BlackRock and Vanguard were once ESG’s biggest proponents–now they seem to be reversing course (2024)

Finance giants BlackRock and Vanguard seem to be changing their approach to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment strategies, increasingly rejecting shareholder proposals that focus on environmental and social issues.

Vanguard Group says it has only approved 2% of the environmental and social resolutions brought by shareholders in 2023, down from 12% last year, joining BlackRock in rejecting a significant number of climate and social items.

The firms’ strong support of ESG investing in recent years has led some financial advisory firms and a segment of the public to question whether financial institutions should concentrate on financial performance rather than other considerations.

BlackRock and Vanguard have a reputation for backing ESG initiatives. Yet it’s worth asking if this commitment was ever about ideology or simply a response to market demand. With recent statements from Blackrock CEO Larry Fink indicating a move away from controversial ESG terminology and a reported loss of approximately $4 billion in managed assets tied to ESG backlash, it’s clear that they’re feeling some heat. Though the loss may seem trivial for a company with over $9 trillion in assets under management, it’s far from pocket change.

The reconsideration by these two financial titans of their ESG commitments comes amidst increased attention from state-level financial authorities. Officials have questioned whether financial investment strategies should intersect so closely with environmental, social, and governance criteria. It appears these strategic shifts are being driven by a combination of public backlash and a focus on their bottom lines.

As an investor, your primary concern is the performance of your portfolio. Any factor that introduces increased volatility or lowers returns is something to be wary of. ESG, despite its intended social and environmental benefits, can add complexity that investors generally prefer to avoid. What you want as an investor is an appropriate risk-based investment strategy–one that is streamlined for delivering robust financial performance.

Financial institutions serve a critical role in managing clients’ portfolios–that should remain the central focus. It is of paramount importance that financial organizations stick to their core mission rather than diversify into complex societal debates.

While it may appear that BlackRock, Vanguard, and similar firms are shifting their attention toward traditional financial performance metrics, it’s still crucial to observe their actions carefully because they are industry leaders. Transparency is essential to ensure these major players are genuinely committed to the primary need of their investors: to focus on maximizing the returns and growth of their clients’ portfolios.

As industry leaders often set the trend, their actions may well indicate a broader shift in focus back to core financial strategies. Major financial firms have adopted ESG to keep up with the times–but they also saw it as an opportunity to make lots of money.

We can be cautiously optimistic that BlackRock and Vanguard are reverting to what they do best–optimizing client investments for financial growth.

Bob Rubin is the Founder and President of Rubin Wealth Management. He can be reached at

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I'm an experienced financial analyst with a deep understanding of investment strategies and the dynamics of the financial markets. Over the years, I've closely followed the trends and shifts in the industry, and my expertise is grounded in a comprehensive understanding of various financial instruments and market behavior.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article about BlackRock and Vanguard's changing approach to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment strategies:

  1. ESG Investment Strategies:

    • BlackRock and Vanguard, two major finance giants, have been strong proponents of ESG investing in recent years.
    • ESG investing involves considering environmental, social, and governance criteria alongside traditional financial metrics.
    • The article highlights a shift in their approach, with a decreasing approval rate for shareholder proposals focusing on environmental and social issues.
  2. Shareholder Resolutions:

    • Vanguard Group reports a significant decrease in the approval rate of environmental and social resolutions brought by shareholders – down from 12% to 2% in 2023.
    • Both BlackRock and Vanguard seem to be increasingly rejecting climate and social-related shareholder proposals.
  3. Financial Performance vs. ESG:

    • The article raises a question about whether financial institutions, including BlackRock and Vanguard, should prioritize financial performance over environmental and social considerations.
    • BlackRock's CEO, Larry Fink, has made statements indicating a potential shift away from controversial ESG terminology.
  4. Market Demand and Investor Concerns:

    • The article suggests that the commitment of these financial giants to ESG initiatives might have been influenced by market demand.
    • Recent statements and reported losses suggest that BlackRock and Vanguard are facing challenges, possibly due to public backlash and concerns about the impact of ESG on their bottom lines.
  5. State-Level Financial Authorities:

    • State-level financial authorities have shown increased attention to the intersection of financial investment strategies with environmental, social, and governance criteria.
    • The strategic shifts by BlackRock and Vanguard may be influenced by scrutiny from these authorities.
  6. Risk-Based Investment Strategy:

    • The perspective is presented that, as an investor, the primary concern should be the performance of the portfolio.
    • ESG considerations, despite their intended benefits, are portrayed as potentially adding complexity and volatility that investors may prefer to avoid.
  7. Core Mission of Financial Institutions:

    • Emphasis is placed on the importance for financial organizations to stick to their core mission of managing clients' portfolios and delivering robust financial performance.
    • The article suggests a potential shift in focus back to core financial strategies by industry leaders like BlackRock and Vanguard.

In conclusion, the article highlights the evolving stance of major financial institutions on ESG, raising questions about the balance between financial performance and societal considerations. As an industry expert, it's essential to carefully observe these developments, considering the potential impact on the broader investment landscape.

BlackRock and Vanguard were once ESG’s biggest proponents–now they seem to be reversing course (2024)
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