The U.S. money management industry has experienced a boom in recent years of firms touting their commitment to green investing and buying the shares of socially-responsible companies.
Now, the Securities and Exchange Commission wants to know whether money managers are engaging in false advertising by saying funds are devoted to doing good when the reality is much murkier.
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At issue are so called ESG funds, which stands for environmental, social and governance investing. Sustainable mutual and exchange-traded funds had US$137.3 billion of assets under management at the end of 2019, according to data compiled by Morningstar Inc. While that total is less than 1 per cent of the US$20.7 trillion held in all U.S. mutual funds and ETFs, the space is growing fast, attracting an estimated U$21.4 billion of new money last year.
In a Monday request for public comment, the SEC asked whether ESG products should have to follow existing rules that require a fund’s name to broadly match what it invests in. For instance, a fund that includes “stocks” in its name generally has to have at least 80 per cent of its portfolio in equities.
Besides the ESG issue, the SEC also said it’s looking at whether its nearly two-decade old rules that regulate fund names need to be updated to deal with the increased use of derivatives, a surge in index funds and investments that include convertible securities which resemble debt and equity.
On ESG, the SEC asked for comment on issues including whether:
- The rule for naming funds should apply to ESG or sustainable products?
- Investors are relying on these terms to understand funds’ strategies?
- There should be specific requirements that funds must adhere to in order to call their investments ESG or sustainable?
--With assistance from Emily Chasan and Tim Quinson.