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Instant payments in Spain-Dos Aguas Bog

Instant Payments in Europe: A Spanish Business Perspective

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Instant payments: you may or may not have heard of it, but if you haven’t, you will supposedly notice it in the course of next year. Instant payments is the next initiative of Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) development of the European Central Bank, installed to significantly increase the speed at which (cross-border) payments are made and received, and consequently harmonize payments within the European Union [4,5]. Currently, it takes around one business day for a payment to reach its beneficiary, and instant payments will enable payments to be transferred in real time, 24 hours a day, all 365 days of a year. The transferred funds will be available for use of the beneficiary instantly. Instant payments are going to impact the way we do business in Europe, and each European country has the responsibility to prepare its payment infrastructure in such a way that it will be able to perform these payments ‘instantly’ [4]. What exactly needs to happen for this, and what are the developments in Spain specifically? Moreover, how do we expect instant payments to change the way business is conducted in Spain?

Instant payments: what it is

The Euro Retail Payments Board (ERPB) defined instant payments as “electronic retail payment solutions available 24/7/365, with a maximum limit of 15,000 euros, resulting in the (close-to-) immediate interbank clearing of the transaction and crediting of the payee’s account with confirmation to the payer, within seconds of payment initiation”. [7] What exactly does this mean? It means that consumers can make a simple person-2-person mobile payment when buying, for example, a second-hand product at a fair [4]. Also, future personal use of smart devices payments will most likely be better enabled by instant payments. On the business side, cash flow management and e-invoicing or e-billing is made more efficient, which leads to an optimized business. Transferring money will no longer defer a business transaction, and cross-border business within the European Union, as well as business within home-countries, will be stimulated. Although instant payments is partially already available in a few European countries (including Sweden, Denmark and Norway), it will be available in the entire EU from January 2019 onwards [5].

Instant payments: how it works

Continuing the statement of the ERPB: “the instant payment is irrespective of the underlying payment instrument used (credit transfer, direct debit or payment card) and of the underlying arrangements for clearing (whether bilateral interbank clearing or clearing via infrastructures) and settlement (e.g. with guarantees or in real time) that make this possible”. [7] As mentioned briefly before, and as emphasized by this quote of the ERPB, underlying arrangements are what enable a payment to be performed instantly. These arrangements must be made by each of the banks of all Member States, so that all payments can be made ‘instantly’, regardless of the bank of the payer or the payee. This ‘instant transaction’ is made possible on the basis of trust within the SEPA, and the obligation for each bank to provide the necessary infrastructure (“SCT Inst”, the so called “scheme” for payments) and liquidity to perform a certain amount and size of payments on the spot [6]. What is more, banks already have to follow the latest regulations for open banking (Payment Service Directive 2, PSD2), in order for Payment Service Providers (PSPs) to be included in instant payments. As it is the bank’s own responsibility to prepare itself for instant payments, competition is fierce: if a bank is not able to participate in the scheme, it will most likely lose a lot of business within a few years [6].

For more information about how instant payments work and the roles of all actors, take a look at the website of the European Payments Council: https://www.europeanpaymentscouncil.eu/what-we-do/sepa-instant-credit-transfer

How Spain is contributing to European instant payments?

Following the above information, Spanish banks have their own responsibility to make instant payments happen. According to several articles, as well as statistics by the Dutch Payments Association (BVN, Betaal Vereniging Nederland), Spanish banks are part of the leading group within the instant payments scheme installation. The below image shows that 72% of Spanish banks are already complying to the European instant payment requirements, which is one of the top percentages of the Member States.

Instant payments in Spain.Map-Dos Aguas

Source: Dutch Payment Association [6]

The fact that Spain is an early adaptor can come somewhat as a surprise, considering the country’s slow adaption to e-commerce and online payments [1]. However, it shows that the Spanish government and Central Bank recognized the importance of following the SEPA developments when it came to instant payments, in order to not lack behind compared to the rest of Europe. They succeeded: with 86 Payment Service Providers (PSPs) on board, Spain is one of the most advanced of the eight European countries who already participate in the instant payment scheme [1]. In her publicly shared interview, Caixa bank’s Beatriz Kissler, who is also the EPC Scheme Management Board member who represents the Spanish banks, says that “the Spanish banking community understood that the deployment of [instant payments] was critical if banks wanted to play a relevant role in shaping the future of financial services” which resulted in the nation’s leading position, and advised other countries to look at Spain as an “example on how to implement the instant payment scheme”. [1] In Spain, the most relevant banks that steer the country towards total implementation of the instant payments scheme are CaixaBank, Iberpay, BBVA, Sabadell and Santander. [2]

How instant payments will affect doing business in Spain

If you are a company, doing business in Spain or with Spanish companies, instant payments will affect your business in various ways. An overview of the benefits of sending and receiving payments instantly, 24/7/365, as made by the European Central Bank [4] is listed here.

Instant payments will lead to:

  • Improvement of cash flow and process of payment reconciliation
  • Increase in efficiency of e-invoicing and e-billing
  • Optimization working capital management and minimization of need for external financing
  • Reduction of late payments and speed up the payment of invoices
  • Improvement of e-commerce, with goods/services released against concomitant payment, thus decreasing the financial risk
  • Speed up check-out processes at a physical point-of-sale
  • Increase in efficiency of and integrate tax, social insurance or other government-related payments

Which, overall, will improve the efficiency of doing business and increase the number of small companies that can participate in the economy, as they are no longer limited by funds. [4] Furthermore, it is generally good to know that instant payments will make your life as a business in Spain (and in Europe) slightly easier.

If you are a Payment Service Provider (PSP), interested in joining the open banking business, many opportunities arise when looking at Spain as opposed to other European countries. As the “SCT Inst” scheme is well integrated in most of the Spanish large banks’ ways of operating, you will find it fruitful to join the financial service world in Spain. For more information about opportunities as a PSP (or business) in Spain, please reach out to the Dos Aguas Consulting team and we will be happy to assist you further. 

