French bank unveils sustainability labels

Environmental Finance, 3 July 2008 - Caisse d'Epargne has launched a labelling system to rate financial products, based on their financial risk and sustainability.

The French bank has been applying the labels to its savings products since the beginning of June, and has made the methodology freely available for other institutions to adopt. Caisse d'Epargne plans to extend labelling to insurance and loan products by the end of 2008.

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The labels look similar to those ranking the energy efficiency of ”śwhite goods' such as fridges and freezers. But the banking label includes three categories, rating products on a colour-coded scale of one to five, or red to green, on the basis of financial security, ”śresponsibility' — which encorporates social and environmental factors — and their impact on the climate.

The methodology was developed by the consultancy Utopies, with stakeholders including French environmental NGOs Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth France), WWF and French environment agency Ademe.

Caisse d'Epargne chief executive Nicolas Mérindol said: “Labelling is just a beginning. It provides our customers with the details they need to make an informed choice and it gives our product managers the tools they need to innovate. Our method is now available for all other banks to use, in line with the commitment we made one year ago.”Ł

Les Amis de la Terre welcomed the launch of the labelling scheme as “very innovative”Ł, but said its success will depend on training for bankers in local branches, education of customers so they know how to use it, how labelling affects the way products are designed — and finally whether the scheme is expanded, particularly to cover Caisse d'Epargne's corporate investment banking and asset management businesses.

Sébastien Godinot, campaigns coordinator at the NGO, said: "The effort made by Caisse d'Epargne clearly demonstrates the huge potential for progress. The other French banks should be inspired and question their own practices ... We're convinced that, in the end, this labelling will become mandatory.”Ł

Testepourvous.com, a consumer information service for the financial industry in France, added: “The rating of the financial risk associated with savings products represents, in our eyes, a real improvement in the quality of information provided to consumers.”Ł

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