The results of the recent European elections, in which Green politicians made a surprisingly strong showing, were just the latest indication that Europeans’ attitudes to environmental issues are shifting.
3 minute read
A poll from the Pew Research Centre earlier this year found climate change was now seen as the top global threat in most European countries, trumping even the danger of ISIS-related terrorism. It will no longer be possible to conduct the suitability assessment without ESG being part of the conversation.
That would suggest environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, which have been gaining traction within mainstream institutional investing in Europe, have the potential to start shaping the retail investment landscape to a much bigger extent too. If this is to happen, regulatory changes which are about to be introduced by the European Commission could have a crucial role to play.
Surveys suggest most retail investors want to ensure their values are reflected in the way their money is invested. Unfortunately, at present this happens all too rarely. That is primarily because so few financial advisers ask clients whether they have any ESG preferences, let alone whether they would like them to be reflected in the advice they receive or what their portfolio is invested in. Paradoxically, it appears advisers don’t ask about their clients’ ESG preferences because they are not mentioned by them, but the clients don’t mention any ESG preferences because the adviser hasn’t asked about them. The European Commission is looking to address this ludicrous situation by introducing legislation that would mean understanding a client’s ESG preferences would be weaved throughout the fabric of the suitability assessment carried out by advisors.
When enacted, the legislation will ensure they have to ask their clients about any ESG preferences and integrate them into the investment advice they provide. For example, advisors would need to reference any ESG preferences when explaining how they have reached their investment conclusions and when describing the nature and risk of their proposed course of action. Moreover, firms’ policies and procedures will need to be updated so they can demonstrate they understand their clients’ ESG preferences.
In other words, it will no longer be possible to conduct the suitability assessment without ESG being part of the conversation. Clients may not have such preferences of course, or they may put other elements of their objectives higher on their list of priorities. But at least they will be asked. We warmly welcome these proposals and believe the EU Commission deserves enormous credit. Having said that, we believe it needs to make sure it gets the detail of the legislation right if it is to ensure clients are given the broadest range of options, in line with their preferences.
At present, the draft legislation defines ESG preferences as “a client’s or potential client’s choice as to whether and which environmentally sustainable investments, social investments or good governance investments should be integrated into his or her investment strategy”. Sustainable investments are in turn narrowly defined as an investment in an economic activity that contributes to an environmental objective.
The legislation as currently drafted assumes all clients with ESG preferences are exclusively interested in increasing the exposure of their portfolio to economic activities that contribute to an environmental or social objective, subject to good governance and doing no harm to those objectives.
We believe while the definition of sustainable investments may accord with some people’s ESG preferences, there is a much wider spectrum of preferences that the suitability test needs to take account of. For example, we would like to see it encompass a whole range of sustainable investment approaches including negative screening, stewardship, and impact investments. Moreover, we believe investors want to see what impact their investment strategy is having in the real world.
Research suggests most clients with ESG preferences want to use their influence to favour positive outcomes in the real economy – such as changes in the investment decisions made by the investee companies – and expect evidence regarding the effectiveness of the investment techniques used. In our opinion, the definition of ESG preferences should be client-led, with the assistance of advisers or tools to outline the possible options and explain what they mean for clients, not pre-determined by a narrower version of what sustainable investment might mean.
There is no shortage of evidence that ESG factors, particularly relating to climate change, are important to members of society, particularly millennials. Furthermore, many of these people wish to see their values reflected in the companies they spend their money with and that they entrust their money to. Too few members of society understand how the financial system works and realise that through their pension and investments they are the ultimate shareholders of companies that affect every aspect of our day-to-day lives. This is their money.
Although financial advisers play a key role in helping them meet their investment objectives, for too long retail clients have not even known it was possible to invest in a way that reflected their values, let alone been given an opportunity to do so. Making sure clients are asked the question about their ESG preferences and can have a conversation about how they want their money to be used, should go a long way towards improving matters.