Sources:

[1] European Payments Council (28 November 2017), A very early adopter of the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer scheme tells us about the Spanish experience, Available Online [last accessed: 08.12.2018]

https://www.europeanpaymentscouncil.eu/news-insights/insight/very-early-adopter-sepa-instant-credit-transfer-scheme-tells-us-about-spanish

[2] European Payments Council (14 September 2018), Importance of teamwork: Spanish banks lead real-time payments implementation, Available Online [last accessed: 08.12.2018]

https://www.europeanpaymentscouncil.eu/news-insights/insight/importance-teamwork-spanish-banks-lead-real-time-payments-implementation

[3] Banco de España, Settlement Systems in Spain, Available Online [last accessed: 09.12.2018]

https://www.bde.es/bde/en/areas/sispago/Una_vision_gener/Los_sistemas_de_/Los_sistemas_de_c17a344baded821.html

 

[4] European Central Bank: “Instant Payments” [last accessed: 09.12.2018]

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/paym/retpaym/instant/html/index.en.html

 

[5] Global Data: Instant payments threaten card schemes in Europe [last accessed: 10.12.2018]

https://www.globaldata.com/instant-payments-threaten-card-schemes-europe/

 

[6] Betaal Vereniging Nederland: “Instant Payments” [last accessed: 08.12.2018]

https://www.betaalvereniging.nl/en/focus/instant-payments/in-europe/

 

[7] European Central Bank: “Euro Retail Payments Board” [last accessed: 11.12.2018]

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/paym/retpaym/euro/html/index.en.html

 

Switzerland is also in Latin America

By | Economic Analysis, International Relations | No Comments

By Eduardo Fort

Located east of Argentina and south of Brazil, unknown to the vast majority of European citizens, Uruguay is undoubtedly a pearl to discover for foreign investors. With a fascinating history, the former Spanish colony, which became independent in 1828 from its two huge neighbors, is considered, since the end of the 19th century, the “Switzerland of Latin America”: it was one of the first countries in the world to establish a public, free educational system, compulsory and lay (1877) and pioneer in passing a divorce law (1917). The State guarantees free access to education, from preschool to university and 4.5% of GDP is invested in education. To this must be added the political stability that has been its trademark for decades. With the pragmatism and tenacity of the children, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay became, in its own right, a very attractive horizon for the most diverse companies.

This is a country with a broad trajectory of political, democratic and social stability and a strong macroeconomic solidity, which creates the right environment to develop successful investments. It is also a stable and predictable country, qualities that are taken as a differential by investors. Several international organizations place Uruguay among the top positions for transparency, respect for democratic values ​​and human development.

Its strategic location – as a gateway to the region – offers the perfect springboard to Latin America.

The advantages of settling in Uruguay

As previously stated, the small South American has a strong sociopolitical stability. Uruguay’s trade and investment regime is one of the most open in the world. Uruguay’s main trade strategy is to continue liberalizing trade and investment, both multilaterally and regionally. Being an economy of small dimensions, it requires markets free of restrictions and distortions to trade, especially in the agricultural sector, which generates most of Uruguay’s exports. As a financial and monetary tactic, Uruguay actively seeks to improve its business environment to continue bringing direct foreign investment and thus support economic growth, employment and promote technology transfer, with very successful results.

On the other hand, Uruguay had an average annual growth of 6% between 2004 and 2011, which has allowed it to consolidate the structural improvements achieved after the economic crisis of 2002. These improvements helped the country to be more resistant to external shocks, like the international crisis of 2008-2009. At the tax level, Uruguay presents extensive tax exemptions (20-100%) on investment, as well as attractive regimes of free zones, ports, and airports of free circulation (exports of services are exempt from VAT payment).

Investment in Uruguay, both national and foreign, is declared of national interest. The foreign investor and the locals are treated equally, having a wide range of incentives that are adapted to the different types of activities, both industrial, commercial or services that want to be carried out in the country.

MERCOSUR

It is important to remember that Uruguay is a founding member of MERCOSUR, the booming free trade area between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and the currently suspended Venezuela. Uruguay has signed free trade agreements with Israel and Mexico, as well as a macro trade and investment agreement with the United States.

Through Uruguay, you can access a market of 400 million people, which accounts for 68% of Latin America’s GDP and represents a flow of foreign trade of almost 74% of Latin America’s total.

The infrastructure

Unlike other Latin American countries, Uruguay has a first level infrastructure in Montevideo (its capital and most important city), being already a regional hub par excellence for the Southern Cone of Latin America. 50% of the merchandise entering the port of Montevideo is in transit. In addition, Uruguay has the densest road network in Latin America. It is ranked number 1 in the region with respect to Internet penetration, PC and telephone lines. It benefits from a very reliable electrical supply, mostly from renewable sources.

In short, Uruguay has become the destination par excellence for international companies seeking quality, efficiency, experience and new opportunities in the most stable and reliable business environment in Latin America.

About the author:

Eduardo Fort holds a degree in Political Science from Complutense University of Madrid. He has participated in academic projects related to History of Ideas and Political Theory. He has collaborated with various media – newspapers and television- as an international analyst and specialist in Latin America.
Spain, digitisation, digital transformation

Digital Transformation of the Spanish Market

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Vivian Hendrikse

When digital transformation of industries and businesses became the ‘hot topic’ that it is today, several indices soon showed that Spain was lagging behind the average of digital transformation of all European countries. As industries are exposed to continuous digitisation, digital transformation was, and remains to be, a major challenge for Spain [2]. Considering the fact that for decades, Spain was never a leader of industrial movements as the nation’s main sector was (and is) tourism, Spain lagging behind in digitisation somewhat does not come as a surprise [5]. However, recent developments show quite the opposite. The Spanish government recognised the importance of digitisation and launched an initiative in which digital transformation in Spain could contribute to increased earnings of 120 billion euros until 2025 [2,4,5]. Moreover, when it comes to application of digital technologies such as blockchain and the internet of things (IoT), Spain appears to take a lead with more pilots and projects than in the rest of the EU. In this blog, the Dos Aguas Team analyses and summarises the digital transformation of the Spanish market, in order to find out what remains a challenge for Spain, and what Spanish developments can be used as examples of digital transformation done right.

