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Giving Voice to The Quiet Revolution: Asset Management, The Environment and Popular Perceptions

Please see the below piece from Invesco received late yesterday afternoon:

Key Points

  1. As demonstrated by environmental protests against asset managers accused of “funding destruction”, the investment industry remains broadly perceived as uninterested in the existential challenges facing humanity.
  2. Contrary to such perceptions, asset managers have taken a lead in promoting sustainable policies and practices – especially through active ownership of and engagement with the companies in which they invest.
  3. It is vital that this “quiet revolution”, as the University of Cambridge has described it, builds wider recognition and that stakeholders of all kinds appreciate that their interests may be aligned with those of asset managers.

More than a decade on from the global financial crisis, the investment industry is still popularly perceived as a self-serving entity with little or no regard for the greater good. Before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed mass gatherings, environmental activists’ demonstrations – including several against financial services companies said to have “funded destruction” – provided a clear reminder of how negatively this sphere is viewed by many of those outside it.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, now a UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate, even suggested that Extinction Rebellion protesters should specifically target asset management firms. This tactic, she said, would lessen the likelihood of the group alienating members of the public.

Such a sentiment underscores the degree to which asset managers, routinely cast as essential cogs in the machinery of “big business”, are deemed complicit in many of the world’s ills. Yet it also implies that they can bring about positive change; and what appears to be consistently overlooked, at least in the mainstream narrative, is that this is exactly what they are doing.

The first decade of the 21st century exposed the limits of capitalism as we long knew it. There is no disputing this, just as there is no disputing that the resulting backlash against sections of the investment industry was deserved. Yet capitalism always has been and still is a work in progress: it has evolved substantively in seeking to avoid the errors of the past, and asset managers have been at the heart of the unfolding shift.

This is because responsibility, sustainability and long-term thinking are becoming norms for the sector. Asset managers are spearheading what the University of Cambridge has described as a “quiet revolution”, and the reality – unlikely though it might seem to some critics – is that many investment professionals have a deep and even long-held commitment to the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

A passion for the environment is not some sort of obligatory extension of work for such individuals. Quite the opposite: work is a potent augmentation of their passion for the environment. This should be acknowledged far beyond the industry – not because asset managers yearn to be loved or are tired of being harangued by climate campaigners but because stakeholders of every kind need to comprehend that there is a massively important alignment of interests here.

Contrary to widespread assumptions, asset managers are not fiercely determined to thwart efforts to make the world a better place. In fact, many want to be central to such endeavours. In this paper, drawing both on our own experiences and on insights from leading researchers, we seek to show that the quiet revolution is well under way; we attempt to highlight a more “human” side to the people behind it; and we try to explain why it merits much broader recognition.

Along with the investment industry in general, asset managers have attracted considerable criticism in recent years. With past sins still largely informing mainstream opinion, the scorn of the broader public – from environmental protesters to media commentators to the proverbial man and woman in the street – seemingly remains as strong as ever. Overturning such firmly entrenched disdain and distrust will not be straightforward. The investment industry as a whole has often made headlines for the wrong reasons, and the popular realisation that it has a much more admirable side will unquestionably take time to emerge.

The quiet revolution has been under way for several years. Maybe now is the time to make more noise about it – not for the sake of asset managers’ self-esteem, not because we demand due recognition, but because how we and our efforts are regarded and understood is likely to determine our effectiveness in helping plot a truly responsible course for the future.

This article is another indicator of the direction of travel within the industry. ‘Ethical’ and ‘Socially Responsible’ investment themes have always been there in the background, but over the past two years and especially since the onset of the pandemic, it no longer seems to be in the background.

Almost every fund manager now has to take into account ESG factors within their investments and portfolios whether they are doing so because they believe its right or because they now see that they have to in order to keep up, either way, its still a good push in the right direction.

People are waking up to making the world a better place, be it via social issues or climate issues.

Investors now seem to take comfort in the fact that they can help and ‘do their bit’ to help make the world a better place.

Andrew Lloyd DipPFS


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Jupiter: Views from the House

Please see the below look back at 2020 from Jupiter Asset Management’s Chief Investment Officer:

Jupiter’s Chief Investment Officer reflects on the longer-term implications of a year most unlike any other.

In a year overwhelmingly dominated by the pandemic, it could be tempting to dwell on the challenges that have been presented to businesses and to global society.

