Asset Managers Forge Ahead with ESG Product Development Despite Skepticism

May 16, 2023 — Boston

The asset management industry remains largely unswayed by negative rhetoric surrounding the topic

Asset owners and managers remain focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, despite heightened regulatory scrutiny surrounding “greenwashing” and negative investor perception, according to Cerulli’s latest white paper, Global State of ESG. Even as firms acknowledge and take measures to quell cynicism, few show signs of being deterred by skeptics or deviating from the courses that have been set.

Increased criticism over ESG has led governmental bodies around the globe to step up efforts to more clearly define and better regulate the ESG investment market. Investment funds that purport to be “green” or offer sustainability benefits without meeting any set categorization standards are rightfully being met with increasing scrutiny as the industry aims to sort out greenwashing.

Cerulli’s data shows both U.S. and international asset managers welcome the opportunity for clarity. The majority of U.S. asset managers polled by Cerulli believe the SEC should be responsible for setting standards around both public companies’ ESG disclosures (73%) and asset managers’ ESG standards and product definitions (58%). Meanwhile, 85% of European institutional investors are in favor of fining asset managers that engage in greenwashing practices and only 7% are not.

Additionally, fears of negative returns and the perception that performance may be sacrificed in the name of ESG/sustainability continue to be a major challenge to firms when it comes to marketing their strategies. Despite this, Cerulli observes managers forging ahead with product development, sales, and marketing of ESG products. In Europe, nearly half (49%) of asset managers consider ESG marketing a very important feature of their overall marketing efforts, and in the U.S., 58% of managers consider ESG a top product development initiative.

“Overall, Cerulli’s research reflects an industry largely unswayed by negative rhetoric surrounding the topics and concepts related to ESG investment,” says David Fletcher, associate director. “By and large, sustainability and the overarching themes of ESG investment are already ingrained in the asset management industry. The challenges firms face in implementing ESG investment initiatives are pain points that will likely be viewed in retrospect as necessary steps in the legitimization and long-term success of these goals.”

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Note to editors

These findings and more are from Cerulli's white paper: Global State of ESG: Forging Ahead Amidst Heightened Regulatory Scrutiny and Investor Skepticism.

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