Spain’s digital transformation position

Spain is the 5th largest economy of Europe, and the 13th largest economy of the world [2]. For an economy this large, digital transformation is more of a challenge than for smaller economies, solely caused by the larger magnitude of the transformation. To measure country performances in the context of digital transformation, the European Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) assesses transformation in five areas: connectivity, human capital, use of internet, integration of digital technology, and digital public services [2]. When looking at the index of 2017 (graph below), Spain indeed scores slightly below the average of the European Union in the first three aspects. The graph also displays the scores of Sweden, a country known for a slightly smaller economy and very progressive culture, which are above average in all five aspects of the graph [2]. However, Spain scores above average in the fourth category (integration of digital technology), and exceptional in the fifth (digital public services), confirming the previously stated suggestion that Spain has both point of improvements, as well as top-of-the-class performances. 

European Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI), Spain, Sweden, Average EU

 

Looking at digital transformation from the perspective of individual Spanish companies, results of a survey shows that the priorities of digital trends amongst companies mainly are: becoming accessible via mobile, creating a digital user experience, and dealing with big data [3]. The statistics regarding the priorities amongst these digital trends are graphed below. 

Digitisation, key trends, Spanish companies, Spain

 

Barriers that slow down improvements

The points of improvements of Spain’s digital transformation, according to the scores as presented in the DESI, are related to connectivity, the digitisation of human capital, and overall usage of internet – aspects who are clearly linked to each other. To express that improvements have to be made, the Spanish Business Organisations Confederation (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE) set a goal for Spain to be ranked as number 10 maximum in the DESI by the end of 2020 [2]. However, this goal is not easily met, as several barriers exist that stagnate improvements in these three categories. These barriers include the following: only 54% of the population has basic digital skills, 62% of companies do not have a digital strategy and 20% do not provide any type of digital training to their employees, 79% of organisations are not present on any kind of social media, only 16% of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) sell their service or product online, and more than one fifth (22%) of management teams have expressed that they are resistant to digital transformation of their companies [1]. What is more, due to high costs of digital transformation and perceived security risks, these statistics are unlikely to change in the near future without an external push.

Governmental initiatives to push for digital transformation

An external push that encourages Spanish organisations to digitally transform must come from the Spanish government. To start, an overall collective awareness of the importance of digital transformation is required. In May 2018, the Digital Enterprise Show (DES) assembled the four major political parties of Spain to discuss and present proposed digital transformation strategies for Spain [4]. The outcome of this conversation is summarised here. Conferences like these slowly bring awareness about the topic to a larger audience, however the barriers ‘cost’ and ‘security risk’ remain existing for SMEs.

Several initiatives have been implemented in an attempt to diminish these barriers. In 2017, financial aid had been given to 25 SMEs in a pilot project to direct implement digital transformation in enterprises in the Spanish industry, and this project has since been rolled out to reach a much larger scale [2]. Another example is the initiative of the Spanish Ministry of Industry (MINECO), to increase the contribution to the country’s GDP by €120 billion until 2025 by digital transformation, as investigated by Roland Berger in collaboration with Siemens [1,2]. The report of this investigation (link, in Spanish) states that successful digital transformation would lead Spanish companies to reduce their production, maintenance and logistics costs by 10% or 20%, and reduce their inventory costs by up to 50% [1]. This would then offset and even overshadow the costs of the digital transformation. The initiatives include the development of a Digital Agenda of Spain to digitalise public administration, and a pilot project to digitalise the country’s department of Justice [4].

With an eye on the security barrier, the Spanish government launched several nation-wide cyber security projects. This brings us to the country’s high score of integration of digital technologies[5].

Outstanding performance

As the graph of the European DESI scores indicates, Spain indeed outperforms the average of the EU, and partially even the leaders of the group, in the areas of digital technology integration and digital public services. In the previous paragraph, we established several governmental initiatives that are implemented to improve the country’s digital transformation. In the two sectors in which Spain outperforms the EU average, these initiatives have clearly already succeeded. However, Spain continues to develop in these areas. For example with the proposed 2018 Stability Programme and Budgetary Plan, which introduced a Digital Services Tax (DST) in April of this year, to be implemented effective immediately [6]. Also, the government’s Public Digital Agenda [4] and the Public Administration 4.0 strategy [2] contribute to maintaining this solid digital public service score of the DESI.

On the side of integration of digital technology, Spain progressively takes the lead by becoming a European focal point in blockchain and IoT [5]. As several of our previous blogs already describe, the Spanish government pioneers when it comes to implementing projects related to blockchain and digital currencies, having one of the few national banks worldwide that openly support these technologies [5]. Furthermore, by being one of the smartest cities of the world, Barcelona significantly contributes to an excellent score on digital technology integration [5]. For more information, take a look at our blogs Barcelona: the smart(est) city of Spain and Blockchain in Spain.

Conclusion and investment opportunities

To summarise, there are areas of improvement for Spain as well as areas in which the country leads in the context of digital transformation. This gives way for many investment opportunities. On the one hand, opportunities arise in the need for basic digital transformation in the areas of connectivity, usage of internet and human capital. Combined with the statistics of where companies see the most need of digital improvement, fruitful investment strategies can be made. On the other hand, one can choose to jump on the disruptive technologies train and invest in the innovative technologies that Spain is leading in and further developing. For more information about investment opportunities get in touch with us: our trade advisors will be happy to assist you.

Sources:

[1] Signaturit, 16 May 2017, The state of the digital transformation in Spain, according to the latest study from the consultant company Roland Berger and Siemens. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 10.10.2018] [2] Business Sweden Iberia, 2017, Digital Transformation in the Spanish Industry: Capturing the business opportunities. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 10.10.2018] [3] Statista, 2015, Digitization key trends among Spanish companies in 2015. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 09.10.2018] [4] Tim Hinchliffe, May 2018, 4 major political parties to present digital transformation agendas for Spain, Novobrief. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 08.10.2018] [5] Stefanie Müller, 3 April 2018, How Spain’s rise to digital leader has gone under the radar, DW. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 11.10.2018] [6] EY, 17 May 2018, Spain proposes digital services tax to be effective in 2018. Available Onine (link) [Last Accessed: 11.10.2018] [7] iScoop: Digital Transformation. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 10.10.2018]

 

Blog Dos Aguas-Smart Cities Barcelona

Barcelona: The Smart(est) City of Spain

By | Economic Activities, Economic Analysis | No Comments
Vivian Hendrikse
In the past decade and with increasing quantities, smart cities arose all over the world. A city is defined as ‘smart’ when it “uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare” [7]. The key aspects of a smart city are smart technology and data analysis. You can think of, for example, emerging trends as automation, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT). When these technologies are applied in a city, one can find features as smart traffic lights that respond to current traffic situations, autonomous buses, bike sharing services, and smart parking meters that indicate where parking lots are available via an app – and these are just examples in the city transportation sector [7]. For an overview of smart city features, take a look at the image below.