Long before any of us had heard – let alone uttered – the words “COVID-19,” there was a trend towards more flexible working in many sectors of the economy, including in asset management. Some in our industry were embracing growing requests for more flexible working arrangements, while others may have viewed them with a certain degree of scepticism, pondering whether fund management was the kind of industry that could accommodate such arrangements at scale.

As much of the world went into lockdown, personal opinions on the merits and disadvantages of remote working became largely irrelevant; a significant policy decision that would, historically, have been the preserve of individual businesses was essentially taken for them.

Simultaneously, the important question as to whether a firm like ours could operate effectively with virtually all employees working remotely for a prolonged and potentially open-ended period was answered; we could, and we did. Indeed, a recent conversation with our head of dealing, Jason McAleer indicated that our industry as a whole has not only coped with the challenges presented, but has seen no perceptible increase in operational errors or issues.

In my view, the changes we have seen have the potential to make asset management a fundamentally more inclusive industry. Put simply, it now feels reasonable to hope that many of those who – for oft-cited reasons, including perceptions of long hours, punishing travel schedules and reconciling the demands of a challenging career with family life – might never have considered a career in fund management, will feel newly emboldened to take a closer look.

If, like me, you believe that more diverse investment teams are better performing ones, then this can only be a welcome development from the perspective of our clients.

Inclusivity leads to diversity

The pandemic and associated changes to working patterns and practices have also reminded us of the value of the office environment, as evidenced by numerous requests from colleagues for permission – which was generally denied, in line with the official guidance at the time – to continue to work from the office as the second UK-wide lockdown came into force.

This all begs a question: how quickly will the potential benefits of changes to working patterns in our sector filter through into the reality of the make-up of our workforce? Naturally, in a profession like fund management, hiring cycles are relatively lengthy. For this, there can be no apologies; the business of taking fiduciary responsibility of other people’s money is a serious one, and it is right that those charged with this duty should first have to prove their aptitude.

Of course, recruitment decisions are largely devolved to hiring managers; while this makes it difficult to “force” change in hiring practices from above, as CIO I am committed to continuing to challenge ourselves.

Changing behaviours: impact on markets and innovation

For a business like Jupiter, one of the more testing trends to emerge over the last year has been a tangible increase in direct participation in financial markets by retail investors. The exact cause of this change in behaviour is difficult to pinpoint, but we can reasonably speculate that it may have much to do with a combination of increased market volatility creating perceptions of attractive entry points, and the simple reality of the increase in available time many people have found in lockdown.

Whatever the cause, there is no doubt that such a sharp increase in activity in stock markets among individual retail investors has had an impact not only on stock prices, but also on liquidity and on sources of liquidity.

For asset managers, this potentially disruptive trend should act as something of a wake-up call; as retail investors in growing numbers show signs of exploring different ways to put their money to work, we must remain relevant, and continue to demonstrate that our products offer value.

As a firm, we place great emphasis on the importance of fostering innovation. A particularly exciting development for us in this regard was the formalisation earlier in the year of our strategic partnership with US-based NZS Capital, LLC (“NZS”), a highly innovative investment boutique which itself focuses on identifying disruptive businesses with the potential to generate favourable outcomes simultaneously for investors, customers, employees, society, and the global environment.

2020: when ESG became truly “mainstream”

Our partnership with NZS also serves as a timely reminder of our commitment to innovation and leadership in the field of ESG investing, a topic that has enjoyed a meteoric rise in prominence over the course of the last year. Indeed, I would be unsurprised if, in the future, social anthropologists looked back on 2020 as the year ESG investing became truly “mainstream.” This is an overwhelmingly positive development, and one to be embraced.

From a fund management perspective, I believe that ESG in the years ahead will be a refinement, evolution and re-categorisation of many of the assessments managers already make when looking at an investment case. How is a company run? Do its activities and/or products cause detriment to the environment? Are its employees mistreated or endangered? Does it mistreat its customers in a way that is detrimental to them and unlikely to build long-term loyalty? Has it taken on excessive leverage in pursuit of short-term shareholder returns that might undermine its longer-term viability? For us, these are not new questions, but they are being asked of us by a broader range of clients and other stakeholders, and with a frequency and determination not before seen.

