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Demystifying SFDR: Lessons learned from the first reporting cycle

11 Oct 2023

Since the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) first came into force in March 2021, we’ve been keeping readers informed of regulatory updates and industry progress, and we are marking yet another SFDR milestone with this article.

EU firms and those non-EU firms that have marketed to EU investors under National Private Placement Regimes (NPPR) were required to produce SFDR periodic disclosures for in-scope funds with a 31 December 2022 year-end. This first formal reporting cycle ended on 30 June 2023—but we haven’t reached the journey’s end.

In this post, we’ll explore the critical learnings we’ve taken from the first full year of formal SFDR disclosures. We’ve helped dozens of clients (and counting) navigate their SFDR disclosures, and the takeaways we’ve gleaned are sure to prove helpful as we round the corner into another year and beyond.

Don’t make these common mistakes

The June 2023 milestone is significant because the SFDR Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS) became effective on 1 January 2023. Unlike 2021 year-end, when disclosures were made on a best-effort basis, 2022 year-end disclosures had to comply with the RTS in their entirety.

During this first formal reporting period, we noticed two common mistakes:

  • Unsubstantiated claims: As mentioned in our recent article on greenwashing, documenting evidence to support sustainability claims is critical, especially in light of recent warnings from European regulators
  • Failure to report: All managers who market funds in Europe are required to report under SFDR. Many managers were unsure whether they were required to submit a report and therefore failed to meet the formal deadline

Key takeaways from SFDR 2022 periodic disclosures

  • Employ an SFDR data policy: If you market funds in Europe, you are subject to SFDR and must make the required disclosures. You commit to internal data tracking in the initial disclosure of a prospectus or private placement memorandum (PPM). It is highly recommended to adopt a data policy that lives up to that commitment by collecting and monitoring data from portfolio companies
  • The right forms matter: Using the correct templates as outlined in the RTS is non-negotiable. While modifying them to suit your needs may be tempting, it is essential to stick to the original. This ensures that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, making it easier to compare funds. Recently, the German regulator, Bafin, released its guidance about the completion of the templates. In addition to other matters, it noted that even increasing the colour green in the templates could lead to misleading investors about the ESG credentials of a product
  • Keep your promises: Article 8 funds must stay true to promises made in their pre-contractual disclosures. If any ambiguities or overcommitments occur at pre-contractual disclosure stage, they can easily backfire later. When establishing these characteristics at the fundraising stage, make sure they are clear, measurable and achievable
  • Sustainability goals: Article 9 funds must invest 100% in sustainable investments, but Article 8 funds have more flexibility. With this added freedom comes the potential for misunderstandings about what proportion of their assets will align with the fund’s environmental or social (E/S) characteristics. Clear communication is paramount—especially during the investment phase when funds may be holding substantial cash reserves
  • Transparency is the new baseline: Explain in detail how the fund met E/S characteristics or sustainability objectives. This commentary should help readers understand the thought process and methodology behind those results. Be upfront and clear about any gaps or discrepancies; investors and regulators alike appreciate thoroughness and honesty. Acknowledging data gaps is also a useful opportunity to update operational processes moving forward
  • Keep abreast of best practices: The journey toward SFDR compliance is anything but “one and done.” Continuous reflection on sustainable investment practices is pivotal at each stage in the lifecycle of an investment, including how principal adverse impacts (PAIs) are considered for the ‘do no significant harm’ (DNSH) test, or how investments align with the Taxonomy. The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other benchmark governance practices should be considered at every step where applicable
  • After the dust settles: Post-reporting reflections are a must. Engaging in a comprehensive review with different teams ensures a unified message and paves the way for improvements in future cycles

We’ll keep reporting on our learnings as SFDR reporting continues, especially as the European Commission has some updates in store. On 14 September 2023, they published two consultations to assess the implementation of SFDR and evaluate whether there are any shortcomings that need to be addressed.

How IQ-EQ can help

As a dedicated partner in regulatory compliance and accounting services, IQ-EQ can assist your business in navigating these new sustainability-related disclosure requirements. We aid in advising, providing strategy and preparing your disclosures in alignment with the evolving regulatory landscape, enabling you to concentrate on core business operations.

These services also fit into our wider, four-pillared ESG Services offering of ESG set-up, data strategy, data collection and reporting.

Whether you’re a large corporation or a smaller firm grappling with sustainability-related disclosures for the first time, IQ-EQ can help. Contact our expert team today.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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