Blog Dos Aguas- Smart CitiesHerman van den Bosch [8]

Drivers behind smart city developments

Worldwide, several cities have the reputation of being ‘smarter’ than the rest. Of course, some of these cities have an environment or characteristic that makes them particularly suitable for developments in the smart technology area. For example, cities that are developing very fast in the past years and years to come can adopt smart city traits in their development plans and consequently create the optimal infrastructure for smart technologies to be applied to. These cities include many Asian cities such as Singapore, which the number one smart city in the world [2]. On the other hand, some cities in the Western world have consciously chosen to invest heavily in smart technology and data analysis in order to gain a competitive advantage over other Western cities and attract businesses. All over Europe, selected cities apply an above average number of smart technologies in their municipality and thereby set themselves high above the rest of the European cities. Barcelona is one of them. In 2016, the Catalan capital was voted the second smart city in the world, behind Singapore (Juniper Research [2]). It is therefore not a surprise that the Smart City Expo World Congress is held in Barcelona this year, after its previous edition took place in Singapore last year.

The Smart City Expo World Congress of 2018

The SCEWC (Smart City Expo World Congress) is the leading global encounter on current urban issues and the smart technological revolution. It was first held in 2011, and it has managed to become the global benchmark event on developments in smart cities ever since [2]. It facilitates a platform for networking, experiences and international business agreements, and it brings together the world’s top decision makers, professionals, and institutions in the context of urban development. This year, the SCEWC is held from 13th November to the 15th November 2018 at the Gran Via Exhibition Centre in Barcelona [1,3]. For more information, take a look on the event’s website (link). This year, the Catalan Government promotes the participation of regional companies in the Smart City Expo: a total of 20 Catalan companies and entities will be present in the Government stand, and over 150 other local companies will participate in the expo [2]. Needless to say that the fact that the international expo is held in Barcelona, combined with the smart tech expertise that can be found in the city, offers many investment opportunities in Spain and boosts the Spanish economy.

Barcelona’s ‘smart’ traits

What is this ‘smart technology expertise’ that makes Barcelona one of the smartest cities of the world, and where does it come from? The development of Barcelona as a smart city started in 2012, when economic challenges were large, caused by the crisis of 2008. Upon taking office, the Mayor of Barcelona from 2011 to 2015 Xavier Trias formed a new team: ‘Smart City Barcelona’, tasked with integrating existing projects and identifying new opportunities to enhance services for all of the city’s people and businesses [6]. The city originally deployed responsive technologies across twelve urban systems, including public transit, parking, street lighting, and waste management [6]. These innovations provided significant cost savings, turned the city into a center for the (then emerging) IoT industry, and simultaneously improved the quality of life for residents.
Today, the city’s smart city plan is called ‘Roadmap to 2020’, and focuses on using open-source technology for a platform that is “more democratic and accessible” to find solutions for “long-term social and wage inequality, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, and employment” [5]. In this roadmap, Barcelona recognizes the value of the large amount of data it possesses. Thus, the plan mentions that the municipality of Barcelona wants to be the sole owner of the network, platform, and data – in order to protect the data and consequently its residents [4]. Yet, the city wants to ensure that people and companies can access information that belongs in the public realm, to improve overall efficiency [5]. For an overview of Barcelona’s smart city traits, take a look at the Govtech article that summarizes all of the city’s activities with smart technologies (link). It is clear that Barcelona pioneers in the field of smart tech. If it maintains its position as innovator, this smart city will remain to be a large factor of the country’s overall good economic conditions.
 
 

Sources:

[1] Smart City Expo World Congress 2018 website (link)
[2] Generalitat de Catalunya: The Smart City sector takes root in Catalonia (link)
[3] 10 Times Trade Show information: Smart City Expo World Congress (link)
[4] Ross Tieman (26 October 2017), Barcelona: Smart city revolution in progress, Financial Times. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 26.09.2018]
[5] Jenny McGrath (24 July 2017), Tech is making life in Barcelona better, even if you don’t know it’s there, Digital Trends. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 26.09.2018]
[6] Laura Adler (19 February 2016), Is Barcelona the smartest city in the world?, GovTech. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 27.09.2018]
[7] Internet of Things (IoT) Agenda: Definition Smart Cities (link)
[8] Herman van den Bosch: Smart Cities: Slim, slimmer slimst (link)
Sustainability,

The Netherlands and Sustainability: Leader or Laggard?

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Vivian Hendrikse
 
A country with more than a thousand windmills. A very eco-friendly way of transportation deeply embedded in its culture: travelling by bike, which leads to an average of 1.3 bikes per inhabitant. Three million solar panels on roofs of buildings and houses and increasing usage and developments of solar bike paths. Next to that, ample recycling initiatives and a strong reputation in the area of innovation [1,4]. However, a very low ranking as 26th compared to fellow EU member states when it comes to the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix. What is more, a 50% higher average of CO2 emissions per capita than the average of EU countries. Exotic fruits in supermarkets in every season and worldwide the 10th biggest importer, which, considering the country’s size of roughly 40 thousand square kilometers, is extremely high [3,4]. The Netherlands: sustainability leader or laggard?
 

