Shares in Deutsche Bank’s investment arm DWS, one of Europe’s largest asset managers, tumbled nearly 14% on Thursday following reports in the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times of investigations by German and US regulators into the company’s ESG investment claims.
According to the reports, the probes by the US’ SEC and Germany’s federal financial supervisory authority BaFin follow claims that the trillion dollar asset manager has misled investors on its use of ESG considerations in its investment practices and its ESG investing capabilities. Earlier this month, the WSJ reported on allegations made by DWS’ former sustainability chief Desiree Fixler, that the firm misrepresented in its annual report on the extent to which assets were invested using ESG integration in the investment process.
Fixler was hired by DWS last June and appointed Group Sustainability Officer, a new role the asset manager created to ensure that it had a holistic ESG strategy that is consistent across regions, and aligned with the group’s responsibilities both as a fiduciary and as a corporate. According to the WSJ, Fixler was fired in March, immediately prior to the release of DWS’ annual report.
The investigations come as regulators have been raising greenwashing concerns as asset managers scramble to meet the rapidly growing demand for ESG-aligned investments. In July, the FCA, the conduct regulator for financial services firms and financial markets in the UK, published a letter to fund managers indicating that applications for ESG-focused funds are frequently not meeting expectations, often making assertions about the sustainability aspects of funds not backed up by actual strategy or composition.
DWS has been a leading voice among asset managers in terms of ESG and sustainability practices. At the company’s AGM in November, CEO Asoka Woehrmann described sustainability as a moral imperative at DWS, outlining the asset manager’s progress and initiatives in the ESG space over the past year, including increasing the range of ESG investing products offered by the firm, its hiring of Fixler and the recent establishment of an ESG Advisory Board.
In response to the reports, DWS released a statement in which it called the claims being made in the media “unfounded allegations,” and defended the descriptions made in its annual report as clear and transparent.
In its statement, DWS said:
“DWS stands by its annual report disclosures. We firmly reject the allegations being made by a former employee. DWS will continue to remain a steadfast proponent of ESG investing as part of its fiduciary role on behalf of its clients.
“DWS has a long tradition of sustainable and responsible investing going back well over 20 years. More recently, we defined ESG as a cornerstone of our corporate strategy to develop into a leading ESG asset manager, as we expected the consideration of ESG criteria to become a license to operate for the entire asset management industry. DWS strives to always be transparent to the market, our clients and stakeholders in our message that the road to a sustainable future is long and hurdled; for the entire industry and also for DWS.”