The headquarters of Germany's Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Picture: REUTERS/RALPH ORLOWSKI
The headquarters of Germany's Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Picture: REUTERS/RALPH ORLOWSKI

Deutsche Bank’s asset management unit is starting a fresh review into greenwashing claims by a whistle-blower, as regulatory probes in the US and Germany continue. 

DWS Group has now hired US law firm Sullivan & Cromwell to do a new assessment of the allegations, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The decision comes as the Securities and Exchange Commission, German watchdog BaFin and the US department of justice probe DWS over claims brought forward by its former sustainability head, Desiree Fixler. 

DWS hired the law firm to represent it in its dealings with the SEC, and the scope of the assessment goes beyond Fixler’s allegations, one person said.

Investors learnt just over a month ago that regulators were probing DWS, which fired Fixler just before publishing an annual report that contained environmental, social and governance figures she said were overblown. The case has sent shock waves through the asset management community as the industry wakes up to a more aggressive regulatory environment after years of unfettered ESG market growth.

DWS, which has consistently rejected the allegations, initially brought in PwC to conduct a review that found the fund manager hadn’t engaged in greenwashing. A spokesperson for DWS declined to comment. 

BaFin has also contacted Deutsche Bank, which owns about 80% of the investment unit, about the role played by the lender’s president, Karl von Rohr, Bloomberg has reported. Von Rohr chairs DWS’s supervisory board, and in that capacity signed off on the annual report that’s now being investigated for alleged greenwashing.

Von Rohr was also instrumental in mandating the PwC assessment after Fixler sent him an email outlining her allegations shortly after she was dismissed in March, Bloomberg has reported. 

DWS cited the PWC report as a defence when it responded to a Wall Street Journal article in early August that first reported Fixler’s allegations. It has since stopped referring to the assessment in its public communications though the spokesperson declined to say why.

The greenwashing claims have put DWS and Deutsche Bank on the defensive as they try to promote themselves as champions of sustainability. Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing has made clear he wants the firm to take a lead in the $35-trillion ESG market, as a key path to achieving revenue growth.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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