SUSTAINABLE DERIVATIVES: THE “GIVING TREE”
Jennifer Kafcas, Lauren Blaber, Alvino Van Schalkwyk and Harry Polan
Momentum continues to gather pace towards building a sustainable economy, especially since the start of the pandemic. As a result, financial markets have seen a considerable increase in the focus on, and deal volume with respect to, sustainability-linked loans and bonds. It has been a logical progression that the sustainability tree sprouts a new leaf with the development of environmental, social and governance (ESG) linked derivatives. These products enable, among other things, firms and companies to hedge risks associated with sustainable investments including project risk, interest rate and currency risks. This will be all the more important given the need to hedge risks from any underlying loan and its related sustainability criteria.
While ISDA has outlined the broad range of derivatives in sustainable finance, furthering the development of this product type (including, among others, sustainability-linked derivatives, ESG-related credit default swaps, exchange-traded derivatives on listed ESG-related equity indices, emissions trading derivatives, renewable energy and renewable fuels derivatives, and catastrophe and weather derivatives), this article focuses on more conventional derivatives transactions, such as interest rate swaps (IRS) and Foreign Exchange (FX) transactions used by market participants to hedge the risk arising from green bonds and loans. Though these transactions are no different conceptually from a product standpoint than any other IRS or FX transaction, it is important to understand the inherent structural and deal term differences.
Finance-linked sustainable derivatives (OTC)
A number of sustainability-linked derivatives have been issued in recent years, which add an ESG pricing component to conventional IRS and FX hedging instruments. The table below provides examples of recently issued sustainability-linked derivatives. As this is a developing market, the transaction volume has been very low, but uptake is expected to increase over coming years.
|BNP Paribas & Siemens Gamesa||€174 million FX forward, under which Siemens Gamesa will pay a premium on their forward if they do not meet certain ESG targets. If paid, that premium shall be used to finance local reforestation projects in Spain. The premium shall be calculated using a metric assigned by a third-party sustainable finance specialist.|
|Société Générale & Enel||Cross currency swap, by which Enel hedged their euro-dollar exchange rate and interest rate risk under a $1.5 billion sustainability-linked bond. If Enel does not meet certain renewable energy targets, the swap will be re-priced to their detriment.|
|New World Development (NWD) & DBS Hong Kong||Interest rate swap linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, hedging interest rate risk under NWD’s HK$1 billion sustainability-linked loan. If NWD generates at least eight business-to-business opportunities that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, DBS will sponsor certain NWD social innovation projects.|
As evidenced above, ESG-linked derivatives can take on a number of characteristics and structures, including:
- Derivative pricing. One counterparty having a number of prescribed ESG targets which, if met, will lead to a downwards ratchet in the pricing of the derivative (with such pricing often increasing if the targets are not met).
- Fixed payments. If ESG targets are not met by the corporate, a fixed payment can be required to the issuing bank, which will be put towards a green project.
- Triggers linked to a company’s ESG rating. If the ESG rating of the corporate increases, a benefit can be awarded to them (e.g. interest rate discount).
- Both parties having ESG targets papered into their derivatives contracts. Corporates can receive a discount on the interest rate under the derivative if they meet their ESG targets, with that discount increasing if the issuing bank fails to meet its own ESG targets.
- Charitable giving requirements. A failure by the corporate to comply with its ESG targets can lead to it being required to make contributions to non-profit organisations, with the bank having to make such contributions if the corporate’s ESG targets are met.
As sustainability-linked products gain traction, a degree of care will be required to ensure ESG targets are finely balanced and verifiable. Verification is essential for market transparency, for ESG products to be considered credible and for lenders and corporates alike to avoid reputational risks. Furthermore, the ability of a corporate to verify reliable compliance with ESG targets could provide a significantly smoother path through their lender’s credit approval process and in turn the lender’s ability to verify will enable it to better monitor the performance matrix set by the underlying loan or bond.
Renewable Energy and Renewable Fuels
In addition to the above OTCs, renewable energy hedging transactions (including power hedge transactions) are important for market participants to hedge the risk associated with fluctuations in renewable energy production, and in doing so, encourage more capital to be contributed to renewable energy projects.
