In this blog, Hoang Thu Trang discusses the findings from the Fair Finance Vietnam’s first-year bank policies assessment report and shares the learning and inspirations in continuing constructive dialogues with relevant stakeholders, putting affected communities’ voice at the heart of the coalition work.
In April 2021, Fair Finance Vietnam (FFV) launched the report titled “Towards Sustainable Finance – Environmental, Social and Governance commitments in the banking industry” which has been considered the first-of-its-kind assessment in Vietnam. The report assessed ten commercial banks in the country. After the launch, FFV witnessed the recognition from the State Bank of Vietnam, positive responses from the banks and more opportunities to contribute to policy development. This inspired FFV to work for the second bank assessment in 2022 and relevant studies in addition to continuing constructive dialogues with the banks, policy regulators and CSOs, putting affected communities’ voice at the heart of our work.
Vietnam is a fast and emerging market, with political stability in the eyes of foreign investors. Between 2002 and 2020, GDP per capita increased 2.7 times, reaching almost US$2,800. Vietnam has been deepening its international integration and more proactive in global governance through its international commitments to environmental protection and human rights which set the ground for the comprehensive action at the country level. Vietnam ratified fundamental United Nations’ human rights conventions. The country participates in international protocols such as being a member of APEC in 1998, member of the World Trade Organisation in 2006, and a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) during 2020 – 2021. At COP26, Vietnam committed to climate change mitigation, such as stopping deforestation by 2030, and phasing out coal-fired power generation by 2040. It is an advantage for FFV to leverage these protocols and policy frames for its influencing.
FFV’s findings from its first-year bank policies assessment
To promote green growth and sustainable development, the Government of Vietnam has promulgated multiple regulations and policies reflecting Environment – Social – Governance (ESG) criteria. From assessing current ESG commitments in policies of the ten Vietnamese commercial banks, the report finds that the government’s ESG-reflecting policies have been partially translated into action by the Vietnamese commercial banks. The report highlights that ten assessed commercial banks are at a very nascent stage concerning ESG policy commitments. In other words, in the “race to the top”, these ten banks have just entered the race.
The assessment process and our learning journey
At the beginning, the journey was not easy at all. The capacity of the assessment team was one of our difficulties in the first place. Although they are experts from Vietnamese civil society organisations who have good knowledge and experience in environmental protection and social development, they lacked understandings about the financial sector, from the financial terms to banking and financing mechanisms and practices. We, therefore, conducted a series of capacity building and technical support for the team before the assessment started.
In addition, it was the first time that FFV established a connection with the banks, the team was not confident in communicating the technical contents with the banks despite that the assessments got quality checked.
Many doings and reflections took place during the time of assessment, and we gradually found an effective way to move ahead in our pathways.
FFV deployed a constructive approach in doing the assessment as part of our long-term influencing strategy. During and after the assessment process, FFV developed two-way communication with the banks, not only informed them about their scores but also explained and recommended specific strategies for improvement of each bank based on its own characteristics and advantages. This helped break the banks’ misperceptions of FFV’s stance in this mission and for them to be open to communicate about the scores.
After all, hard work paid off. Fair Finance Vietnam completed a robust ESG assessment of ten top commercial banks of Vietnam to influence fair finance in the banking sector of Vietnam in general and in the energy sector in particular. The report was launched in April 2021, receiving attention from CSOs and news media in Vietnam. Following this public launch, FFV sent recommendations along with the assessment report and the policy brief to the State Bank of Vietnam and the ten commercial banks of Vietnam who were assessed, and other government agencies.
The bank assessment report and case studies embedding voices of affected communities, especially of women, on the impact of banks’ investment in energy sector have become prominent pieces of evidence and sources in FFV’s influencing work. FFV witnessed the encouragement and recognition from the State Bank of Vietnam, the changes of commercial banks and more open opportunities to contributing to policy development.
Two months after the public launch, on 28 June 2021, FFV received a letter from the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) appreciating the recommendations on Environmental – Social – Governance (ESG) criteria in the banking sector of Vietnam. The central bank acknowledged that the work of FFV is a valuable reference for the State Bank in its policy development which includes the Banking Development Strategy to 2025 and with a vision to 2030 and other SBV’s polices and documents. Although ESG criteria is now put at the centre of these policies, the concept and framework seems still new to SBV; thus, SBV needs to regularly update during its policy development process to meet the international standards and to learn from good practices. SBV expressed their willingness to receive further information from FFV through sharing materials, collaboration on the topic, and maintain regular communication with the Banking Strategy Institute.
This letter indicates that substantial changes have been triggered for both SBV and the commercial banks towards addressing sustainable finance issues.
Three Vietnamese commercial banks disclosed more ESG information in their 2020 annual reports, such as commitments on human rights, consumer protection, labour rights, and non-discrimination. Twelve FFV’s recommendations were taken and reflected in their 2020 annual reports.
Findings and recommendations serve as useful sources for FFV to continue its influencing work with SBV on the regulations on environmental risks management applied to financial institutions in Vietnam. Recently on 21 October 2021, FFV was one of a few CSOs invited by SBV to attend the consultation workshop, in which FFV presented toplines from the bank policy assessment together with the case studies.
At this time of the year 2021, we are pleased to see Fair Finance Vietnam’s efforts are recognized. That re-affirmed the coalition approach is effective in promoting the sustainability in banking and financial industry in Vietnam. The ball has been kicked off, and our commitments are fueled and strengthened. We are looking forward to working together with our partners and communities in the second bank assessment in 2022.
The assessment report develops recommendations to the State Bank of Vietnam and the commercial banks.
The recommendations to the State Bank of Vietnam are as follows:
1. Develop common ESG standards for commercial banks in Vietnam in alignment with international standards and conventions.
2. Develop the assessment and ranking tool on ESG based on the aforementioned common ESG standards, with possible reference to the FFGI methodology
3. Issue regulations requiring commercial banks to make public disclosure on ESG commitments and implementation.
4. Incorporate concrete ESG criteria appropriately in the banking industry’s policy, including decisions, directives, and regulations regarding investments, credit, and other financial services, as well as commercial banks’ governance.
5. Collaborate with relevant ministries and agencies, private initiatives, academia and institutes to promote ESG commitments among commercial banks in Vietnam
The recommendations to the commercial banks of Vietnam are as follows:
1. Disclose and update ESG-related policies and information concerning the banks’ internal operations and the companies receiving investment or credit
2. Develop and update ESG policies in alignment with international standards and conventions
A blog by Hoang Thu Trang, Programme Officer, Oxfam in Vietnam
Fair Finance Vietnam (FFV) is the creation of the collective efforts of several civil society organizations, including the Center for Water Conservation and Development (WARECOD), the Center for Education and Empowerment of Women (CEPEW), and Oxfam in Vietnam. They are currently active in the field of environmental protection and community development for sustainable development.