Large banks disappoint, time to step up the pressure: New policy assessment from Fair Finance Belgium

02 March 2022

Today, the Belgian Fair Finance Guide has published an update of the scores of BankWijzer. Every two years we evaluate the investment policy of several banks active in Belgium. We give scores on ten socially relevant themes ranging from climate change and human rights to tax evasion and corruption. And although this year we see slight progress, once again the big banks disappoint. "It is time to increase the pressure on the banks together and demand that our government imposes rules on them," says Jozef Vandermeulen of FairFin.

Major banks continue to finance climate crisis

There are no fundamental shifts in approach. The major banks (ING, KBC, BNP Paribas, Belfius and Deutsche Bank) continue to ignore certain key elements. Jozef Vandermeulen, researcher at FairFin: "Large banks continue to fiddle around in the margins while this is a crucial moment to take important decisions. We see that very clearly in their climate policy. Large banks take small steps forward here and there, but that is only a drop in the ocean compared to the magnitude of the climate crisis. No major bank has yet completely excluded coal companies from their policies or plans to do so for other fossil fuels in the future."

"In other topics, too, ignoring key elements in policy creates harmful investments in practice. When policies are vague, incomplete or not applied to companies' supply chains, money still flows to companies that are harmful to nature, violate human rights or use child labour." says Vandermeulen.

It is equally disappointing to see that banks in which the government has a share (BNP Paribas) or even full ownership (Belfius) have such an inadequate policy. These banks are at the bottom of the ranking, while our government should ensure that they play a pioneering role by implementing ambitious policies.

Small banks show the way

The smaller banks are currently taking on that pioneering role. They are tackling the key issues that large banks are avoiding:

  • Vdk bank reviewed their climate policy and recently excluded all fossil fuels, just
    like NewB and Triodos. Argenta excludes coal completely and excludes fossil fuels
    from its customers' portfolios.
  • NewB promises full transparency on all financing.
  • Triodos remains the best example of what good policy looks like, setting strict requirements on the supply chain of companies it finances.

"The problem is that these small banks hold much less money. So the BNP Paribas of the world have to have more ambitious policies. They have greater influence and bear greater responsibility." emphasises Jozef Vandermeulen of FairFin. "Large banks must make important decisions, as smaller banks are already doing. The government has an important role to play in that process, as regulator and as shareholder."

"At the same time, it is very important that banks and the government see that this issue is alive. We call for letters of complaint to be sent to the banks via the BankWijzer website and for the campaign to be shared on social media. In this way we show the banks that their weak policies are really not acceptable anymore." says Vandermeulen.