Marcus: by Goldman Sachs

overall rating:

0.5

planets

Alice Kettlewell
7/23/2021
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Can finance actually be a pathway to combat climate change or is it just another form of greenwashing in the name of profit?

Marcus: by Goldman Sachs is the consumer branch of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Launched in 2016, the bank offers financial products to around 500,000 everyday consumers rather than just experienced investors. Marcus is app-based and operating in the US and UK which allows consumers to control money in their savings accounts as well as make investments. While I appreciate the attempt to allow consumers make impact investments, the term ‘impact’ seems to be misused as out of 10 ETFs that Marcus invests in, less than half have a sufficient ESG rating. Furthermore, I question their work with infamous fast-tech firm Apple, and its associated environmental crimes suggest that Marcus is seeking profit over ecological sustainability.

What it's made of:

0.5

Marcus provides a number of financial services such as competitive savings accounts, loans, and investment opportunities, to everyday consumers. Marcus is based online and is branchless which reduces any paper waste or energy used for electricity or heating. The company has one office in Milton Keynes which aims to accommodate 250 workers including customer support and IT development. This seems to be a very large number of workers and would require high volumes of electricity and energy usage which leads me to question the sustainability. However, I appreciate how Marcus has chosen to locate the office outside of London which may bring employment opportunities and other benefits to local communities which have traditionally been in the periphery of any high value financial activity. 

Marcus Invest was launched in February 2021 and offers a digital impact investment option. The website boasts that these funds meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. The platform requires a minimum investment of $1,000 and allows consumers to invest in sustainable businesses that support a climate friendly future. Marcus negatively screens and excludes any coal, tobacco and firearms companies from impact investments; however, this should be considered a bare minimum due to their obvious detriment to the environment. This negative screening may also be a false claim, as a review of Barclays High Yield ETF has displayed that there is still one tobacco company holding in Vector Group LTD, which is involved in the manufacturing and sales of cigarettes in the US. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are a range of shares that are sold as an individual product on the stock exchange. I believe that Marcus Impact Invest may be a greenwashing attempt as a number of the supposedly sustainable ETFs do not actually employ any green approaches. Out of the 10 ETFs in Marcus’ Impact scheme, only 4 pursue an ESG agenda, which is really unacceptable.

Marcus has adopted the Apple Card, which exists both virtually on Apple Pay and in the form of a semi-titanium credit card. Metal cards are far more durable than single-use plastic and should not need replacement, reducing waste. However, extraction of titanium has devastating impacts on the environment such as deforestation and groundwater pollution in countries such as South Africa and China. I believe that offering both a physical and digital card is an unnecessary use of resources when they have the technology to just use digital.

 

How it's made:

0.25

Marcus has offered interest-free loans of below $75,000 to small businesses during the pandemic. I am really impressed by this policy and it demonstrates their commitment to social responsibility over profit. However, I am concerned that in a number of reports by Marcus, it is implied that their business is only targeting people who are extremely wealthy, which reduces the accessibility and widespread benefits that the bank may have.

In 2019, Marcus collaborated with Apple to create the Apple credit card. CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, announced that this venture was based on ‘simplicity’ and ‘transparency,’ however, I am sceptical about the companies associations with notorious fast-tech firm Apple. Apple has provided no information about the number of cardholders or how the card is produced. Apple’s history of poor worker treatment in emerging economies with poor environmental and labour standards leads me to believe that the production of these cards is anything but sustainable.

 

Who makes it:

0.75

Marcus has faced criticism for it’s working culture of repetition and over-working with many of their engineers burning-out over reports of 14 hour days. It is also argued that any recognition or bonuses are concentrated at the top amongst shareholders and CEOs rather than lower-level workers. This unhealthy culture and lack of work-life balance has resulted in a huge number of dropouts from Marcus’ engineers, which demonstrates a dire lack of sustainability within their business model. 

Marcus is a subsidiary of investment bank Goldman Sachs; out of the 60 board members at Goldman Sachs, 32 are white men and there are only 16 women. This lack of diversity within the highest level of the company reinforces gender and race disparities within finance and counteracts social sustainability.

In 2020, Goldman Sachs pledged to become net-zero within their finances by 2050 as well as achieving net-zero emissions in their operations and supply chain by 2030. The most noteworthy effort of the company is their commitment of $750 billion to combat climate change and drive green economic growth by 2030. This investment will go towards nine areas comprising of five sectors to advance the climate transition: clean energy, sustainable transport, sustainable food and agriculture, waste and materials, and ecosystem services. It will also go towards four social sectors to drive inclusive growth: accessible and innovative healthcare, financial inclusion, accessible and affordable education, and communities. A year since this commitment, the firm have achieved $156 billion of their $750 billion goal including investments into renewable solar energy in the US. With 9 years to go, I believe that the company have the potential to achieve this goal if they continue at this rate. However, while this is an impressive figure in green investment, it appears that Goldman Sachs have contradicted any environmental progress as between Q3 2017 – Q4 2019, Goldman Sachs supported regional expansion of crude oil operations in the Amazon by $998m of debt financing to Andres Petroleum and GeoPark. This has culminated in an estimated $1 billion of operations in Amazonian oil extraction, which has detrimental implications for the local ecosystem and communities as well as global climate change. I also think that Goldman Sachs need to increase the accessibility of their commitments to the planet and create policy summaries as their sustainability report is over 100 pages long and could easily confuse consumers.

 

Sources:

https://www.goldmansachs.com/our-commitments/sustainability/sustainable-finance/documents/reports/2020-sustainability-report.pdf

https://www.independent.co.uk/business/charles-visits-london-offices-of-goldman-sachs-b1884248.html

https://amazonwatch.org/news/2020/0312-investing-in-amazon-crude

https://www.ft.com/content/ffd794c8-183a-11ea-b869-0971bffac109

https://www.esgtoday.com/goldman-sachs-issues-its-first-sustainability-bond-in-800-million-offering/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54876529

https://www.goldmansachs.com/our-commitments/sustainability/sustainable-finance/documents/reports/2020-sustainability-report.pdf?source=website

https://www.goldmansachs.com/citizenship/sustainability-reporting/report.pdf

https://www.sustainableinvest.com/goldman-sachs-launches-robo-advisor-marcus-invest-with-impact-sleeve/

http://www.designlife-cycle.com/apple-card

https://www.goldmansachs.com/media-relations/press-releases/2021/announcement-04-mar-2021.html