Sandy Begbie: Scotland can put global spotlight on green finance

Sandy Begbie: Scotland can put global spotlight on green finance

Sandy Begbie CBE

The COP26 summit offers an opportunity for Scotland to put the global spotlight on green finance, writes Sandy Begbie.

Over the last decade the financial services sector has faced many challenges. From the reputational damage of the 2008 financial crisis through to adapting to a new post-Brexit trading environment, major macroeconomic and geopolitical events draw attention to the responsibility placed on the shoulders of those who handle finances.

While the world of finance is constantly evolving to respond to the challenges of the day, the onset of the pandemic has changed everything at an unparalleled pace.

The response from the financial services sector to the pandemic is a sign that it has learned much from the mistakes of the past. While our member firms accept that more can and must be done, the focus has very much been on putting customers, colleagues and communities first which reflects a genuine impetus within the industry to be a force for good in times of crisis. Public discourse is now firmly focused on how we rebuild our economy and address the pressing climate emergency.

It is in this context that Scottish Financial Enterprise recently launched its new strategy for the financial and professional services sector in Scotland, which aims to have a positive impact on society.

The immediate task of both government and business is to facilitate and support sustainable economic recovery. The role of financial services in this process is absolutely crucial.

Scotland’s financial services industry is robust and diverse, with household name life and pensions companies and asset managers, cutting edge fintechs, and some of the biggest names in global finance.

To capitalise fully on the strength of Scotland’s financial services sector to aid the recovery, we have called on the Scottish government to convene a dedicated quarterly cross-sector forum of key business groups, co-chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy, focused on developing clear public policy actions that can accelerate Scotland’s economic recovery.

In November this year Scotland will be in the global spotlight as Glasgow hosts COP26. The summit provides a valuable opportunity for Scotland’s financial services industry to showcase its green credentials to the world.

We have put forward a range of proposals to ensure that financial services in Scotland inspires global leadership in green finance in the year of COP26, including a plan to establish Scotland as a global centre for green finance.

SFE has also committed to working across the sector to deliver the innovative and inclusive products and services that meet the evolving needs of all our customers, with proposals to create a sector led plan to ensure we tackle this issue on a collective front.

In order to maximise the potential opportunity of financial services in Scotland, the sector must attract the best people from all backgrounds. We have put forward proposals that will enable financial services firms to recruit, develop and retain diverse, high performing skills within the industry, including plans to promote upskilling and reskilling of the current talent base, and to improve diversity and inclusion through better engagement with education.

To achieve these objectives, collaboration across the industry and with both governments is essential. We need to forge new partnerships between business and government that will enable us to tackle these issues with the drive and determination they require.

Whilst disagreements between both the Scottish and UK Governments are inevitable, I’ve been encouraged that this sentiment of collaboration has been echoed by both the Prime Minister and First Minister in the days following the election, and, in this very spirit, I was delighted that Ministers representing both Governments welcomed our strategy when it launched last month.

What is essential now is that this sentiment of collaboration, shared by business and politicians, translates into action for the benefit of society as a whole.

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