Shortcomings of the Netherlands

The numbers and statistics of several researches agree: the Netherlands is not exactly first in class in terms of sustainable performances compared to other European countries, and even the world in general. Looking at the developments of the carbon emissions per capita over the past decades, the Netherlands has always had a higher CO2 emission per capita than the average of the entire EU [4]. Moreover, this gap does not seem to be declining any time soon, as the carbon footprint of the EU appears to lessen even more than the one of the Netherlands (see graph below). Of course, the high population density of the country makes it hard to plant renewable energy sources, and the lack of variety of the available countryside diminishes the options of renewable resources for the Netherlands to choose from. There are for example no hills and mountains, which means that hydropower and other options of renewable energy sources cannot be considered [4].
CO2 emissions per capita (source: CleanTechnica [4])
Why does the Netherlands, with its reputation of being “green”, have this relatively high CO2 emission level? The reason for this is driven by three factors. First, as already mentioned, the country has an extremely large population density which leads to a high percentage of the population living in urban areas (a total of 90%) [3]. Urbanization of a country threatens its sustainable development due to rising demand for food production and services based on any sort of energy [5]. Second, the Netherlands hosts Europe’s largest port (Rotterdam) and third largest airport (Schiphol Airport of Amsterdam) – both with large carbon footprints on its own, and an even larger impact on the environment when taking the industry that is built around it into account [3]. This brings me to the third factor, the Dutch industry: as previously stated, the Netherlands is listed 10th as the world’s largest importer. However, when it comes to exports, the Dutch are ranked even higher with, a for its size rather impressive, 8th ranking worldwide [3]. All in all, the country – as small as it is – clearly contributes heavily to usage of fossil fuels and thereby negatively impacts the environment.
 

Fields in which the Netherlands leads

Thankfully, the Netherlands is aware of its shortcomings. Acknowledging its high usage of energy and its large carbon footprint, the government has committed to improving the countries environmental and climate protection performances whilst working towards the Sustainable Developments goals [2]. The first results are visible: this year, the Netherlands has dropped out of the EU’s “group for greenhouse gas intensity concerns” – a very positive development [2]. Small adjustments are also made. Last year, for example, a new law was implemented that states that plastic bags are no longer allowed to be handed out for free in shops [3]. However, several adaptations take more time. If the Netherlands were to immediately decrease its international trade quantity and businesses operations to diminish its environmental impact, the country would lose its economic welfare. In order to have proceeds to invest in innovations and renewable energy, the Netherlands has to maintain its international position and foster its economic growth. This paradox forces the country to consider other, longer-term options, to slowly transform its industry into a more environmentally sustainable one. Therefore, the Dutch government invests heavily in innovative initiatives from citizens and entrepreneurs, as well as technical innovation studies at universities [4].
A typical view in Amsterdam: a large number of bikes next to the canals.
Though the results of these transformations are not yet noticeable, many transformations are being made. Schiphol airport, for example, has partnered with energy company Eneco to convert the airport to 100% wind energy by the end of this year [1]. The port of Rotterdam is in the process of building a waste-to-chemistry plant that will transform up to 360,000 tons of waste into 220,000 tons of green methanol. The facility is the first of its kind in Europe, and will eliminate over 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions [1]. The public transportation sector also contributes to these innovations: it has committed to “providing 100% emissions-free busses by 2025 and removing all gas and diesel vehicles from the road by 2030, positioning the country as a leader in sustainable regional and urban ground transport” [1]. Even in the biking sector, which seemed eco-friendly to start with, positive developments are made. The startup “SwapFiets” offers recycled, good-as-new bikes including a 24/7 reparation services for an attractive monthly fee, incentivizing people to join this circular economy initiative instead of simply buying a new bike once their old bike no longer works or is lost. Lastly, in the solar sector, the Netherlands installed 853 megawatts of solar in 2017, which was an increase of 60% in one year. That year, more than half a million homes ran on solar power – 40% more than in the previous year [1].
 

Leader or laggard?

When looking at the facts, it is obvious that the Netherlands has yet to lower its carbon footprint significantly and many improvements have to be made. However, this does not mean that the country is lagging in terms of sustainability. Quite the contrary: when it comes to sustainable developments and innovation, the Netherlands is a clear leader.
 
 

Sources:

[1] Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (20 April 2018), “How the Dutch lead in Sustainability”, Invest in Holland. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 19.09.2018]
[2] CBS (9 March 2018), “Netherlands closer to achieving Sustainability Goals”, Central Bureau for Statistics. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 20.09.2018]
[3] Marianne Chagnon (18 December 2016), “The Netherlands and Sustainability: Suprisingly not that good”, Dutchreview. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 19.09.2018]
[4] Rogier van Rooij (12 July 2017), “Netherlands One Of Least Sustainable EU Countries. How Did The Dutch Get Their Green Image?”, CleanTechnica. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 20.09.2018]
[5] Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2 July 2013), “Rapid urbanization threatens sustainable development”, United Nations. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 18.09.2018]

Ecommerce & retail in Spain

By | Economic Activities, Economic Analysis, Trade News | No Comments
Vivian Hendrikse
With online sales in Western Europe having increased by 15.6% from 2015 to 2016, and by another 14.2% in 2017, ecommerce is the fastest growing retail market of our time [3]. What is more, this growth, corresponding to online spending for retail, is not expected to cease to exist. Retail is defined as sales of merchandise to the final consumer, excluding cooked food, restaurants, automobiles and vehicle fuel. Ecommerce therefore captures all online purchases within the retail sector, meaning purchases that included a transaction made using the internet or at distance [3]. Being not just the fastest growing, but also the largest retail market makes ecommerce an important market to acknowledge and explore. In this blog, the Spanish online retail market is investigated and current trends and developments within the sector are identified.
 

Spanish retail market in past decade and the rise of ecommerce

As Spain was hit by the financial crisis in 2008 and had to deal with a tremendous unemployment wave in the years thereafter, the Spanish retail industry suffered from a large drop in both value and volume (see graph). Though an improvement of the market slowly appeared again in 2012/2013, value and volume of the Spanish retail industry have not reached the same levels as before the crisis [5]. Of course, the Spanish economy is still growing. However, analyses show that the improvement of the market as it is observed in the graph is mainly caused by the rise of ecommerce. In fact, the ecommerce industry was one of the few Spanish sectors that reflected a double digit-growth in 2011 and 2012 [1]. What is more, the impact of the growth of the ecommerce sector on the retail industry in general is magnified by a rise in the size of ecommerce relative to retail in general. The percentage of ecommerce of the total retail industry in Spain doubled in the period 2013 to 2018 (from 3.5% to more than 7%) [3].

