Rounding out a busy 12 months for the firm, Hywin speaks to WealthBriefingAsia on the strategy behind its recent sustainability report, its approach to ESG issues, and why a deep commitment is now non-negotiable for business trumpeting their ESG credentials.
When China’s Hywin recently unveiled its sustainability report, setting out how it has made a difference to its own business, and those it invests in, it spoke to what appears to be an unstoppable wealth management trend around ESG.
The decision to take such time and trouble over the 32-page report was made because Hywin knows that the global financial services industry must provide robust data and a track record to really live up to ESG proclamations.
“We have seen a lot of backlash this year against the very large firms for ‘greenwashing’ and for applying ESG as a marketing veneer to attract or retain money,” Nick Xiao, CEO at Hywin International, based in Hong Kong, told this publication in an interview.
“For Hywin, ESG and sustainability are a new context where we have meaningful conversations with our stakeholders,” he said.
To some extent 2022 was a year when the topic of “greenwashing” – making investments look better than they really are – went from being a niche concern in ESG to one that was forcing the world’s financial regulators to act. To give one example, in the UK advertising regulators banned two ads used by UK/Hong Kong-listed HSBC in a couple of cities that it said misled the public about the bank's green credentials. In Asia, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, for example, has flagged the issue.
For ESG to succeed, it must be credible and show more than superficial commitment, Xiao said.
He pointed out, for example, how two years ago, Hywin’s CEO, Madame Wang Dian, had told WealthBriefingAsia: “ESG must be more than a publicity campaign, or a portfolio filter, or thematic overlay. ESG and sustainability should be the compass by which a firm assesses its priorities, aligns the interests of stakeholders, balances the short term and long term, and delivers shareholder value while making societal impact.”
The Hywin report examines spaces such as corporate governance; compliance standards; sustainable growth; talent strategy; client involvement, and corporate citizenship. To take one of the report’s sections – corporate governance – Hywin said that half (50 per cent) of its directors are women and audit committee members who have an average tenure of 2.9 years.
“With this report, we inform our shareholders and the stock exchange how we have fulfilled our fiduciary and diversity undertakings; we also share with our clients how we protect the environment as well as their wealth for their next generations; in addition, we narrate to our employees that we expect them to be their best at work and also do their best for the community; and importantly, we cheer and support under-privileged groups to rise to the challenges in their lives and live them to the full,” Xiao said.
“The report also is a way of showing to our global partners that Hywin takes issues such as sustainability, accountability and transparency very seriously,” he said. “We want people to know that Hywin is really here for the long term and our endeavours are not just about financial resilience or operational excellence, but also about our values, the way we’ve governed, the way we grow, and the way we always seek to align with the direction of the world.”
Xiao also referred to the Hywin Foundation, an important part of its philanthropic platform which over the years had funded libraries and schools, supported vulnerable groups, championed advancement of women and minorities, and provided an infrastructure which pooled the kindness and resources of numerous Hywin clients into a force for causes and a change agent for society.
2022 has been a busy year for Hywin. In August Shanghai-based Hywin Holdings took a controlling stake in Life Infinity as part of a push into the country’s health management sector. It represented what appears to be a logical step in the wider financial industry.