European Women in Finance : Julie Becker : Going the extra mile

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Julie Becker talks to Shanny Basar about sustainability, success and strategy

Julie Becker has accelerated through the ranks since joining the Luxembourg Stock Exchange (LuxSE) in July 2013. In 2015 she became the first woman on the group’s executive committee as chief legal and compliance officer. The following year she founded the Luxembourg Green Exchange (LGX) to promote sustainable finance. Last December Becker was appointed deputy CEO of LuxSE to Robert Scharfe, who has led the exchange since 2012.

Frank Wagener, Chairman of LuxSE, said in a statement at the time: “Julie Becker has brought a clear vision, new perspectives and drive to the exchange. Her contribution to the Luxembourg Stock Exchange over the past six years has been significant and I am confident that she will bring great value in the role as Deputy CEO.”

She launched LGX in response to the Paris Climate Agreement in order to unlock sustainable finance, redirect capital flows and bring clarity to investors and the market on what is green.

“We have built on the success of LGX and extended from green to social and other thematic securities,” she adds. “LGX displays more than 830 green, social and sustainable securities totalling more than €320bn, but this is still a small drop in overall capital markets.”

In May this year LuxSE started the LGX Academy to raise awareness and strengthen sustainable finance education.

The LGX DataHub was launched in September to provide a centralised database of pre-issuance and post-issuance information from issuers of green, social and sustainable securities. The relevant data is identified, extracted and structured so it is easily searchable. The LGX Datahub also shows an investment’s contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Becker says, “The hub will initially cover all the bonds displayed on LGX with extraordinary granularity as there are up to 150 data points per security. All the documentation related to the bond is also available to allow investors to make informed assessments.”

The hub currently covers the green, social and sustainability bonds displayed on LGX but will expand to cover the entire universe of listed, sustainable securities. Two key asset managers have signed up to the LGX DataHub according to Becker.

The European Union’s €17bn SURE social bond was listed on LuxSE and displayed on LGX in October. The EU established SURE (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risk in an Emergency) due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The first social bond issued by the European Commission met heavy demand from investors with the order book exceeding €233bn.

In October the United Nations Global Climate Action Awards 2020 also awarded LGX the prize for ‘Financing for Climate Friendly Investment’.

“My ambition is for LGX to keep its leadership position in sustainable finance and serve as an example to others,” says Becker. “We want to support and encourage the transition without judging issuers.”

She expects the global exchange landscape will change and that there will be further consolidation.

Becker adds, “There is always potential competition from new platforms but exchanges with stability and standards will always be needed.”

EU taxonomy
In 2016 Becker was appointed to the EU High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance. The group’s technical report on the EU Taxonomy was published in March this year to help the transition to a low-carbon, resilient and resource-efficient economy and to help finance the EU to become carbon neutral by 2050. The European Parliament adopted the Taxonomy Regulation in June marking the final step of the adoption process.

The Taxonomy Regulation allows economic activity to be labelled as environmentally sustainable if it contributes to at least one of the defined objectives, such as climate change mitigation or sustainable use and protection of water and marine resource, without significantly harming any of the others.

Becker notes the EU green taxonomy is an extremely important first step but is limited to climate change mitigation and adaptation. She continued that the taxonomy does not yet cover social impact but will be expanded step by step.

“The EU Green Bond Standard has struck the right balance between protecting the integrity of the market and encouraging development,” she adds. “There is support for useable guidelines in the market.”

She explains that the market also needs a strategy and pathway with ambitious goals and clear targets to transition for issuers that cannot access the green bond market today.

“Before 2015 it was not clear that finance would be part of the solution for sustainability,” Becker adds. “We are on the right path now and sustainability is here to stay.”

Career
Becker is a lawyer and before joining LuxSE she worked in legal and compliance departments in the banking sector, including at Dexia and the Central Bank of Luxembourg. She holds a Master Degree in European & Corporate Law and a Master’s Degree (DEA) in Private Law from the Université Nancy II, France. She is also an alumna of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Becker say, “I have been lucky to have worked in a variety of functions at the exchange and to have been supported in what I am doing.”

Her advice to other women is to be brave and to have a sense of purpose. “You can convince people if you are passionate about what you do,” she added. ”I am conscious of sustainability as a mother as I need the planet to remain viable for my children.

She continues that women should believe in themselves and never hesitate to ask questions.

“You should defend your opinions but remain open-minded and curious and always be willing to go the extra mile,” she says.

Laetitia Hamon, another woman, is head of sustainable finance at LuxSE. “There are more women leaders in sustainable finance which may be related to the need for a sense of purpose in what we do,” she says. “However, there is still so much work to be done and so few women to do it.”

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