Such focus on these issues is having a marked effect on markets, and on the way in which capital is being allocated to investment managers. This, in turn is undeniably changing and disrupting perceptions of the characteristics of a business most prized by investors.

The “what” and the “how” of asset management

I believe that the single most important thing we can do as a business is to generate strong and sustainable investment returns for our clients. As the end of every year approaches, we take the time to reflect on our performance; for a year that is likely to stand out in the collective memory for many of the “wrong” reasons, in this particular regard, 2020 has been a year much like any other.

The change, challenges and uncertainties we have all faced notwithstanding, it is pleasing to see that many of our strategies have performed very well throughout this period. Meanwhile, the new colleagues who joined Jupiter through our acquisition of Merian Global Investors have already made a significant contribution to Jupiter, bringing fresh energy, ideas, and perspectives to our debates.

But investment and performance are not the only things about which we hear from clients, who increasingly want to know how a firm like Jupiter manages its money managers. This is perhaps the most important part of the role of the CIO office, and it has been a privilege to speak with so many clients over the course of the year about how we seek to hold our fund managers to account. Put another way, it might be said that in 2020, what we seek to do (generate strong, sustainable investment performance), and how we go about it have become first among equals in the pecking order of clients’ priorities.

In truth, nobody knows how 2021 will play out. With the promise that vaccine programmes may be imminently deployed, a final end to the next chapter of Britain’s exit from the EU in sight, and a the potential for a more stable geopolitical scenario, it is tempting to look forward to the coming year with a great sense of optimism. At the same time, none of us must be under any illusion over the scale of the challenges facing the global economy as the world emerges from the pandemic. Whatever happens, our focus in the CIO office will be on seeking to ensure we deliver the best performance we can, in the most sustainable way we can; it is this pursuit, I believe, that gives us our real licence to operate.

As the end of every year approaches, reflections on the year we are about to leave behind tend to come naturally to everyone.

Look backs at the financial world and investment markets pour out from fund managers followed by outlooks, predictions, and goals for the year ahead.

2020 was a year that nobody could have predicted, and a year I’m sure nobody will look back fondly on.

One of the (positive) key points that can be taken away from this year (as demonstrated in the article above) is something we have been talking about for a while now, ESG is now mainstream.

It’s real, it’s important and it’s here to stay.

From firms and fund managers beginning their ESG journey, to the ones talking about how they already factor in a strong ESG process within their operations.

Whatever our industry takes away from this year, one thing is for sure, ESG is now firmly on everyone’s radar.

Andrew Lloyd


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Janus Henderson ESG Thought Pieces and Our Thoughts

Investment Management House Janus Henderson recently published some thought pieces on ESG and Socially Responsible Investing. Please see the key takeaways from these pieces below:

Sustainable equities: the future is green and digital

  • The pandemic has accelerated investment into digitalisation, which we consider to be a key enabler of sustainability.
  • We expect support for sustainable development to gain momentum as countries embrace the need to be low carbon and as Joe Biden takes his seat in the White House.
  • Investment into electric vehicles is expected to surge in 2021 as innovators ‘race’ to the top.

Sustainable design in consumer products

  • The apparel sector is well known for its detrimental effects on the environment. However, as consumers become more aware of their own environmental footprints, there has been a surge in demand for sustainable goods.
  • A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
  • Companies including Nike, Adidas and DS Smith have incorporated a circular approach to the design and production of their goods, creating durable and long-lasting products with a reduced environmental footprint.

Investing in Diversity: analysing the investment risks and opportunities

  • Companies are increasingly being held accountable by consumers who reward brands aligned with their values.
  • For many global businesses, matters of diversity and inclusion go beyond the workplace, and efforts are made to address discrimination in the countries in which they operate.
  • Investors should be wary of companies that fail to futureproof themselves in terms of diversity. Socially conscious brands that make inclusivity a central part of their business strategy and brand ethos are more likely to succeed.
  • What gets measured, gets improved. Investors should focus on company disclosure, diversity-related targets, and meaningful initiatives in place. A list of suggested investor questions can be found at the end of this paper.

Janus Henderson are ahead of the game with ESG policies and started factoring this in back in 1991 shortly following the 1987 United Nations Report, ‘Our Common Future’ which I mentioned recently in an ESG blog. Their philosophy is below;

‘We believe there is a strong link between sustainable development, innovation and long term compounding growth.

