With a career spanning multiple businesses, industries and sectors, from The Wall Street Journal to the White House, Audrey Choi brings a unique perspective to her role as Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).
As the first CSO on Wall Street, Choi’s viewpoint has been crucial to her success in overseeing the firm’s commitment to promote global sustainability through the capital markets, including her efforts as the CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, which she founded in 2013, and in heading up the firm’s Global Sustainable Finance (GSF) Group, which she launched in 2009. “I have long believed in the potential of the capital markets to help bring about positive change with unparalleled speed and scale,” she says. “For more than a decade, Morgan Stanley has been a leader in sustainable investing, with the dedication, insight and creativity of the GSF team helping pioneer and grow the field. Interest in sustainable investing has exploded in recent years, presenting significant new opportunities across the entire firm.”
Choi’s focus is on the firm’s sustainable investing initiatives, with specific attention to product innovation, thought leadership and strategic integration. Choi also served as Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer for four years, from 2017-2021. In that role, she oversaw the creation of a strong brand narrative that included the award-winning “We are Morgan Stanley” campaign, consisting of video, print and digital stories that highlight the insights of thought leaders from across the firm.
Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Choi held senior policy positions in the Clinton Administration, including Chief of Staff of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Al Gore. Previously, Choi was a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.
How has your experience outside of the financial services industry affected the way you approach your role at the firm?
My experiences in government, journalism and nonprofits give me a perspective on how the financial services industry affects and interacts with the broader community. I learned how important it is to think not only about our direct clients and shareholders, but also about our impact on all of our stakeholders—from employees to community members.
Early in my career, as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, I had a front-row seat watching and reporting on CEOs as they steered their businesses and managed their firms’ corporate characters. I began to appreciate just how materially a corporation's financial success is affected by both its public reputation and its culture and level of integrity.
Then, while in the White House, I helped forge public-private partnerships to deliver on public policy goals. Through those experiences, it became clear to me that when firms align their businesses and values, the private sector can be one of the most powerful, agile, and scalable forces for positive change. All of my experiences before joining Morgan Stanley—and in the years since—have only deepened this conviction. And, as Morgan Stanley leads with its values, we are proving that capital can create change—change that can be profitable, inclusive and delivers benefits for shareholders, communities and society at large.
A truly sustainable business is not only financially sustainable, but also environmentally and socially sustainable. Once you understand that, you begin to see that sustainability is not something that exists apart from—or in opposition to—business. Rather, it is an integral part of sound business. There is a growing body of research that shows that the companies that integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into how they operate can benefit materially from lower risks, lower costs and the ability to deliver higher returns.
And sustainability as a business principle is increasingly what our clients want. In 2009, when we first launched GSF at the firm, the market for sustainable investing was just under $3 trillion in the U.S. Today, those numbers have jumped to more than $17 trillion in the U.S and more than $35 trillion globally. Meanwhile, our latest Institute poll of institutional investors shows asset owners increasingly embrace sustainable investing, with 80% already integrating ESG factors into their investment process, up from 70% in 2017, and nearly eight in ten (78%) see sustainable investing is a risk mitigation strategy.
For more than a decade, Morgan Stanley has been a leader in this area. We started GSF in 2009 at a time when the rest of Wall Street wasn't focused on ESG as a business opportunity. Since then, we have continued to be out front through thought leadership, research and the creation of innovative products. More recently. the world has experienced a confluence of global challenges—a pandemic, a racial reckoning, an economic crisis and the ongoing environmental crisis. This is a moment of opportunity that calls for action, and I believe Morgan Stanley is uniquely positioned to lead efforts to drive positive, sustainable, systemic change across public and private sectors at scale.
I believe great ideas come when we lead with our values. When we combine the things we care about with the skills and resources at our disposal, we get passion with excellence. At Morgan Stanley, we are proud of our cultural commitment to integrity and excellence in all that we do. Combine that with our commitment to doing the right thing—for our clients and for our community—you can drive innovation that creates true impact.
Whether it is bold new research insights, new investing products or innovative new financial structures, we create value when we bring all our best “traditional” skills to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Then, instead of being daunted by problems that may seem insurmountable, we can see opportunities that inspire us to tap our skills, creativity and a problem-solving mindset. Entrepreneurial thinking, rigorous analytics and financial acumen are the tools that can help create growth and wealth, but they can also create solutions to some of the toughest problems we face as a society.