Impact investing: Lessons from the corporate social wave

October 08 2020

Dr Arthur KrebbersHead of Sustainable Finance, Corporates

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Impact investing: Lessons from the corporate social wave

Many corporates have become more comfortable in their role as agents for social change. Partly as a result of Covid-19, this is now also starting to dominate treasury activity. “People initiatives” have become front and centre of recent fundraising exercises as highlighted by the rapid increase of social and sustainability (S&S) debt issuance. What have we learned from this social wave?

Firstly, that it represents much of the real economy. As can be seen from chart 1, everyone from pharmaceutical firms to tech companies has set up socially oriented financing frameworks. Household brands such as Adidas, Burberry and Google have been particularly prominent. The one missing sector, surprisingly, is food and beverage – with notable exceptions being the likes of Danone and Starbucks. We expect growth here in 2021.

Secondly, we’ve seen that the geographic make-up of “S&S debt” has been skewed towards Anglo-Saxon economies. Both the US and the UK constitute 32% of issuances each (see chart 2). This could reflect the historically larger role that the private sector has played here in civil society.

Thirdly, comparable to the “teach a man how to fish approach”, the social wave issuances so far focus on the ICMA1 project category of “Socioeconomic advancement and empowerment” (see chart 3). Besides educational and job opportunities, multinationals also seek to support their younger siblings: Many of the frameworks include SME and micro-enterprise lending commitments (see chart 4).

Finally, social momentum begets social momentum. As more frameworks find market acceptance, the threshold for raising funds for “people projects” will lower. Treasurers already have had to learn to wear a “green hat” – soon many more will be asked to put on a social one as well.

Chart 1: Corporate social / sustainability bond issuance by sector

Source: NatWest Markets data2

Chart 2: Corporate social / sustainability bond issuance by geography

Source: NatWest Markets data2

Chart 3: Corporate social / sustainability bond framework by project category

Source: NatWest Markets data2

Chart 4: Corporate social / sustainability bond framework by impact metric

Source: NatWest Markets data2

Thank you to Pietro Stimamiglio for excellent research assistance.


  1. ICMA: International Capital Market Association
  2. NatWest Markets, based on European and US social and sustainability bond issuance from
    1 Jan-15 Sep 2020

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