible funds in Europe in 2020

- + 34% increase in sustainable investments worldwide since 2016

- $30.7 trillion of sustainable assets worldwide in 2018

...and at BNP Paribas

- €36.7 billion in SRI assets under management at BNP Paribas Asset Management

- €6.5 billion in positive impact investments at BNP Paribas Cardif in 2019

- At the end of 2019, in France, BNP Paribas Cardif held €6.7 billion invested in unit-linked products considered as "Socially Responsible Investments".

Photo credit © Hervé Plumet
Header © JenkoAtaman

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