Typical documentation with respect to the above type of trades are Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) which document the purchase of power and associated renewable energy certificates between a renewable energy generator (the seller) and a purchaser of renewable electricity (the buyer). PPAs do not require companies to contribute directly to enhanced ESG standards, however they can help catalyse a shift to clean energy sources as they reduce market price volatility for buyers, and reassure sellers that a buyer will purchase power generated from renewable energy assets, thus encouraging the financing of such projects. In an ESG-linked transaction, these types of arrangements can be replicated by covering the credit risk element in the intercreditor terms. As an alternative the market may develop such that in lieu of these structures the underlying risk with respect to market price volatility is documented under an ISDA and secured under the financing and intercreditor documentation. This structure is fast approaching.
Expected developments in 2021
Climate change and, therefore, a sustainable economy remain front and centre for governments and regulators worldwide. In 2020,countries like Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and the UK set net carbon neutrality objectives and most recently the USA, following the inauguration of President Biden, announced plans to spend $2 trillion over four years to aid in the fight against climate change, all following the commitment already set by the EU.
Whilst the need for banks and corporates to develop and consider bespoke products to promote true progress in ESG compliance may hinder any radical uplift in ESG-linked derivatives volumes over the course of 2021, we anticipate that as banks and corporates continue to familiarise themselves with the requirements of such products, integrating ESG elements into derivatives trades will begin to be common practice.
In view of this, derivatives market participants will be eager to continue to drive ESG-linked derivatives volumes and to develop new and innovative ESG products facilitating the mobilisation of capital towards sustainable investments to ensure that they continue to significantly improve ESG standards, and to strengthen their contribution to the green finance drive.
Sustainable transformation in the energy sector: econnext AG focuses on scale-ups
- Scale-ups rather than start-ups: scaling market-ready technologies and companies for a sustainable transformation of the energy and technology sectors
- Profitable markets for renewable energy as the basis for a successful energy transition
- econnext AG as Founding Member of Invest.Green – institutionalising and scaling the potential of green investment
Sustainability in every sense of the word, ClimateTech and economic success: these terms describe the investment philosophy of econnext AG. The parent company of several ESG-oriented companies for the development of green technologies focuses on so-called scale-ups. They differentiate themselves from start-ups as their products and services have already reached full market maturity and they are ready for market expansion. A decisive factor in the selection of investments by econnext AG is the potential for synergies among of the scale-ups among each other. This holistic approach enables econnext group to think of innovations in a networked way and thus to decisively advance solutions for climate neutrality.
Given the need to reach climate neutrality by 2045 in Germany and by 2050 in the European Union there is no more time to lose in the energy transition. The significant fossil fuel price spikes and supply disruptions put further pressure on markets. With targeted investments in scale-ups, econnext AG is committed to practical solutions to these challenges. Sabrina Schulz, PhD, board member of econnext emphasises: “We now need a consistent shift away from all fossil fuels. This clears the way for existing renewable and green technologies to be successfully deployed. econnext AG has made it its mission to support young ClimateTech companies in establishing themselves on the market.”
econnext AG is currently invested in seven scale-ups. As an industrial management holding company, econnext focuses on two essential factors: innovative and scalable technologies as well as a positive effect on climate, environment and society in terms of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The portfolio ranges from companies in the B2B sector, such as Circular Carbon, which specialises in green heat and biochar, or the energy project developer GRIPS, to B2B4C companies such as Autarq, a provider of solar roof tiles.
Since January 2023, econnext AG is also a Founding Member of Invest.Green, a membership-based network of companies, retail investors, their financial advisors and other key players in the emerging green economy. Dr. Matthew Kiernan, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Invest.Green: “Our corporate goal is to make green investing accessible to all segments of the population and to channel capital into environmentally sound and financially attractive projects. Partnering with pioneering companies like econnext brings us an important step closer to these goals.”
In addition to a diversified portfolio with a clear, sustainable and market-ready focus, econnext AG relies not least on synergies between its subsidiaries: The subsidiary Ambibox, for example, already produces solar inverters that are used for Autarq’s PV systems, among others. Another subsidiary, LUMENION, can store renewable energy using a special power-to-heat technology and make it available as industrial process heat. The interplay of the various solutions demonstrates the objective of econnext AG: the successful establishment of innovative and scalable technologies with a positive and sustainable effect on climate, environment and society on the market.
