Goldman Sachs facing SEC probe of ESG funds in asset management

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Goldman Sachs Group is facing a U.S. investigation into its funds offering investments using environmental, social and governance criteria.

The probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission focuses on Goldman’s mutual funds business in its asset management arm, people familiar with the matter said. The agency is looking into whether some investments for the funds are in breach of ESG metrics promised in marketing materials, one of the people said. The inquiry is tied to two funds in that business.

Spokespeople for Goldman Sachs and the SEC declined to comment.

Authorities in the U.S. and Europe are digging into how firms package and market investments, looking at disclosure lapses and more serious accusations of “greenwashing,” or overstating ESG capabilities. Deutsche Bank and asset manager DWS Group had their Frankfurt offices raided by police late last month in a greenwashing probe. DWS CEO Asoka Woehrmann resigned shortly after. The firm has denied the allegations.

The SEC has been warning money managers not to mislead investors about the standards and methods they use for classifying funds as ESG. Behind the scenes, the agency’s staff has been pressing financial firms to show that they’re making good on their promises.

In last year’s first half, the agency set up a task force of enforcement lawyers whose focus includes ESG disclosures. Around the same time, the regulator released a report showing many funds describing themselves as ESG weren’t doing enough to ensure that their marketing rang true.

Last month, the agency announced that Bank of New York Mellon Corp. agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle SEC allegations it falsely implied some mutual funds had undergone an ESG quality review.

Investigators found that BNY Mellon’s asset management unit didn’t always scrutinize the ESG factors used to evaluate funds from July 2018 through last September, despite telling investors that it did. The regulator added that numerous investments lacked a quality review score.

BNY, which didn’t admit or deny the SEC’s allegations, said that it had taken steps to improve communications with investors.

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