Swiss Sustainable Finance (SSF) is celebrating its 10 year anniversary in 2024.
Sabine Döbeli, SSF CEO, established the association in 2014 with the support of 64 founding members, and a secretariat of 3 people started to tackle the different objectives. As of today, SSF is the leading Swiss association in the field of sustainable finance, that unites many different types of players from within the Swiss financial centre.
Sabine, since the start of your career, you have been a keen advocate of sustainable finance in Switzerland. How did this come about?
As a young environmental scientist, I had the opportunity to develop the concept for an environmental fund for ZKB. This was my first job and I approached this new topic with enthusiasm, as it connected finance and the environment. The underlying idea behind this environmental fund was to offer investors a lever to make a contribution to environmental protection via financial markets. This topic still fascinates me to this day.
What prompted you to establish SSF and work for an organisation that - at least in the early days - was probably considered a niche player?
In Switzerland, innovative financial players were already developing environmental and sustainable investments 30 years ago. Around ten years later, these Swiss pioneers launched the first market survey as part of an informal working group and – another first – an environmental conference for pension funds. It soon became clear that there was a deep interest in these topics within the Swiss market and that more formal structures for the exchange of this information was needed. Based on the success of the Sustainability Forum Zurich, Swiss Sustainable Finance was created with the support of 64 founding members. I find it particularly noteworthy that several important financial players including Helvetia, J. Safra Sarasin, Lombard Odier, Raiffeisen, ResponsAbility, RobecoSAM, Suva, Swisscanto, Swiss Re and Thurgauer Kantonalbank were among these founding members of SSF. Hence, even back then, the topic met with broad interest from within the financial community.
What drives you in your daily work?
The biggest driver for me is the conviction that the transition to a sustainable future can only succeed with the involvement of the financial industry. The financial industry cannot do it alone but is a crucial lever for various other sectors in which it has investments and loans. Therefore, working to support financial practitioners on this journey is a very rewarding part of SSF’s work. In addition, the enthusiasm of my SSF colleagues and the unwavering commitment of our members spurs me on time and time again.
Where do you encounter resistance and in what form?
A common misconception is that sustainability is associated with high costs. This is a very short-term view, because it leaves aside that only a sustainable business model ensures long-term economic success. In recent times, increasing regulatory complexity has also led to a certain defensive attitude. Uncertainty within the market can lead to fear and conservative behaviour. It is therefore of great importance that principle-based regulation on sustainable finance is implemented so that all players can orientate and align themselves to the same standards. SSF aims to bring players together to help develop such common frameworks.
What are you particularly proud of in your work? What are some of your key achievements?
I believe that the fact-based approach of all of SSF’s activities has helped to bring sustainable finance into the mainstream over the past ten years. The role of the financial sector in the transition to a sustainable future is no longer questioned. Our growing member base, which now comprises around 250 industry players, is reflective of this shift. Of all the informational work that SSF does, the one I am most proud of is the annual Sustainable Investment Market Study. It has become an important point of reference that impressively documents the positive developments in sustainable investments in Switzerland and is frequently quoted.
What goals have you personally set yourself for SSF as an association, going forward?
Ten years is just the beginning. There is still a lot to do. Next, we want to establish a market study on sustainable lending and develop specific recommendations for action in this important area. In addition, the question of how an investment portfolio – whether from institutional or private investors – can contribute to positive change is becoming increasingly important. We want to develop better answers to this impact question. Finally, we want to support the creation of new forms of investment that make it easier for institutional and private investors to invest in economic development in developing and frontier markets and thus support global sustainability goals.. This will require a close cooperation between public and private investors.
Where will SSF be in ten years' time?
My personal goal is to further broaden our membership base, particularly in the area of institutional investors. SSF will also become even more involved at a political level in order to improve the framework conditions that are so crucial for successful sustainable finance. In cooperation with other players – including the Swiss government, other financial associations and Swiss universities – we want to make the Swiss financial centre leading in sustainable finance with international appeal and thus continue to prosper in the future.
What is the one thing you would ask of your members going forward?
I think, each of them can make a difference in their own sphere of influence. Hence, each member should think about how to activate the biggest lever in their business to contribute to a transition into a more sustainable future.