Last week, MUFG EMEA held its second annual Insurance and Asset Management seminar in a virtual format, centred on the theme of 'Weathering the COVID downturn: Can ESG investments offer some hope for the future?'

MUFG, as a leading project finance advisor and distributor, brought together renowned institutional investors and asset originators across EMEA and Asia to discuss Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investments and the issues affecting them in today's uncertain environment. MUFG has issued nine Green, Social and Sustainability Bonds, amounting to a total of US$3.4 billion since 2016 across three markets and aim to provide a total of 20 trillion yen by 2030.

The first day's session saw a lively discussion on macroeconomics; 'What is the economic impact of the Covid crisis: the interconnections across countries and markets and the impact of monetary and regulatory policy responses on stability?', in partnership with The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, included a stimulating discussion exploring the heightened need for ESG to be at the forefront of investment strategy.

MUFG EMEA's CEO John Winter gave the opening keynote, followed by an insightful discussion with Professor Randall Kroszner, Deputy Dean and Professor at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which was moderated by Franck Viort, Head of Non-Bank Financial Institutions EMEA and joined by Derek Halpenny, Head of Global Markets Research at MUFG.

The focus of the seminar was on the response from central banks to the current economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, and analysed whether the unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus will incite a different result than the long downturn following the events of 2008. Prof. Kroszner explained how the rapid response to the unprecedented current crisis is instigating a sharp partial recovery from the initial downward trajectory, but noted that returning to our traditional way of living and conducting business would be unlikely. A structural change to the economy has been enacted, including fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour, and the way businesses think about their global operations and geographic activity.

The second day's seminar included a panel discussion focused on the 'APAC perspective on the demand for ESG: Evolution, Strategy, Opportunity, Risk and Impact', and saw Koichiro Oshima, Managing Executive Officer, Head of Financial Solutions Group at MUFG, give the opening remarks.

The seminar, moderated by Yuko Iijima, Director, Non-Bank Financial Institutions EMEA at MUFG, and complemented by Paras Anand, Chief Investment Officer, Asia Pacific at Fidelity International, Manish Singhai, Chief Investment Officer at Tokio Marine Asset Management International and Hugh Young, Head of Asia Pacific at Aberdeen Standard Investments, highlighted the extent of Asia's pivot towards ESG financing, and how the recent pandemic has been a catalyst for a growing focus on sustainability in the region, catching the eye of investors, the public and media alike. Of note was the recognition of outperformance of Asian ESG assets during the recent period of instability, and the subsequent growth in investor demand.

Also recognised was that while the 'G' of ESG (Governance) is largely well-established, the 'E' (Environment) and 'S' (Social) components are still very much developing. An improvement in disclosure is key to promoting this, as the existing framework for public disclosure, especially in Asia, leaves a lot to be desired.

The third and final day consisted of a panel discussion on the theme 'European perspective on the demand for ESG', with an opening keynote from Takanori Sazaki, Regional Executive for EMEA, MUFG.

Moderated by Matteo Ferrario, Head of Public and Private Side Distribution EMEA at MUFG, speakers Alberto Vacca, CEO of Aviva SpA, Aviva Vita SpA and Aviva Life SpA and also Chief Business and Investment Officer for Aviva Italy Group, Alex Seddon, Co-Head of Private Credit at M&G Investments and Brunno Maradei, Global Head of ESG at Aegon Asset Management spoke to how ESG investment was developing in Europe.

The main takeaways included that European investors are very active in certain ESG asset classes and how ESG regulatory framework in Europe is more advanced than Asia, whilst there is still room for further development. The current climate sees a European ecosystem being divided in its interpretation of ESG, emphasising the need for greater consensus on the topic and a determination for positive change.

MUFG would like to extend its thanks to all the speakers and attendees who took the time to participate in this event.