All the major U.S wirehouses now encourage their financial advisors to consider offering their clients ESG investments — stakes in companies that provide data about the impact of their environmental, societal and (corporate) governance policies. But don’t expect to find much more than scant cooperation among those same major wirehouses in response to requests for more transparency about their own societal — specifically, workplace-related — data.
Most recent case in point: UBS, through its subsidiary, UBS Asset Management, stands out as the only parent of a major U.S. major wirehouse listed as a signatory to the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI). The two-year U.K.-based effort, led by a charity, issued a request on July 1 to 750 companies asking them for "more standardized data on issues such as health and safety, workers’ rights, diversity and wage levels."
Merrill Lynch parent company Bank of America, as well as Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley, were not among the signatories. Nor did those three companies disclose 2018 data when WDI made the same requests last year.
Notably, WDI did not ask UBS for its data in 2018 or this year.
“We draw a distinction between signatories (institutional investors who sign up to call for the data) and companies (who are requested to provide data). We do not request data from signatories,” a spokesperson for WDI wrote in an emailed response to a request for comment.
“UBS Asset Management is a supporter of the WDI from an investor perspective as we would like listed companies to disclose more standardized data. The list of companies targeted by the initiative was drawn up by the WDI and UBS was not involved in that decision,” a UBS spokesperson wrote in an emailed response to a request for comment.
As a rule, North American companies have responded less enthusiastically than their European counterparts to the WDI’s reporting requests, according to the nonprofit organization’s leaders.
But other U.S.-based asset managers BlackRock, Fidelity, State Street Global Investors and JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management have expressed interest in obtaining more transparency about companies’ societal contributions.
All those asset managers signed on as signatories to the Embankment Project for Inclusive Capitalism (EPIC), which was launched two years ago to develop “intangible assets and possible metrics for helping companies communicate their ability to generate long-term value to both investors and society as a whole,” according to the project’s website.
“The metrics and the underlying methodology are designed to be flexible enough to allow companies to adapt them to their specific circumstances and long-term value narrative,” the website states.