Retail sales in Spain [5]

Spain’s current ecommerce environment

There are currently three main trends that drive the Spanish ecommerce market [4]: first, logistics are massively enhanced by offering products online, which increase (worldwide) sales for many Spanish sellers. Second, when it comes to the usage of smartphones, Spain is considered to have one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in Europe, enabling further ecommerce growth [4]. Third, the final trend that arises due to market progression is the integration of (big) data analytics, artificial intelligence, and chatterbots. This is now the most relevant trend for industry participants, as it is the most recent one and consequently leads to many innovative developments and jobs within the sector. In terms of market environment, there are about 23.6 million ecommerce users in Spain, approximately half of its population, and this number is expected to grow to 29.2 million in 2021 [1]. Of the online transactions, more than a third are made by using Credit cards (34%), followed by cash (32%), electronic bank transfer (20%) and eWallet (14%). The most significant payment option in Spain is 4B, which has 20 million cards circulating in the country. After that, credit and debit cards of Euro6000 are also commonly in use [1]. Of the online purchases, the majority is done via the most popular websites of Amazon, Carrefour, eBay, El Corte Ingles, Mediamarkt, PC Componentes, Vente-Privee.com, Zalando, and Zara [2,3].
 

Future outlook and possible investment opportunities

As a market is rising, investment opportunities rise with it. In the retail sector in general, more and more investments are made: the Spanish retail market alone received 3.9 billion euros of investments in 2017, which was the largest investment volume in any sector of that year and a rise of 31% of investments in the sector compared to the year before [2]. As for the ecommerce sector specifically, it is hard to assess the total investment made as investments in online payment, websites and online stores all fall within its scope. The opportunities per sector within ecommerce are summarized on several websites (one example: link), confirming the wide variety of options to invest in (B2B, ecommerce services, ecommerce intellectual property rights, cross-border ecommerce, etcetera) [4]. Next to that, 75% of all investors in the Spanish retail and ecommerce sector are international investors [2]. Thus, when considering ecommerce in Spain as a next investment move, many opportunities can be considered.
 
 

Sources:

[1] Ecommerce in Spain. Ecommerce news. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 11.09.2018]
[2] Retail: What does the future hold for a sector in transformation – Spain February 2018. JJL Spain. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 13.09.2018]
[3] Online Retailing: Britain, Europe, US and Canada 2017. Centre for retail research. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 12.09.2018]
[4] Spain – Ecommerce, update 12.07.2018. Export.gov. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 12.09.2018]
[5] Tobias Buck (May 16, 2016), Spanish Retail: Deep Cuts in Stores, Financial Times. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 13.09.2018]
busqueda de socios para empresas

Looking East: Innovation and Business in Singapore

By | Economic Activities, Economic Analysis, International Relations | No Comments
Vivian Hendrikse
 
Of the 20 best global innovations of the year 2017, 3 initiatives originated from Singapore [6]. According to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, Singapore is ranked 3rd globally when it comes to innovation [7]. Next to that, Singapore is ranked as the number one smart city according to ABI’s and Juniper’s researches in 2018 [7]. If that is not enough, the world bank names Singapore as the “easiest place in the world to do business”, and Singapore was the main subject of a Michael Porter Harvard Business Innovation case study [3]. If there is one thing that these facts bear in common, it is their message that Singapore, as a city and country in one, is a successful hub for doing innovative business. What is the cause that led Singapore to be this successful when it comes to innovations?

Singapore’s “Home” strategy

 
According to Damian Chan, international director at the Singapore Economic Development Board – the leading governmental agency that decides on the nation’s strategy for innovation – the “success” of Singapore is not caused by just one factor, rather it is driven by a general “welcoming approach to business” as a basis for everything that Singapore does [3]. Singapore was formed a little more than 50 years ago, when it became independent from Malaysia. At the start of being a new nation, the Economic Development Board (EDB) was formed in order to create new jobs, attract international companies and enhance the development of export-oriented industries to lead Singapore, as small as it was and with the few resources it had, towards becoming an independent nation. In this process, the focus of the EDB slowly started to include a focus on innovation, motivated by the need to stay ahead of global competition [7]. The result: Singapore’s “Home” strategy: “Home for Business. Home for Innovation. Home for Talent” [3].

The attractiveness of doing business in Singapore

 
When it comes to attractiveness for businesses, Singapore already has the advantage of its unique characteristics: being a small, Western and developed country in Asia. These characteristics matter: new regulations can quickly be set and applied in a small country and offer, in combination with business efficiency and knowledge, a fast-growing, future-minded business environment [8]. What is more, Singapore is often seen as the gateway for the Western world to Southeast Asia, a region where resources are ample yet corruption reigns. Singapore is the rare exception of a non-corrupt nation in the region. Add English as the country’s official language to that and it quickly becomes clear that Singapore is an attractive investment for businesses that want to reach out to Southeast Asia [8].

Source: NCC Group [9]

The “Home” strategy applied

 
However favourable these business conditions of Singapore are, they would not sustain if the EDB had not recognised them and created the “Home” strategy. The strategy enables these conditions to further develop and even strengthen, placing Singapore far above other Southeast Asian countries when it comes to foreign investments [7]. The “Home” strategy is applied to all sectors related to innovation and business, for example the start-up scene, (digital) technologies, and education. This entails that Singapore is investing enormous budgets in these sectors, for the development of both enabling regulations as well as a stimulating environment. By creating laws that are favourable and even financially incentivising for start-ups or technology related firms, and developing multiple incubators, hubs, and open workspaces across the city, Singapore successfully pushes for innovation. Moreover, Singapore keeps investing in these sectors, even when results have already been seen: the nation recently created a new innovation fund of 1 billion Singaporean Dollars to drive enterprise growth [2]. The results are astonishing: Singapore doubled its number of start-ups from 22,000 in 2003 to 43,000 in 2016, and in the same time-span, the number of tech start-ups also roughly doubled (from 2,800 to 4,300) [1]. Next to that, it obtained the reputation of the number one smart city, a highly ranked innovation hub and the go-to place for start-ups, as mentioned in the introduction. All in all, it indeed seems as if the “Home” strategy works. Therefore, when it comes to innovation and business, it is of importance to keep Singapore high on the radar.
 