This article originally appeared on Responsible Investor.
Want more content like this?
Sign up to receive our AIQ thought leadership content.
Except where stated as otherwise, the source of all information is Aviva Investors Global Services Limited (AIGSL) as at 8 August 2019. Unless stated otherwise, any views and opinions are those of Aviva Investors. They should not be viewed as indicating any guarantee of return from an investment managed by Aviva Investors nor as advice of any nature. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified by Aviva Investors and is not guaranteed to be accurate. Past performance is not a guide to the future. The value of an investment and any income from it may go down as well as up and the investor may not get back the original amount invested. Nothing in this material, including any references to specific securities, assets classes and financial markets is intended to or should be construed as advice or recommendations of any nature. This material is not a recommendation to sell or purchase any investment.
In the UK & Europe, this material has been prepared and issued by AIGSL, registered in England No.1151805. Registered Office: St. Helen’s, 1 Undershaft, London, EC3P 3DQ. Authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority. In France, Aviva Investors France is a portfolio management company approved by the French Authority “Autorité des Marchés Financiers”, under n° GP 97-114, a limited liability company with Board of Directors and Supervisory Board, having a share capital of 17 793 700 euros, whose registered office is located at 14 rue Roquépine, 75008 Paris and registered in the Paris Company Register under n° 335 133 229. In Switzerland, this document is issued by Aviva Investors Schweiz GmbH, authorised by FINMA as a distributor of collective investment schemes.
In Singapore, this material is being circulated by way of an arrangement with Aviva Investors Asia Pte. Limited (AIAPL) for distribution to institutional investors only. Please note that AIAPL does not provide any independent research or analysis in the substance or preparation of this material. Recipients of this material are to contact AIAPL in respect of any matters arising from, or in connection with, this material. AIAPL, a company incorporated under the laws of Singapore with registration number 200813519W, holds a valid Capital Markets Services Licence to carry out fund management activities issued under the Securities and Futures Act (Singapore Statute Cap. 289) and Asian Exempt Financial Adviser for the purposes of the Financial Advisers Act (Singapore Statute Cap.110). Registered Office: 1 Raffles Quay, #27-13 South Tower, Singapore 048583. In Australia, this material is being circulated by way of an arrangement with Aviva Investors Pacific Pty Ltd (AIPPL) for distribution to wholesale investors only. Please note that AIPPL does not provide any independent research or analysis in the substance or preparation of this material. Recipients of this material are to contact AIPPL in respect of any matters arising from, or in connection with, this material. AIPPL, a company incorporated under the laws of Australia with Australian Business No. 87 153 200 278 and Australian Company No. 153 200 278, holds an Australian Financial Services License (AFSL 411458) issued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Business Address: Level 30, Collins Place, 35 Collins Street, Melbourne, Vic 3000, Australia.
The name “Aviva Investors” as used in this material refers to the global organization of affiliated asset management businesses operating under the Aviva Investors name. Each Aviva investors’ affiliate is a subsidiary of Aviva plc, a publicly- traded multi-national financial services company headquartered in the United Kingdom. Aviva Investors Canada, Inc. (“AIC”) is located in Toronto and is registered with the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”) as a Portfolio Manager, an Exempt Market Dealer, and a Commodity Trading Manager. Aviva Investors Americas LLC is a federally registered investment advisor with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Aviva Investors Americas is also a commodity trading advisor (“CTA”) and commodity pool operator (“CPO”) registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), and is a member of the National Futures Association (“NFA”). AIA’s Form ADV Part 2A, which provides background information about the firm and its business practices, is available upon written request to: Compliance Department, 225 West Wacker Drive, Suite 2250, Chicago, IL 60606.
Our annual letter to company chairpersons
15 Jan 2021
As part of our engagement efforts, every January we send a letter to the chairs of companies we invest in (and some we don’t, but still want to use our influence with) to set out our stewardship priorities for the year. Here, in full, is our 2021 letter.
