Tuesday 15 March 2022 10:48am

Sustainable investing is largely driven by expected value, not ethical values, a new report from University of Otago's Climate and Energy Finance Group (CEFGroup) has found.

Stakeholder demand for socially responsible investment has led to a rise in investment funds adopting responsible investment practices, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

However, despite sustainable investing sweeping the industry, it is often unclear what fund managers are actually doing to invest more sustainably.

The CEFGroup's latest industry report – in partnership with Saturn Advice, MyFiduciary and Morningstar – surveyed asset managers of global equity funds available to Australasian investors to understand how they integrate sustainable practices within the investment decision-making process.

Along with many new insights, the report found responsible investing by fund managers is driven mainly by performance value and attracting investors, not ethical values and responsibilities.

The results also showed that only half of asset managers reported their portfolios' carbon intensity, a basic measure of carbon risk in an investment portfolio.

Dr Sebastian Gehricke imageDr Sebastian Gehricke

CEFGroup Deputy Director Sebastian Gehricke says this is “very surprising”, as portfolio carbon intensity should be the easiest portfolio climate metric to provide in terms of data availability.

“This is particularly startling as climate change was the most important issue according to the survey.

“Further, of those that did report this metrics, around half underreported and many did so by a large extent.”

He says the information shared in this report will benefit investors and regulators, as it provides clarity around what fund managers mean when they say they are incorporating ESG issues and concerns.

Policymakers will be able to consider this information when designing policies, and fund managers will also benefit as it gives them a better idea of what their peers are doing and where they fit in the sustainable investment fund market.

This could push them to be more ambitious, Dr Gehricke says.

Saturn Advice General Manager Peter Dine says there is growing evidence that companies who embed ESG considerations into their decision-making are likely to achieve superior long-term financial performance, compared to those that don't.

This report provides insight into where the funds management industry is currently at on ESG practices and helps with questions people should ask managers about their sustainability practices, he says.

MyFiduciary Principal Chris Douglas agrees and says studies like this help to put a spotlight on how investors and fund managers are responding to growing sustainability demands.

“In-depth analysis like this helps to lift the level of debate within the industry and inform investors and fund managers on good practice and the spectrum of outcomes from the leaders to the laggards,” he says.

This report is an industry collaboration and is not peer-viewed. The results are based on a Master of Finance thesis from University of Otago student Lachie McLean, which looks at managers' actual portfolio holdings.

Publication details:

In Holdings We Trust: Uncovering the ESG Fund Lemons

Lachie Mclean, Associate Professor Ivan Diaz-Rainey, Dr Sebastian Gehricke, Renzhu Zhang
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15945.83047

For further information, please contact:

Dr Sebastian Gehricke
Senior Lecturer
Department of Accountancy and Finance, Otago Business School
University of Otago, Dunedin
Email sebastian.gehricke@otago.ac.nz

Chris Douglas
Principal, MyFiduciary
Email chris@myfiduciary.com

Molly Houseman
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago, Dunedin
Mob +64 21 279 5016
Email molly.houseman@otago.ac.nz

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