Patrick Odier on why the sustainable finance community is gathering momentum in Geneva

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Patrick Odier on why the sustainable finance community is gathering momentum in Geneva

Article published in finance.swiss on November 4

Geneva is the city where both the Red Cross was founded and the U.N. Human Rights Council is headquartered. It's also a city with a long, storied tradition in banking. Will the combination of humanism and finance define the future of the banking industry moving forward? Finance.swiss reporter Tanya König speaks to Patrick Odier, the president of Swiss Sustainable Finance and Building Bridges, an initiative aimed at making finance more sustainable, to find out if Geneva can benefit from the best of both worlds.

 

The banking sector is undergoing the biggest transformation in history. How can financial institutions adjust their business model so they're not seen as part of the problem but instead as good, responsible corporate citizens?

I think we should remind ourselves that the role of banks is twofold mainly: One, to insure the irrigation of the economy at all times; and two, to protect savings, make it grow, transfer it, etcetera. When you look at the huge transformation that is taking place today throughout the world, it concerns every sector, and in this respect capital can help a lot as can many other factors. If you take consumption, behavior would help the transition. If you take technology, technology would help with new solutions. If you take regulation, regulation is what puts a frame around the activities. And capital will encourage the right directions to be taken by industries. And in this sense, banking is, in this situation, even more a part of the solution than it has ever been.

…capital will encourage the right directions to be taken by industries…in this sense, banking is…even more a part of the solution than it has ever been

Global challenges such as climate change, changing regulatory framework, and a demand from younger generations to earn market-conform returns through sustainable solutions are just some of the drivers for responsible investing. But there are still voices claiming that profit and purpose are conflicting goals. How do you answer those critics?

I think in this respect we'll have to look at the fiduciary responsibility of the intermediaries, such as the banks, asset managers, the wealth managers, which have to guide capital and savings into a certain direction because those directions offer the best opportunities for investments and/or because those directions allow to mitigate risk at best. In this respect, there's full alignment between the interest of the banking sector and of the clients and investors. It's the same with credit: Credit is the most risky financial activity, and this risky activity has to do with managing the risk correctly. If you don't see a transformation into a sector correctly, you're going to take a big risk lending to the wrong counterparties.

…there's full alignment between the interest of the banking sector and of the clients and investors

You're the president of Building Bridges, a groundbreaking event that will include politicians, the financial sector, and NGOs from November 29 to December 2 in Geneva, supported by Swiss public authorities. What's the idea behind this event?

The idea behind Building Bridges is really to make sure that all parties involved in the sustainability transition will find themselves around the same table to set the agenda correctly—what are the themes that deserve collective initiatives, and what are the individual ideas that are worth exchanging so that acceleration can take place. That's why Building Bridges will exist, and that's why we hope to make it a big success.

The idea behind Building Bridges is really to make sure that all parties involved in the sustainability transition will find themselves around the same table to set the agenda correctly

You also claim that Building Bridges is not just an event, but a movement. What does that mean? How can you achieve that?

Building Bridges will be composed of a big summit that will be the lighthouse of the week, if you wish. But it is a week, meaning that there will be 77 events this year that will address all kinds of issues that are spontaneously generated by different constituencies that come to the table. We will also make sure that out of these discussions some work streams can be defined so that in the continuity of one week the discussion continues and perhaps initiatives can start.

 

Do you also check back to see if those initiatives are put into place?

Of course! We check back, and we also encourage everyone around the table to focus on this part of the year to make sure they come up with the announcement of the initiatives so that it gives a sort of momentum for everyone to encourage those initiatives to take place.

 

There are several urgent challenges of advancing sustainable finance. Which one is Building Bridges addressing?

This year, with input from the community, we have decided to direct the reflections around three main themes. The first theme is about matching demand and supply of capital. There is a lot of demand for certain types of projects, there is a lot of capital. How come there's still a mismatch? The second theme has to do with the means to do that correctly, i.e. transparency about what is being done—and data and information. What kind of information should be available to anyone to make a right decision, including the financial sector. And the final work stream that has been established, and will be the subject of a main focus during the week, is the role of technology to accelerate the sustainable transition.

…the final work stream that has been established, and will be the subject of a main focus during the week, is the role of technology to accelerate the sustainable transition

Why have you chosen Geneva to be the hub for the sustainable finance community to come together?

Geneva and Switzerland benefit from a unique advantage. All the international organizations are present at the same place: the NGOs, industry, finance, academia, as well as the Swiss government. The contact between Geneva and Zurich, Basel and Lugano is as fluid as it should be. So in this respect, I think it would have been a mistake not to use Switzerland and Geneva to try to develop this Building Bridges initiative.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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