Sources:

[1] Enterprise Singapore (link)
[2] Rumi Hardasmalani (April 26, 2017), New S$1 billion Innovation Fund to Drive Enterprise Growth, TODAYonline. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 04.09.2018]
[3] Dominic Basulto (May 26, 2015), The Secrets to Singapore’s Track Record of Innovation Excellence, The Washington Post. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 06.09.2018]
[4] Monetary Authority of Singapore (link)
[5] Economic Development Board: Industries and Key Activities (link)
[6] Ministry of Finance: Innovation Initiatives (link)
[7] Economic Development Board: Innovation (link)
[8] Singapore Expats: A Brief History of Singapore (link)
[9] NCC Group: Infographic Facts about Singapore (link)

Spain’s wind energy success story

By | Economic Activities, Economic Analysis | No Comments
Vivian Hendrikse
In 2013, Spain became the first country in the world to have a renewable power as its primary source of energy. This renewable source was wind power, and provided 20.9 percent of the country’s energy needs of that year. Moreover, a total of 42.4 percent of all energy used originated from renewable sources, which includes wind, solar, and combined-cycle plant power [6]. Why was Spain one of the first European countries to successfully adapt its energy production to the threat of global warming, and therewith stimulate its renewable energy development? How has Spain’s wind energy developed ever since? In this blog, we will dive into the topic of wind energy in Spain, and provide answers to these questions.
 

The rise of renewable energy in Spain

Due to a general push for the use of renewable energy sources in the EU in 2009 [6], the Spanish energy organisation IDEA (Instituto para la Diversificación y Ahorro de la Energía) installed the National Renewable Energy Action Plan 2011-2020 (link) in 2010. In this plan, the organisation set goals for Spain with regard to overall energy usage, heating and cooling, electricity, and transport, which included a minimum percentage of energy generated from renewable sources for each category. Ever since, Spain has invested largely in renewable energy development. Of all renewable energy sources, both the development and success of one source in particular were increasing rapidly. This sources is wind energy. The potential of wind energy in Spain was discovered after one specific, particularly windy day in November 2011, when 59 percent of the nation’s power was produced by wind energy [4]. As this proved that Spain is not only sunny, but also windy, the developments of wind farms in the country were strongly stimulated by the national energy organization which led Spain to be the first nation ever to have wind energy, or any renewable energy, as its primary energy source in 2013 [6].
 

Current developments of wind energy

Since then, Spain has continued to develop its wind energy production and consequently maintained its position amongst the top four countries in the world (after China, USA and Germany) and as the number two in Europe [4] in terms of renewable energy production. Over the past decade, Spain has increased its renewable power by 53 percent which includes the generation of 61,925 gigawatts per hour of wind energy in 2017 (24.3% of the total year-average power usage, 252,755 GWh) [3]. These developments are not expected to slow down, as organisations are looking to invest 30,500 megawatts of new capacity to further support the integration of renewables. Enel Green Power, for example, acquired five wind farms in February 2018 with a total capacity of 132 MW. Moreover, the company identified 29 new wind projects that will allow for an additional capacity of 540 MW once installed, which is scheduled to be in 2019 [1]. Another example is the autonomous community government of Aragón, who authorised 1,778 MW of wind projects that were awarded in the May 2017 energy auction to be installed before the end of 2019 [5].
 

Effects on economy and future outlook

Recent data shows that in the first half of 2018, 45.8 percent of electricity in Spain came from renewable resources, of which the majority is generated by wind power [3]. Next to the positive impact of this rise of renewable energy sources on the environment, the increase in wind farms and wind energy development have stimulated the Spanish economy by creating more than 22,000 jobs. Considering the characteristics of the sector, and the increasing demand for renewable resources, the number of new jobs is expected to grow [3]. Moreover, Spain has obtained a top five position in worldwide exports of small wind turbines for domestic usage. Small wind turbines can be installed on the roofs of houses and can provide energy for a household [4]. The increasing popularity of these small turbines can boost the Spanish economy future as well, offering a positive outlook in the near future.
 

Sources:

 

[1] Enel Green Power (February 26, 2018), The Spanish Wind Energy Pushing Europe Forward, ENEL. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 30.08.2018]
[2] Tsvetomira Tsanova (December 29, 2017), Renewables Produce 33.7% of Spain’s Power in 2017, Renewables Now. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 28.08.2018]
[3] Bradley Stokes (July 15, 2018), Spain Takes Big Steps Towards Renewable Energy, The Olive Press. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed 29.08.2018]
[4] John Wolfendale (July 30, 2018), Is Wind Power in Spain Practical on a Domestic Scale?, Eco Vida Homes. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 30.08.2018]
[5] Lucas Morais (August 6, 2018), Spain’s Aragon Okays Construction of 1.78 GW of Wind Projects, Renewables Now. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 28.08.2018]
[6] Matthew Humphries (January 16, 2014), Spain Becomes First Country To Use Wind Power As Primary Source Of Energy, GEEK.com. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 30.08.2018]

Blockchain in Spain: how Banco de España is an exception compared to other Central Banks

By | Economic Activities, Economic Analysis | No Comments
Vivian Hendrikse
 
Following several news items in the past week concerning Blockchain in Spain, it becomes clear that the Spanish Central Bank has an opposing strategy for the up-and-coming distributed ledger technology (DLT) involving cryptocurrencies than most other Central Banks. In what way does the Banco de España (BDE) differentiate itself? What are the consequences of this for both Spain, as well as the general development of how banks see cryptocurrencies and the blockchain? This article serves to provide answers to these questions.
 
Though believing in the underlying blockchain technology, most Central Banks (including the European Central Bank, ECB) have expressed concerns regarding cryptocurrencies, as a specific part of the blockchain[1]. They argue that, though cryptocurrencies offer a wide range of new opportunities (for example in securities settlements mechanisms) operational challenges and complexity issues are of unknown size and, therefore, highly risky [3]. Consequently, the majority of the Central Banks do not (yet) shape clear regulations and standards that provide an outline for the technology to further develop in the market as much as they ideally should [1].
 