Hydrogen: Back to the future
18 Dec 2020
The UK is the latest country to accelerate plans to develop hydrogen as part of its push to reach net zero. But it is not the first time hydrogen has attracted attention – it has been trumpeted by the scientific community as a possible wonder fuel for around a century. So, what’s changed now?
Laggards, electric vehicles and energy storage: The outlook for the climate transition in 2021
15 Dec 2020
Jaime Ramos Martin, portfolio manager of Aviva Investors’ climate transition strategy, and Rick Stathers, Aviva Investors’ climate lead, look at three themes that will shape the outlook in 2021.
How the US can lead on climate finance: A five-point plan for President Biden’s first year
14 Dec 2020
The US went backwards on tackling climate change under President Trump. His successor Joe Biden must act quickly to make up for lost time, says Steve Waygood.
COVID, climate and Black Lives Matter: The stories that defined 2020
10 Dec 2020
We select some of our key pieces of content in a year of unending drama.
Chemical compounds: The good, the bad and the ugly
9 Dec 2020
After decades of secrecy, light is increasingly being shone on the potentially hazardous compounds produced by chemical companies. In the latest instalment of our editorial series, Link, experts from Aviva Investors’ credit, equities and ESG teams discuss the prevalence of chemicals in modern life, and how to balance usefulness and safety.
The client lens: An interview with Faith Ward
19 Nov 2020
Brunel Pension Partnership’s chief responsible investment officer discusses climate change, greenwashing and the urgent need to repair flaws in the financial system.
Navigating the path to net zero: An interview with Jill Rutter
12 Nov 2020
There is a large gulf between the concept of ‘net zero’ and the practical policies that will deliver it. Jill Rutter, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, takes a hard look at the UK’s progress towards the 2050 target.
Carbon capture: Solution or pipedream?
10 Nov 2020
Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is becoming an increasingly urgent priority in the fight against climate change. Both new and established pathways to remove the gas are under scrutiny, as decision makers around the globe grapple with how to take the most effective action.
Sustainability in credit: Why ESG scores don’t tell the whole story
5 Nov 2020
ESG ratings are a helpful baseline to assess companies, but views on their ESG risks and opportunities can be honed – and sometimes corrected – through deeper research, trend analysis and meetings with company executives.
Real assets and net zero: Now for the hard part
29 Oct 2020
There is no lack of willingness among investors in real assets to play their part in helping countries reach net zero by 2050. But much needs to change – and quickly, as Laurence Monnier explains.
Turn and face the change: How to invest dynamically in an uncertain world
21 Oct 2020
Equity markets are slow to price in the implications of change. This creates opportunities for dynamic, style-agnostic investors to take advantage, argue Caroline Galligan and David Cumming.
Fit for the future: Unboxing ESG in real assets
5 Oct 2020
Recent events have highlighted the importance of the environmental, social and governance characteristics of real asset investments – not only as part of COVID-19 recovery programmes, but also as a way of futureproofing portfolios.
The evolution of ESG: More than just a risk mitigator
21 Jul 2020
Once dismissed as a virtuous endeavour that compromised investment returns, the ability to gain a more holistic view of risk by considering environmental, social and governance factors is increasingly appreciated by investors. We assess the evolution of ESG across asset classes, as well as its role as a risk mitigator and opportunity spotter.
Health first: Finding resilience in pharmaceuticals
2 Jul 2020
COVID-19 has led to a new appreciation of the importance of healthcare in ensuring all members of society thrive. So where should investors be looking to find resilience in an industry facing enormous change?
COVID-19, comp and doing the right thing: Why corporate values have never been more critical
16 Jun 2020
With annual general meetings now taking place virtually, shareholders, employees and suppliers have had to adjust to lockdowns. While some of the immediate impacts will be phased out with the opening of the economy, stewardship priorities and corporate values may change forever.