July 7, 2021
By Katanga Johnson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said on Wednesday he has asked the regulator’s staff to consider rules that would require self-proclaimed “sustainable” fund managers to disclose the criteria and underlying data used to support the label.
There are growing fears that U.S. funds looking to cash in on the popularity of sustainable or “ESG” investing may be misleading shareholders over their products underlying investments, a practice also known as “greenwashing.”
Gensler told a panel of SEC staff and academics who advocate on behalf of investors that the potential fund rules would complement new public company climate change risk disclosure requirements the agency is scheduled to propose in October.
They would also aim to stamp out investment product mis-selling and establish standardized language and terms around sustainable investing, Gensler told the SEC’s Asset Management Advisory Committee.
“In investing, funds often disclose objective metrics as well,” Gensler added. “When it comes to sustainability-related investing, though, there’s currently a huge range of what asset managers might mean by certain terms or what criteria they use.”
The SEC has previously said it would scrutinize investment advisers and funds touting sustainable products for greenwashing and other compliance issues, but Gensler’s remarks on Wednesday provided more details on how the agency would address the issue.
While European regulators have introduced rules to tackle greenwashing, the United States lags behind. And with a record $51 billion flooding into sustainable U.S. funds in 2020 alone, according to Morningstar, investors need to be better informed about what’s in those funds, the SEC has said.
Gensler added that he has also asked staff to conduct a holistic review of fund-naming conventions.
“A fund’s name is one of the first pieces of information that investors see. If a fund’s name suggests a certain investment focus, investors expect investment in that area.”
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington; Editing by Michelle Price and Paul Simao)