According to the accountability body of Pensioenfonds ING, the board of the Dutch bank’s pension fund falsely claimed broad member support to justify its ESG policies.

The board has based its support claim on a question from a 2022 member survey, in which a majority of respondents said they considered socially responsible investing (SRI) important, noted the fund’s accountability body, which is made up of pension fund members and controls the activities of the board.

The accountability body stated that it could not be concluded that there was broad support for SRI/ESG investing.

“The percentages of respondents who consider returns more important than ESG investing and believe that ESG investing goes at the expense of returns are respectively much larger than those of the group holding the opposite view,” the body wrote in the annual report of the €26bn pension fund.

Careful communication

The split views on ESG investing among members calls for “careful and nuanced communication” around the topic, according to the accountability body.

“We cannot agree to the board’s assertions on its website and in publications that the majority of participants support the ESG policy of the fund. We repeatedly reminded the board in 2023 that communication should be factually accurate, careful and, where applicable, also nuanced. We will continue to monitor this aspect closely in 2024,” the 10-member group said in the scheme’s annual report.

In 2023, the fund conducted another member survey on ESG. The poll showed that about three quarters of members agreed that the pension fund should take into account the way companies and countries treat people, the environment and society.

In addition, 69% of members agreed that sustainable and responsible investment and financial returns can go hand in hand.

However, no more than 38% of members were willing to accept a slightly lower pension in exchange for more ESG investments.

“We understand that; you rightly expect us to be clear-cut in our investment choices and not lose sight of financial returns,” the fund noted in the report.

This article was first published on Pensioen Pro, IPE’s Dutch sister publication. It was translated and adapted for IPE by Tjibbe Hoekstra