Biden’s SEC chair likely to take ‘hard look’ at ESG

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission likely will make oversight of socially responsible investing an agency priority, current members predicted Friday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the next chairman or chairwoman take a hard look at the commission’s approach to ESG — or environmental, social and governance issues — especially those focused on climate risk,” Caroline Crenshaw, who holds a Democratic commission seat, said at an online conference hosted by the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said earlier this week he would depart the agency by the end of year. Biden will choose the next permanent SEC chief, who will give the five-person panel a Democratic majority.

Democratic lawmakers also will be pushing the SEC to take up climate change. In a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., got into a tense exchange with Clayton about corporate reporting on corporate reporting standards for climate risk.

“We need a new SEC chair who will put this climate crisis at the top of the agency’s agenda,” Warren said.

Regulators are paying increasing attention to socially responsible investing.

Over the last year, the SEC has been examining investment advisers’ disclosures related to ESG strategies. Last month, the Department of Labor released a final rule that would add requirements for retirement plan fiduciaries to justify ESG investments.

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., is working on bills that would require investment advisers to consider ESG factors when making recommendations and to develop a sustainable investment policy. One of the goals of Levin’s legislation is to help workers understand how their money is being invested and whether it’s addressing climate change and other issues.

The next SEC chair likely will have similar concerns, said Tyler Gellasch, executive director of the Healthy Markets Association, a trade group for investors. “The overarching theme for any Democratic chair should be more information for the public and more rights for investors,” said Gellasch, who served as a counsel to former Democratic SEC member Kara Stein.

Elad Roisman, who holds a Republican SEC seat, acknowledged ESG will be central to the agency’s deliberations next year.

“It’s a conversation that I think is going to be ongoing,” Roisman said at the Georgetown conference. “It’s one I can’t imagine we’re not going to have for the foreseeable future.”

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