ESG Disclosure – Swirling Public Dialogue on Status & Value Today and in Future for Corporate Constituencies

JULY 1 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

On corporate ESG / Sustainability / CR reporting – and third party assurance.  The trends?

The required financial reporting by publicly-traded companies is assured by third parties (accounting, auditing firms). In the U.S. SEC rules require public companies to have an annual audit; the audited financial statements have an opinion included from the auditing firms.

Objective: includes determining if the statement presents information fairly and in line with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

What does the outside auditor do in the financial reporting process?

Explains Ed Bannen at BGQ Partners LLC in Ohio: The most rigorous level of assurance is provided by an audit. It offers a reasonable level of assurance that financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. 

But what about the growing volume of corporate ESG / sustainability / responsibility reports flowing out from corporate issuers to investors and other stakeholders? The “non-GAAP stuff” of ESG disclosure at present?

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) “warns” that only half of companies at most back up their sustainability reports with assurance (IFAC looked at 1400 companies).  This presents “an emerging investor protection and financial stability risk.”

There is “some” level of ESG reporting by 91 percent of companies in 22 governmental jurisdictions now, but reporting standards used are inconsistent and IFAC urges that assurance practices need to mature alongside corporate ESG reporting.

Of course, the accountants noted that often where there is ESG assurance provided it is not by professional accountants but by other types of consultancies.

We bring you background on this from CFO Drive: Investors representing literally tens of trillions of AUM are looking for consistent, comparable, decision-useful information to determine whether to invest, sell or make a proxy vote…

SEC Chair Gary Gensler was quoted saying:  Therefore, SEC staff will be recommending governance, strategy and risk management practices related to climate risk, and determine whether metrics such as GHG emissions are relevant for investor consideration.”.  Stay tuned to the SEC!

Summing up: the operating environment for leaders of publicly-traded companies is rapidly changing when it comes to ESG / sustainability, public disclosure and structured reporting. In both the U.S. and in the European Union, regulators are proposing dramatic changes in rules or appear to be in the process of developing guidance and rules. (Frequently in the U.S., SEC also issues interpretations that reflect important changes in policy thinking about reporting.)

We bring you four important updates on these public discussions going on in our Top Stories selections.

On a recent webinar hosted by our partner organization, DFIN Solutions, there were 1,000 professionals registered for the session. About half of the attendees answered a survey question about whether or not their firm publishes a sustainability report, with about half saying “no” or “did not know.”

Clearly there is an urgent need for more corporate managements to become informed about ESG disclosure.

Information about the webinar “Navigating the Corporate ESG Journey: Strategies & Lessons Learned Featuring FIS Global, IR Magazine’s 2020 Best ESG Reporting Award Winner,” co-hosted by G&A Institute’s EVP Louis Coppola is here: https://info.dfinsolutions.com/navigating-corporate-ESG-journey-replay

Useful background from Ed Bannen, Senior Manager of GBQ’s Assurance and Business Advisory Services regarding statement assurance, auditing and related topics is here for you:https://gbq.com/levels-of-assurance-choosing-right/

Top Story/Stories – Reporting, Assurance and More in Focus

Today: Huge Financial Flows as the U.S.A. Aids the Business Community and Workers, Families…How Is the Flow Facilitated?

April 28, 2020 –   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19  Excellent in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – #18

Introduction
These are the times when actions and reactions to crisis helps to define the character of the corporation and shape the public profiles of each of the corporate citizens. For the managements of companies, these are not easy times.

Important decisions are to be made, many priorities set in an environment of unknown unknowns — and there are many stakeholders to be taken care of.

The Good News 
Corporations are not waiting to be part of the solution – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise.  This is no easy task while protecting the corporate brand, the reputation for being a good corporate citizen, watching out for the investor base and the employee base — and all stakeholders.

What are companies doing? How will the decisions made at the top in turn affect the company’s employees, customers, hometowns, suppliers, other stakeholders?  Stay tuned to our series.

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute 

The government of the United States of America is directing hundreds of billions’ of dollars toward individuals, families, business enterprises, and local and state governments to aid in the response to the coronavirus emergency.  How do the much-needed funds reach the intended recipients?

As the U.S. Congress, the Federal Reserve System and the Treasury Department (and other agencies) make the moves to provide continuing financial support for small businesses, laid off and furloughed employees, and major industries like airlines, the ramping up of the enabling technologies to facilitate the financial flow is a herculean task.

Take the first round of financial aid to small business, with funds channeled from the Small Business Administration (SBA) through big banks, regional banks, community banks, credit unions, and other qualified lenders.

As U.S. banks and credit unions faced the “instant” onslaught of a huge volume of applications for financial aid, FIS (working with a growing number of financial institutions) leveraged its “Real-Time Lending Platform” to digitize and automate the lending process. The platform is now processing a high volume of loans and can be scaled to meet demand as needed.

FIS created a COVID-19 Online Resource Center to provide its clients with options and information to “adapt and rebound” to virus emergency challenges. Link:  https://www.fisglobal.com/response-center

About the Company
FIS is a leading provider of technology solutions for merchants, banks and capital market firms worldwide.  The company has more than 55,000 people “globally dedicated to advancing the way the world pays, banks and invests by applying its scale, deep expertise and data-driven insights”.  FIS is a Fortune 500 enterprise and is included in the S&P 500® Index. (FIS:NYSE)

FIS is now using its technology platforms to enable U.S. banks and credit unions to provide loans and other economic relief to small businesses and merchants under the Small Business Administration (SBA) “Paycheck Protection Program” (that is within the CARES ActCoronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act).

The PPP authorizes lenders (in the first round) to provide up to $349 billion in funds to U.S. small business and merchants that are impacted by COVID-1. Loans can be forgiven in time if used for payroll costs and certain other expenses; all funds must be used by June 30th.

FIS is also waiving minimum monthly service charges for April for U.S. and U.K. merchants and providing free virtual terminal access for U.S. merchants and retailers enrolled in the Worldpay from FIS IQ online portal (for remote processing).

The company is also providing online grocery shopping for SNAP benefit recipients (SNAP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Using FIS technology, SNAP benefit recipients in a piloted program (rolled out in Washington State, Oregon and Nebraska) can use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to make online purchases of groceries through authorized retailers – such as Walmart and Amazon.

FIS government agency clients in the states of Arizona, Florida, Idaho and California were next in line for the program. (Typically, EBT users have to make their purchases at brick & mortar retailers.)

In 2017 CEO Gary Norcross became a signatory of CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a network of 500-plus CEOs in 85 industry categories.

Talk About Overload
In the context of describing FIS’ involvement in the Federal aid programs, consider the complexity of banks, credit unions and lenders managing the load of loan applications.  In FY 2019, SBA managed just $28 billion in loans.  That was for 52,000 loans totaling $23 billion under the flagship 7A program and 6,000 loans for $5 billion under the SBA 504 program.

As of April 24, 2020 the volume is:  38,984 loans totaling $7,967,174,888 under just the SBA Disaster Assistance Nationwide National Economic Injury Disaster Loan program!

And no doubt there is more Federal financial aid to be on the table as the coronavirus continues.

* * * * * * * *

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

The new items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items today will move down the queue.

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Do send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share.   Stay safe – stay healthy — keep in touch!