UBS : Answering accusations on climate change

The Swiss bank’s ‘Myths and facts’ section phrases allegations in language its critics might use.

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The feature

The ‘UBS in society’ page on the company’s corporate website has a ‘Myths and facts’ section, with five statements about the bank’s alleged behaviour regarding climate change. Each ‘myth’ is answered with a ‘fact’ in a click-to-expand menu.

The wording of the myths is direct. For example, ‘UBS doesn’t care about the climate – the only thing it cares about is profit’ and ‘By financing top “climate-killer” firms, Credit Suisse and UBS caused twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as all the inhabitants and industries of Switzerland in 2017 alone.’

The responses (‘Facts’) are brief and factual. For example, in response to ‘Myth 2’ – ‘UBS isn’t interested in climate change, and especially not where investment strategies are concerned’ – the start of the bank’s answer is, ‘Wrong. We sold climate-related, sustainable investments worth USD 80 billion to clients last year.’

The takeaway

UBS’s ‘Myths and facts’ is an example of an unusually robust approach to responding to controversies online. The language is direct, to the point of impolite, and goes much further than most corporates would want to; but it is an acknowledgement that critics in the media and online are saying much worse things. Mentioning a competitor in the same market, is also unusual, which suggests the section is being used to answer domestic critics.

Whether companies go as far as UBS is an internal one with many factors to consider, and there are weaknesses in execution (not least the out-of-date reference to 2017).

However, the principle of using plain language to acknowledge criticisms, and then answer them, is worth emulating. It helps build credibility with the audiences that companies are trying to persuade.
First published 12 February, 2020
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