“The transformation of the energy sector goes hand in hand with great investment opportunities in Germany and Europe,” says Sabrina Schulz, board member of econnext AG. ” Climate neutrality relies on innovation and new business models – and young tech companies and their solutions are already waiting in the wings to make it happen.”
Why the future is phygital
By Eric Megret-Dorne, Head of Card Issuance Services and Service Operations at Giesecke + Devrient
Digital banking has become increasingly ingrained in people’s everyday lives. Today, 73% of people globally use online banking at least once a month. Traditional bricks-and-mortar banks, which have long relied on the in-person experience with customers, are now having to step up their offering. With new ways of working blurring the work-home boundary, banks must ensure a fast, seamless connection between face-to-face processes and virtual customer experiences.
However, this does not mean that physical and digital banking are in competition with each other. In fact, many continue to use physical bank cards, with 1.12 billion in circulation in 2021, which provides the basis for digital payments and offerings. As a result, the benefits of digitalisation should converge with the comfort of physical touchpoints to create a holistic, “phygital” experience.
The path to phygital
Banks are accelerating their digital transformation strategies to keep up with the fast pace of fintech innovations. To meet the changing needs and preferences of customers, the payment world is leveraging new technologies to create personalised experiences through a range of different channels.
While the digitalisation of banking has been underway for quite some time – particularly for younger generations – events such as the Covid-19 crisis forced banks and customers of all ages to use digital tools and processes to compensate for branch, office, and call centre closures. With branches worldwide typically operating at reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements, consumers embraced online banking to avoid both the virus and potentially long queues.
However, some consumers still enjoy physical touchpoints, meaning a digital-only approach won’t suit everyone.
Striking a balance
It’s all about options – consumers now want to freely switch between traditional and digital channels without being forced into one. But how can banks achieve this phygital balance? One way is to equip physical channels with digital capabilities, so that online tools can augment the physical experience. For example, personalised bank cards with a bespoke design can be activated digitally, offering customers an extra layer of convenience. Having to wait for a new PIN to arrive in the mail is a common bugbear for consumers, so bringing card activation processes into the digital ecosystem will ensure a more seamless experience.
Greater automation in the card issuance and activation process enables the benefits of digital to be integrated into the physical banking experience without being intrusive. For instance, self-service kiosks empower customers to print their own cards, reducing the time between acquisition and card issuance, while still allowing for in-branch expertise if needed.
The personal touch
Phygital strategies also give banks a range of valuable data insights that can help them better serve their customers. This includes data on purchasing behaviours and habits, which can then be utilised to improve banks’ offerings and unify the physical and digital brand experience. Using omnichannel data helps to build a hyperpersonalisation strategy to provide real-time services.
In this way, digital solutions help banks maximise their user experience. Whenever a consumer interact with a bank, it creates data and behaviours. With fragmented databases, legacy systems and real-time data created by interactions with third-party partners through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), it is not always easy for banks to streamline this data from different sources. By understanding patterns in that data and behaviours, banks can tailor and personalise unique experiences for each and every user.
Where security meets innovation
With big data opportunities abound, banks should be mindful of their consumers’ security concerns. Customers are now demanding much more transparency when it comes to how information is stored and collected. At the same time, they still desire greater personalisation via digital methods. Therefore, any successful phygital strategy requires a robust digital security to ensure customers have the same peace of mind as when they complete physical transactions.
To close the gap between innovation and security, banks should utilise tokenised infrastructure, which ensures the safe provision of payment credentials and securing of customer payments across all touchpoints. This is particularly important as regulations such as PSD2 and SCA demand strong authentication requirements.
The use of a token greatly enhances the consumer experience. For example, it allows for card details to be automatically updated for subscription services upon the expiry of an existing one, avoiding any service disruption. Multi-factor authentication can also ensure an additional layer of security, as it combines a password with verifiable human biometrics such as fingerprints or facial recognition.
Best of both worlds
Every consumer has unique preferences when it comes to banking. Therefore, banks must evolve by bringing both physical and virtual touchpoints into a ‘phygital’ world. Only a phygital approach can meet the needs of all end users – whether they favour an in-person experience, an online one, or a blend of the two. The holistic data insights, personalisation opportunities, and optimised security ensured at every touchpoint are also critical in building future-ready banks.
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