EIOPA has suggested as a potentially positive step the amendment of EU pension fund legislation to mandate pension funds to take into account the long-term environmental and/or social impact of their investment decisions.
According to the European supervisory authority, the change would be in the context of the prudent person rule, set out in Article 19 of the IORP II Directive, and “without prejudice to the objective of providing occupational retirement benefits, also having regard to the principle of proportionality”.
It did not explicitly recommend this action be taken, but said that introducing such a mandate for IORPs “may be” a step that could further improve ESG integration by pension funds.
An industry insider described EIOPA’s proposal as “a significant departure from the current prudent person rule”.
EIOPA was commenting in the context of its submission to the European Commission’s consultation about the next phase of its sustainable finance strategy. This closed on Wednesday.
One of more than 100 questions posed by the Commission was whether the EU “should explore options to improve ESG integration and reporting beyond what is currently required by the regulatory framework for pension providers”.
The IORP II Directive refers to the concept of investment decisions’ impacts on ESG factors, but merely states that pension funds should be allowed to take these impacts into account.
Last year EIOPA recommended that national pension fund supervisors “should encourage” IORPs to take into account the potential long-term impact of investment decisions on ESG factors, adding: “in order to support society’s sustainability goals”.
It argues that considering the long-term impact of investment decisions on ESG factors could contribute to managing pension funds’ exposures to ESG risks.
In its consultation submission EIOPA also said that mandating IORPs to take into account the potential long-term impact of their investment decisions on ESG factors “would require further consideration of how IORPs integrate members’ ESG preferences in relation to prudent person rule compliance”.
In recent years the narrative around ESG has evolved to explicitly include the notion of investment activity’s sustainability impact, as distinct from the perspective of ESG factors having implications for investment decisions. Some refer to impact as a “third dimension”, after risk and return.
In its consultation, the European Commission asked for views about changing rules to directly require asset managers to consider and integrate adverse impacts of investment decisions on sustainability, but it did not mention this idea in relation to IORPs.
EIOPA also made another suggestion in relation to IORP II, saying a further improvement would be “to have a standardised ESG quality label presentation to make information more friendly to members and consumers”. It did not further explain this idea.
In response to a question about how pension providers could contribute to the achievement of the EU’s environmental goals “in a more proactive way,” EIOPA said “the importance of IORPs’ stewardship role through the Shareholder Rights Directive” should be strengthened.
“Large IORPs are more likely to influence investee companies,” said EIOPA. “For small and medium-sized IORPs it is a challenging, if not impossible task: in other words size matters.
“Initiatives such as a taskforce or consortium bringing together IORPs with common interests/objectives to influence investee companies or regrouping ESG knowledge/practices, can be encouraged.”
PensionsEurope’s Matti Leppäla this week told IPE’s Summer Pensions Congress that EU regulation around responsible investment for pension funds was moving too fast.