Our investment framework seeks to invest in companies that have a positive impact on the environment and society, while at the same time helping us stay on the right side of disruption.

We believe this approach will provide clients with a persistent return source, deliver future compound growth and help mitigate downside risk.’

As I wrote about in our blog, as a firm we undertake regular due diligence with regards to the investments we recommend to our clients. This an ongoing process and we are constantly monitoring the market, and this year ESG has become a key factor in what we look for in the due diligence process.

Of course, many businesses may have a broad and generic ESG statement, but having a strong and well defined ESG process embedded into a businesses culture and investment process is definitely one of our key determining factors in the companies we choose to recommend.

We start off with an investment houses ESG statement, but then we dig deeper, to make sure these investments do exactly what they say they do, in terms of ESG, then factor this into the rest of our research i.e. investment returns, track records, cost etc.

It’s good to see so many investment houses now openly talking about and promoting ESG and demonstrating their views and philosophies.

Now could be a great time to invest whilst asset prices are still generally low, all whilst taking a responsible approach to investing!

As always, keep checking back for a variety of blog content from a wide range of investment houses, fund managers and our own original pieces.

Andrew Lloyd


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ESG… the ‘new normal?’

Firstly, yes, this blog is called ‘the new normal’ and yes, I know you may be fed up of this phrase (believe me, I am too!), but dare I say it? Is ESG ‘the new normal’ when it comes to investing?

You may have seen some of our posts over this past year on ESG and sustainable investing.

We posted a 3 part series over the summer called ‘What is ESG? – An Introduction’, this was written by us to help our clients really understand what ESG is, and it’s a good thing we did… a recent study was undertaken in this industry and it was found that the majority of clients didn’t understand what ESG was, in fact it was found that people thought it stood for ‘ethically sourced goods’.

Google searches also show an increase of 216% in the term ‘ESG’ since 2018. This shows if people don’t know what it is, they want to learn.

Over the summer we wrote;

What does ESG stand for?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance

But what is it?

Investopedia definition for ESG is;

‘Environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments.’

ESG is more of a theme or a set of principles to follow rather than a single set principle.’

In case you missed it, please revisit this blog series using the following links: What is ESG? – An Introduction – Blog Series – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

One Planet, One Society, One Economy

ESG is a set of principles throughout not just investing, but throughout the world.

Climate change is a factor within ESG principles, but why is it important to focus on climate change?

Well we are one planet. We are one society and one economy. Yes, I am aware that sounds very ‘tree hugger-ish’… but look at how issues caused by climate change can affect society and the economy.

You will have seen hurricanes, floods, the wildfires in California and Australia on the news over the past few years. These are all driven by global warming. Since 1980, the cost of weather related catastrophises has been over $4,200Billion.

Boris Johnson recently announced that the aim is for the UK to have no sales of new fossil fuel cars by 2030.

Climate change is not an abstract future concept anymore and ESG isn’t just the latest trend, it is a future state of being, it’s an input into the outcomes of the future and it’s about companies embracing opportunities and making changes now to invest in the future.

The concept of ‘ESG’ or ‘ethical’, ‘socially responsible’ isn’t new.

Over 30 years ago, in 1987, there was a study by the Brundtland Commission called ‘Our Common Future’ which said that;

‘Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, guaranteeing the balance between economic growth, care for the environment and social well-being’

ESG has been gaining momentum for a while now as climate change and other social issues presented themselves but then of course, the pandemic hit.

Many investors probably assumed that the ESG focus would fade however it was only strengthened, with people looking at how everybody working from home would reduce carbon emissions, international travel was halted which again contributed to the drop in carbon emissions and early on in the pandemic when companies had to send employees off to work at home or on furlough and their mental and physical wellbeing became a focus.

Sustainable investments were once few and far between and usually meant sacrificing returns in order to stand by your beliefs, but these days, you would be hard pressed to find a company or an investment that doesn’t have some form of ESG policy or statement. Of course some may just be doing this to ‘tick the boxes’ but some will be actively involved in ‘doing the right thing’.

ESG has momentum now, we no longer think you have to sacrifice returns either!

As we have said before, ESG is not a tangible ‘thing’ that you can see or hold, it is in fact a complex interconnected system of ideas and processes.

Think of it as a journey, rather than a destination.

Andrew Lloyd