(ASX:CBA) Commonwealth Bank chief Matt Comyn reflects on the bank’s past failings

Comyn said since the commission, transparency had improved.

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“We’ve made a lot of progress and fortunately at the moment I’m much more likely to get … stopped on the street with, ‘Looking forward to your full-year results, hope my dividend is looking OK’,” he said .

“I think any senior leader should always with humility recognize that … you can do an enormous reputational damage to yourself very quickly. And so it’s all about never resting on our laurels.”

The ACSI conference in Melbourne on Thursday was centered around environmental, social and governance issues, principles which have become more important for investors and companies in recent years. These include issues around diversity, equality and culture within companies, and the ways they are tackling climate change.

Ethical investments have soared as climate-conscious investors pile money into so-called green funds. But Australian regulators have warned companies they will crack down on “greenwashing” that misleads investors into believing they are investing in accordance with ESG principles.

The head of transition investing at Brookfield Asset Management, Mark Carney, told the conference that investors such as super funds needed to put pressure on companies in which they invest to move towards net zero.

Some Commonwealth Bank branch managers told Matt Comyn they were “embarrassed to walk down the street” with their uniform and badge on during the hearings.Credit:Will Willitts

Earlier this year, Brookfield, in partnership with Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes’ investment vehicle Grok Ventures, lobbed two takeover offers for AGL, promising to bring forward the closures of AGL’s fleet of coal-fired power stations in Victoria and NSW.

Carney, an economist and former banker who served as governor of the Bank of England and Bank of Canada, said investors had a responsibility to ensure the assets they owned were becoming less carbon intensive.

“In many cases … less sophisticated investors are pursuing a disengagement strategy or divestment strategy, so they’re moving away from emissions, as opposed to going to where the emissions are, identifying the companies where they can get them down,” he said.

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“Our responsibility is to the assets we own and with climate comes a responsibility to ensure they are transitioning, and we are not just engaged in portfolio decarbonisation but actually a transition of those assets.”

Former APRA member Geoff Summerhayes said it was a legitimate strategy to increase exposure to carbon intensive assets to try to reduce their emissions, but it had to come with transparency.

“I think we see a lot of private equity activity in this area where there are carbon-intensive assets that can be accelerated to wind down that intensity, and the investors are benefitting from that transition pathway,” he said.

“I think prohibition of just saying we can’t invest in carbon-intensive assets is unhelpful, but it goes with conditions, and as investors, as credit providers, and insurers, we need to be transparent about what we are doing. But we are better to have those assets inside the tent and work with them to transition.”

HESTA chief Debby Blakey said engaging with companies on how they are managing low carbon transition and to drive greater action was more effective than divestment.

“Divestment alone will not drive down emissions and nor will it protect our members’ retirement savings that are invested across the whole economy,” she said.

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