Cees Vermaas, CEO at The International Stock Exchange (TISE), explores how stock exchanges pursuing sustainable initiatives can help facilitate positive environmental and social change
As we look forward to the resumption of physical gatherings during the second half of this year, it is clear that sustainable finance will be the hot topic at industry meetings and events, including the forthcoming COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference 2021) in Glasgow at the start of November.
Delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that COP26 is hugely important in focusing resources on climate change as the greatest risk facing us all. The amount of capital being allocated towards environmental projects has continued to significantly accelerate in recent years, however the pandemic has also shown us that there are other important risks too, especially those which might be categorised as “social”. In fact, what we have seen is that there is an increasing recognition of the inter-connectivity and therefore the importance of tackling them in a holistic manner to be effective in financing a sustainable future.
Recognition from the UN
Anthony Miller, Coordinator of the UN SSE, said: “We welcome TISE as a Partner Exchange of the UN SSE and are encouraged to see the actions that TISE is taking to promote sustainable finance. We wish them every success with their new sustainable market segment, TISE Sustainable.”
Sustainable stock exchanges
At their heart, stock exchanges bring together companies who issue securities – whether bonds, equities or other instruments, and investors who want to invest and trade in those investments. In doing so, stock exchanges facilitate the flow of capital, often globally.
In order to encourage the allocation of capital into sustainable investments, the United Nations has established the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (UN SSE) initiative. UN SSE is a UN Partnership Programme whose mission is to provide a global platform for exploring how exchanges, in collaboration with investors, companies (issuers), regulators, policymakers and relevant international organisations, can encourage sustainable investment, including the financing of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
I recently had the pleasure of formally pledging TISE’s commitment to promoting sustainability performance and transparency in the capital markets during correspondence with the UN Secretary General, António Guterres. This was part of TISE’s admission to UN SSE where we are now one of the 104 Partner Exchanges undertaking initiatives to facilitate the flow of capital into sustainable investments.
TISE is committed to being part of the sustainable capital markets ecosystem, both in terms of how we operate our business and through our role as a facilitator of global capital flows. Membership of the UN SSE puts us at the heart of global efforts to encourage sustainable investment and this is now backed by our new sustainable market segment, TISE Sustainable. The segment has been established as a comprehensive and reputable enabler for increased capital allocation towards environmental, social or sustainable activities. TISE Sustainable is Europe’s most comprehensive sustainable market segment and provides qualifying issuers and their securities with enhanced connectivity, credibility, transparency and visibility among investors.
With a straightforward application process and no additional fee, the segment is available to all TISE-listed issuers – including both bond and equity issuers – who comply with at least one recognised framework or rating. Investors can take comfort from the fact that the displayed issuers must have demonstrated their compliance to qualify for inclusion and that they are undertaking ongoing public sustainability reporting and comprehensive information disclosure.
The launch of TISE Sustainable represents an evolution from TISE GREEN, which was originally launched at the end of 2018. Since the launch of TISE GREEN we have seen a significant maturing of the sector, for example, the development of accompanying frameworks and ratings. As referenced earlier, these changes have been accelerated by the pandemic which has broadened the focus of market participants from a concentration on the environment to a more holistic view of sustainability. I am excited that the launch of this new segment will help us to facilitate the increased allocation of capital towards environmental, social and sustainable activities.
TISE Sustainable: Qualifying Credentials
Either an issuer’s business (or that of its wider group), or its use of proceeds from the issuance of a security, has been verified as having an environmental, social or sustainable purpose by an independent party against a recognised framework. Examples of recognised frameworks include those published by the Climate Bonds Initiative and the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA).
The issuer’s business, or that of its wider group, has been positively rated by an independent party. Examples of recognised ratings include ESG ratings or scores from the likes of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), MSCI, Refinitiv and Sustainalytics. Minimum qualifying thresholds apply in the case of each rating.
Whether in the form of green bonds or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) focused on social housing, sustainable related investments are increasing in prominence amongst our growing book of business. The opening six months of this year have represented a record first half of the year for new listings on TISE and there are now well in excess of 3,000 listed securities with a total market value of more than £450bn on our official list.
Headquartered in Guernsey and with staff operating across Dublin, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey and London, TISE’s regulated market is uniquely positioned within the European timezone but outside both the UK and the EU to service an international client base.
TISE is among the major European professional bond markets, with issuers including some the leading brands, including Netflix and Aston Martin, amongst others. We specialise in listing debt which finances private equity-backed acquisitions but we are one of the leading markets in Europe for listing high yield bonds and we are experiencing significant growth in structured finance and securitisation transactions.
We are in the process of overhauling our bond offering in order to protect the existing streams of business where we are a market leader and yet grow our share of the European structured finance and securitisation market, for example in the form of CLOs. Changes include a dedicated Qualified Investor Bond Market, an even more streamlined listing process, a further improvement in guaranteed turnaround times for the review of listing applications, and more competitive fees, especially for programme issuances.
Our equity market comprises a small pool of “domestic” and UK equities, as well as a larger group of investment vehicles, including open and closed ended funds and UK REITs. TISE is the second largest market for the listing of UK REITs, with more than 40% of all UK REITs choosing to list on TISE. Our equity market rules are also being updated so that they keep pace with the latest trends in the US and UK, not least for listing Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs).
Our bond and equity markets will also soon be serviced by a new price discovery and trading solution. The platform is designed to operate on an auction basis, but with the ability to scale up and accommodate continuous trading if desired. This flexible structure will deliver all the necessary functionality and capacity required to deliver even greater value to our current issuers, as well as offering new products and services to a whole new range of potential clients.
This offering is backed up by a series of international recognitions and memberships, which not only add credibility to our market but also often helps to widen the investor base for TISE-listed securities. It is for this reason that we have been keen to expand our recognitions from the UK tax authority HMRC, the US SEC, the German regulator BaFin, and the Australian Securities Exchange to also include the Irish Revenue Commissioners, while also seeking to broaden our memberships of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE), as well as the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA) and as previously mentioned, the UN SSE.
Recognitions and memberships are hugely important in putting a stock exchange, such as TISE, at the heart of policy-making decisions on the future of capital markets, whether that is in relation to sustainability, Covid, Brexit or any other matter. However, they are not the ends in themselves and that is why we intend to play our part in trying to ensure that these forums lead to tangible action which has wider benefits to market participants and beyond, including for the environment and society. Capital markets can help to mitigate the risks and they can finance the solutions which we all need for a sustainable future.
About Cees Vermaas
Cees Vermaas is CEO of The International Stock Exchange Group Limited, a position he has held since November 2020. He is responsible for all aspects of leadership and management of the company. With a strong focus on strategy, business development and infrastructure, he aims to work with, and create enhanced value for, the group’s stakeholders, including its staff, members, issuers and shareholders. Cees has more than 20 years’ experience within international financial market infrastructure. He has held senior executive positions within several international exchanges, including CEO of CME Europe Ltd, CEO of Euronext Amsterdam and Head of European Cash Markets for NYSE Euronext. Prior to that, he spent a decade working in IT and programme management roles within leading Netherlands based companies Philips and Delta Lloyd Group.