“Physical. Emotional. Digital. Financial. Ethical. A nice-to-have is now a must-have; a principle is now a catalyst; a value is now invaluable” - Punit Renjen, Deloitte’s global chief executive (O’Dwyer, Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2021).
“Big Four accounting firms rush to join the ESG bandwagon” is an interesting article discussing how the rapid sustainability boom required moving huge budgets into environmental, social, and governance funds and accelerated incorporating stakeholder-led agendas into corporate boardrooms.
The introduction of new regulations, rigorous audit control, escalation of any report discrepancies, public pressure, and the growing presence of activist shareholders create pressure on companies and are compelling evidence of the growing importance of ESG responsibility.
Actions taken by The Big Four represent the seriousness, urgency, and need for adjustment to these rapidly happening changes affecting all industries across the world.
PwC, for example, in response to booming demand for ESG advice assigned a $12bn budget for an investment plan, which involves adding 100,000 employees and launching “trust institutes” to train clients in ethics. According to Bob Moritz, its global chairman, such investment contributes to redefining and rebranding the firm “to make sure we’re valuable for what our clients need and what the world needs”.
Deloitte, on the other hand, offers to its 330,000 employees around the world so-called “climate learning program”. This education scheme aims to help Deloitte professionals better advise clients and other stakeholders on sustainability topics.
KPMG takes an active part in assisting Ikea in analyzing social and environmental risks linked to the Swedish multinational conglomerate and furniture retailer’s raw materials. Additionally, KPMG launched a guide for issuing green bonds India (presented in November 2022) intending to raise capital to fund sustainable projects with environmental benefits including renewable energy, low carbon transport and forestry projects (KPMG.com).
Alongside EY, the remaining Big 4 networking partners have been at the table representing business groups actively involved in discussions on new international standards for measuring sustainability.
Growing demand for ESG experts
With more and more regulations in place, their rigorous character, less public tolerance for not taking the right steps, enforcing liability for individual board member’s actions and an insufficient number of experts in the field (including accountants being able to run the books according to strict and complicated reporting metrics), the biggest fear is that promoting the ESG standards and living up to them, may not necessarily go together.
This is why the demand for ESG experts is still growing and is not considered a temporary trend. Wishing to keep up with the new and regularly changing standards, companies big and small hold lots of responsibility to run their business right and report it correctly.
As a response to the growing demand for regulatory compliance from clients, The Big Four accounting firms are stepping up their staff recruitment for environmental, social and governance (ESG) services teams.
Looking at Hong Kong and mainland China region alone, EY is aiming to triple the size of its Greater China team of over 200 staff over the next three years, while Deloitte has doubled the size of its ESG team in Hong Kong with no intention to stop further growth. Similarly, KPMG China has boosted its 300-strong unit through “lateral talent acquisition”, while PwC has grown twice the size of its team since mid-2020 (Choi, 2022).
How to become an ESG expert
To initiate the first step in your career towards becoming an ESG expert, studying for a professional qualification such as Diploma in Environmental, Social and Governance offered by the Corporate Governance Institute in partnership with Find My Programme is an excellent beginning.
The offered diploma is the first professional qualification of this kind on the market that is also university-credited (Glasgow Caledonian University). This speaks for the course quality and care involved in designing this diploma-level qualification. Additionally, by joining the course membership in The Corporate Governance Institute is offered, providing not only unlimited opportunities to build a network of connections, but also giving access to boardroom documentation (including templates, instructions, and policies allowing you to be compliant with governance practice) essential to have to start your practice as an ESG advisor. Regular webinars are designed to build up practical skills and masterclasses offer interactive deep-dive into real-world issues allowing course participants to expand their expertise and grow as experienced ESG experts.
Wishing to find out more, please check all CGI offerings on our website or apply for the programme directly.
Choi, M. (2022) “Big Four accounting firms expand ESG hiring in Hong Kong, mainland China as tougher regulatory compliance exposes deficit in talent” Available at: https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3176947/big-four-accounting-firms-expand-esg-hiring-hong-kong-mainland-china (Accessed: 22 February 2022)
KPMG.com (2022) “India’s debut sovereign green bond framework. A step towards bridging India’s climate financing gap” Available on: https://kpmg.com/in/en/home/insights/2022/12/india-debut-sovereign-green-bond-framework.html (Accessed: 22 February 2022)
O’Dwyer, M., Edgecliffe-Johnson, A. (2021) “Big Four accounting firms rush to join the ESG bandwagon” Financial Times Available on: https://www.ft.com/content/4a47fb4a-4a10-4c05-8c5d-02d83052bee7 (Accessed: 9 February 2021)