Larry Fink, CEO and Chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management firm, has sent out an annual letter to CEOs of the companies that BlackRock invests in on behalf of its clients since 2012. The letters are seen as a bellwether of the expectations that the finance industry – and wider society – has on business and its role in society.
Over the last decade we have seen a dramatic evolution in both the topics and the tone of these letters. Nine years ago, the first letter to CEOs focussed heavily on the importance of strong corporate governance and in the years following the letters build on this by highlighting the importance of external stakeholders and a long-term perspective. Jump forward to 2018 and Fink makes a bold and high-profile call for more purposeful business. Since then, the call to action has grown stronger and more specifically focussed on climate action. This shift reflects both the maturation and mainstreaming of corporate sustainability and the increasingly active and vocal role of the finance sector on this topic.
When Fink wrote to CEOs in January 2020 that “we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” none of us could have imagined how significantly the coming year would reshape all of our lives. In his 2021 letter, Fink describes how the turmoil of the past year adds to the ever more compelling case for a seismic transition toward a net zero economy. He also lays out in an accompanying letter to BlackRock clients what his firm is doing to play its part in the transition.
Central themes of Fink’s 2021 letter include the need for a “tectonic shift” toward net zero, the interconnectedness of social and environmental issues, the importance of solid data, and the maturing link between sustainability and corporate performance.
In this analysis, GlobeScan traces the development of themes in the letters from 2012 to 2021 and places these in the context of growing climate concern among both expert stakeholders and the global public. This helps us to better understand the shifting expectations for business and the extent to which stakeholder engagement, purpose, sustainability, and particularly climate change have become critical aspects of strong and resilient management.