Several Central Banks or governments have initiated research in the field and thereby have undertaken an important first step. These include the Bank of Canada, Bank of Japan, Sveriges Riksbank and the ECB [1]. Only few, however, have openly committed to blockchain and to developing regulations around it. A great example of one of these is the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), who started a blockchain experiment in November 2016 as a “road to regulatory understanding” [4]. Still, the MAS, just as the other “openly committed” central organisations, does support cryptocurrencies. It merely acknowledges and explores its opportunities, while remaining to distrust crypto. And then there is the Banco de España. The BDE recently published a report (link) in favor of both cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, stating that they could have a positive impact on the Spanish economy [2]. The argument in the report is made by Galo Nuño, the Direct General of Economy at the BDE, and poses that the blockchain technology and a hypothetical “Central-Bank-Issued Digital Currency (CBDC)” could help track the country’s money supply. This introduced concept of the CBDC is a new type of cryptocurrency, one that is established by government regulation and controlled by the Central Bank itself. Even though the BDE mentions that further investigations are needed, the statement of a nation-wide organization implying that “Central Banks should consider implementing cryptocurrencies” is exceptional. The next step for Nuño is to further explore the consequences of his ideas and demonstrate that the usage of cryptocurrencies can be positive for a Central Bank [2].
 
What are the outcomes of the support for cryptocurrencies by the BDE? What could be the positive impact of this CBDC in the Spain, and for the blockchain technology in general? The answers to these questions are, of course, speculative. First, the concept of the Central Bank’s digital currency must be further developed and researched, which means that the implementation is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, the improvements for the Spanish economy are expected to include a more stabilised financial infrastructure and an improved management of interest rates [2]. Furthermore, the report of the Spanish Central Bank encourages other organisations in Spain to develop blockchain innovations. Spain is recently moving fast towards cryptocurrency adoption [2], which clearly coheres with the supporting standpoint of the Central Bank. Second, the impact of the BDE’s report for development of cryptocurrency regulations and strategies at other banks in general is also of a positive kind. Spain’s support of cryptocurrencies is inspirational, and can stimulate other central banks (and governments) to reassess their distrust in crypto and more actively pursue cryptocurrency and blockchain opportunities. The results of this refreshing approach by the Banco de España are thus far positive ones.
 

Sources:

[1] Oliver Thew (March 29, 2018), Central Banks Must Adapt to Blockchain, OMFIF. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 21.08.2018]
[2] Ian Tozer (August 9, 2018), Spain’s Central Bank: Cryptocurrency Could Improve Monetary Policy, Bitcoinist. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 22.08.2018]
[3] Annaliese Milano (March 27, 2018), Central Banks Say Blockchain Shake Securities Settlement, Coindesk. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed: 23.08.2018]
[4] Darryn Pollock (February 20, 2018), Singapore’s Government Blockchain Experiment Is a Road to Regulatory Understanding, Cointelegraph. Available Online (link) [Last Accessed, 22.08.2018]

Sustainable Investing

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Vivian Hendrikse
 
Sustainable investing is an investment that considers environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria in order to generate long-term competitive financial returns and a positive societal impact (definition: US SRI). Though its importance has been recognized only recently, data shows that sustainable investing is applied more and more in the global world of business. One example: analyses show that the X dollars (globally) invested in sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) assets – $8.72 trillion as of 2016 – is 33% higher than in 2015 (US SIF Report 2016). Also, an increasing number of stakeholders of large investment firms express demands regarding sustainability in the investment firm’s portfolios. What are the driving factors behind this large movement, and more importantly: will the movement sustain?
There are three reasons for the large increase that is recognized in the discipline of sustainable investing. First, research clearly demonstrates that sustainable investing enhances portfolios’ returns. The below graph shows a strong growth in the return of a sustainable investing portfolio over a normal one in the past six years. Considering that portfolios that score high on ESG also often have a longer-term vision than portfolios that score low on ESG, one can imply that sustainable investing will not only enhance the portfolio’s yearly returns, but will increasingly enhance the returns in later years. Thus, profitability will continue to rise.
Second, sustainable investment strategies strengthen risk management. As the sustainability aspect of it ensures that an investment will enhance value over time, corporations with these kinds of portfolios are more likely to have the capacity to remain operating in the long-term. Moreover, many of the risks that could derail firms over a long period arise when environmental records are poor: they expose a firm to legal issues or regulatory penalties. Implementing ESG factors in an investment strategy helps to mitigate these risks, thereby improving the overall risk management of a portfolio, and thus, of a firm.
 
Third and last, it appears that sustainable investing is just as much a push from external stakeholders as it is an internal business strategy. According to Morgan Stanley, about 84% of millennials are interested in socially responsible investing. This number is not expected to
change as the generation ages, suggesting that demand for sustainable products is partially driven by millennials joining the investment market and hence it will only increase in the coming years. In order to align strategies with the ones of stakeholders, and the future generation of stakeholders, many firms should incorporate sustainable investing into their business model and build sustainable portfolios.
 
Concluding, it appears that there are large factors driving the movement of increasing usage of the discipline of sustainable investing. Considering the characteristics of these factors, such as the long-term vision, or the push from the younger generation, sustainable investing is expected to increase in the coming years and will, indeed, sustain.

About the author:

Vivian has completed both her bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration and her master’s degree in Finance and Investments at the Rotterdam School of Management. While obtaining experience in investment banking and FinTech, she developed a strong interest in innovations in the financial world and sustainability. With her international work experiences, Vivian is able to recognize trends in Europe and Asia in both sectors and translate these into progressive business strategies.

Sources:

 
Hale, J (2018). Sustainable investing trends for 2018. The ESG Advisor. Available online (link) [Accessed March 2018].
Morgan Stanley. (2017). Millennials and the Democratization of Sustainable Investing. Available online (link) [Accessed May 2018].
Robecosam (2018). Sustainability Investing | RobecoSAM. Available online (link) [Accessed May 2018].
Desclee, A., Hyman, J., Dynkin, L. and Polbennikov, S. (2016). Sustainable Investing and Bond Returns. Barclays, pp.1-40