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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


5 May 2021 – Banks will play a central role in supporting clients on their net zero transition journey. CISL’s latest guide is a practical resource designed to activate bank-client dialogue on climate change, writes Peter Kanning, Global Head of Business Development, Sustainable Finance, HSBC.

The importance of finance is widely recognised as essential to achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  However, banks and financial institutions offer more than just access to capital and financial services. They represent relationships with businesses, institutions and individuals that make up the real economy where climate action must be realised to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for society.

It is in this context that the Banking Environment Initiative’s (BEI) work on bank-client engagement is so valuable. The Let’s Discuss Climate Guide published today and written for banking relationship managers reinforces the importance of dialogue and collaboration in solving for climate change, and that it is through individuals that engagement by businesses and institutions takes place.

Climate change presents risks and opportunities for all businesses irrespective of sector, size or location. Yet the transition journey for any one company must take into account its own particular circumstances. Banking relationship managers can help clients develop and assess their own action plans – sharing best practice, thought leadership and case studies with the client to help inform their decisions. Such dialogue with clients also positions the relationship manager to understand better where finance is needed to achieve the client’s objectives and offer solutions to meet the client’s specific needs.

Let’s Discuss Climate: The essential guide to bank-client engagement is a practical resource, meaning it is designed to activate bank-client dialogue on climate change. At its foundation is a vision for banking relationship managers to be strategic partners with their clients, where the provision of financial services is a means to fulfilling a shared objective rather than being the objective itself.  It is clear that climate and sustainability is firmly a strategic consideration for businesses.  HSBC’s Sustainable Financing and Investments Survey 2020 found that 97% of companies expect to redeploy capital in response to environmental and social challenges and opportunities over the next five years.

As we approach COP26 this year, financial institutions are similarly coalescing around aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net-zero emissions by mid-century.  In April 2021, 43 banks from 23 countries with US$28.5 trillion in assets launched the Net Zero Banking Alliance. To be successful, we must understand these commitments by financial institutions as commitments to engage clients on transitioning the real economy. The BEI’s client engagement work makes an essential contribution to this collective journey.

Click to read Let’s Discuss Climate: The essential guide to bank-client engagement

Register for the Let's Discuss Climate webinar, taking place at 4-5:00pm BST, 25 May

Find out more about the Banking Environment Initiative.

About the author

Peter Kanning is Global Head of Business Development, Sustainable Finance, HSBC. Peter joined HSBC in 2006 and has held various roles in New York and London, including five years in Group Strategy & Planning where he led initiatives related to cross-business and geography collaboration, business transformation, and strategy communication. In his current role, Peter manages the Group’s Climate Business Council and facilitates activities across global businesses and supporting functions.  Peter holds a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.


Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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