The European Commission has said it's aware of a number of the issues raised and is looking into the matter.
Failure to correctly categorize a fund product can lead to regulatory action against an asset manager. European authorities are already considering new minimum requirements after concluding that investors may already be subject to inflated ESG claims.
At the same time, the growing scarcity of Article 9 funds is going to make them increasingly coveted products, according to Charles Boakye, an ESG analyst at Jefferies. Flow data shows "the end asset owner would appear to have a higher preference for Article 9," he said. "Given the difficulty in bringing such products to market," it's likely that investors are going to "keep demand for Article 9 products high."
In future, the designation will probably be limited to "thematic and impact-oriented funds investing in companies that focus on sustainable products and services," which often tend to be small- or mid-caps, or to "bond funds whose proceeds help finance green and social projects," according to Hortense Bioy, Morningstar's global director of sustainability research.
Mr. Sussams said he doesn't expect fund downgrades to undermine investor confidence, given the newness and the scale of the regulatory challenge.
"This is the market figuring out new, highly disruptive, regulation," he said.