Banking

DWS doubles down on ESG commitments despite greenwashing scandal

DWS chief executive Dr. Asoka Wöhrmann, said that DWS had “clearly positioned itself to make ESG a core part of its strategy”, a mission he said had never been a “secret” or “that we had already reached our goal”.

Wöhrmann said that there were “pressures” and “changes” around sustainable investing as “definition of sustainable energy today is more complex and even more multi-layered than it was just a few months ago”. However, despite those challenges he was “pleased with our progress” and said they had “continuously worked on our own transformation, implementing sustainability throughout the entire firm and driving it forward”.

This was somewhat ironic given that Wöhrmann resigned as chief executive less than 24 hours after a raid on the business by more than 50 German police and regulator BaFin. The authorities were responding to a whistle-blower report which included allegations of greenwashing and misleading investments.

DWS and Deutsche Bank raided by police following whistleblower claims of greenwashing

Wöhrmann will be succeed by Stefan Hoops, who currently serves as head of corporate bank at Deutsche Bank.

Wöhrmann did not address the recent raid at all in his final speech, instead addressing an incident in August last year when Desiree Fixler, the former head of sustainability at the firm, claimed that DWS had overstated its ESG credentials in its 2020 annual report.

The now former chief executive, reiterated DWS’s denial of the accusations and that they were “fully cooperating with regulators and authorities” and “stand by the disclosures” in the annual reports.

“Our statement has remained unchanged ever since,” he said. “So has our conviction.”

Karl von Rohr, chairman of the supervisory board, also addressed shareholders and said that when they were made aware of the “issue” in March 2021 they set up an “external, independent analysis and plausibility check of the allegations as a first step”, to “establish an appropriate basis for further evaluation”.

He said that the “independent analysis did not find any evidence to support the allegations” and after reviewing the findings in July 2021 the Supervisory Board “came to the decision that there was no need to further examine the matter”. 

Following last week’s police raid, Rohr reiterated that they were fully cooperating with all parties and assured investors that they will take “decisive action” if misconduct was found.

He called for people to not form any “pre-judgements”, reminding shareholders that “there should also be a presumption of innocence”.

Wöhrmann said that Fixler’s original allegations had “weighed” on DWS’s share price, and said that the impact was “frustrating for all of us” and “not justified”.

DWS’s share price is down 25% over the past 12 months, according to Google Finance, with a noticeable drop on the day Fixler’s comments were made with a semi-steady decline since then.

“The topic of sustainability is far too significant and far too important for us to be OK with it being instrumentalised by individuals for personal gain,” Wöhrmann said.

Still, the firm’s revenue grew 22% in 2021 and enjoyed and net profit 40%, according to prepared remarks.

 

 

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