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ESG Vs Impact in the spotlight at Worthstone’s Impact Investment Academy event

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The 2021 Impact Investment Academy event certainly didn’t shy away from some of the serious challenges involved in the huge shift towards ESG Vs Impact investing, reports Sue Whitbread.  

Can the worlds of investment and financial planning really help change behaviours and impact on positive change that will really make a difference to the health and wellbeing of people and the planet going forwards? Or is it just – to coin a certain phrase – blah, blah, blah?

From today’s conversations at the Impact Investment Academy virtual event hosted by Worthstone, the answer looks to be a big fat “YES”. But it’s no simple or straightforward matter. Far from it in fact.

Throughout the event today it was good to see plenty of engagement and discussion amongst delegates on the “chat” – and great to see so many familiar names involved in those discussions.

Make the change

Introducing the event this morning, Worthstone’s Gavin Francis kicked off with an interesting message to all those attending. His call to delegates was to turn the impact filter on themselves and to examine both their personal and business actions to see where change could be made – today. Given the audience and presenters, I for one would be very interested to see some of the responses to that request that’s for sure!

The event delivered many thought-provoking keynote sessions, the first of which was from Catherine Howarth, CEO at Sharewatch entitled ‘Stewardship for Impact’. In it, Howarth looked at some of the key issues around the importance of stewardship with asset managers and why engagement as opposed to exclusion can lead to change. Her call to delegates was to look for ways of supporting clients to achieve their sustainable investment objectives. In doing so, she made it clear that lifting the bonnet and finding out what really goes on within ESG, impact or sustainable investment funds or portfolios is essential. Also her call to encourage asset managers to drive down the negative impacts and dial up the positives when it comes to investment was warmly greeted.

Phil Spyropoulous, Partner at Eversheds Sutherland, then gave an enlightened summary of regulatory positions and risk and how firms are responding in his session entitled “Preparing for impending regulatory changes in 2022.

Desiree Fixler’s illuminating session “Whistle blower looks under the label” was certainly an eye-opener. Formerly, Fixler was Group Sustainability Officer at DWS Group (a subsidiary of Deutche Bank). Her very honest talk revealed how she had uncovered serious inconsistencies when assessing ESG within the firm, but was fired the day after she filed her report. Her willingness to share her experiences and her focus on transparency and clarity is to be applauded.

Achieving net zero

With COP26 just having recently concluded, the session from Graeme Baker, Portfolio Manager, Global Environment Strategy, Ninety One on why achieving net zero in the real economy is very different from a net zero portfolio – was timely.

In it, Baker drilled down into details of analysis which should help advisers with client conversations around carbon in investment portfolios – especially given COP conference recently and the focus on trying to achieve 1.5% limit to growth in CO2 emissions.  He shared the outlook for CO2 emissions (scary as that is) and why to get to net zero so much has to change and takeup of renewable options needs to increase exponentially.  But it’s not just an energy transition – the ‘carbon avoided’ theme really resonated. It highlights the depth of research and analysis which managers like Ninety One are undertaking in order to identify impact investment opportunities. And why support for emerging markets to enable a fair and inclusive transition needs to happen for real world net zero targets to be met by managers identifying leaders in this space wherever they are in the world.

Panel sessions generated plenty of thought provoking ideas and opinions too.

Building “Wellth”

Last but not least, Worthtone’s Francis shared a really snazzy infographic on the  Spectrum of Capital – it’s simplicity being key to its appeal in clarifying the real differences in terminology around ESG, Impact etc. It’s well worth a look if you’ve not seen it. Francis also announced a new initiative, and a rather cleverly named one at that – “Wellth’, a new multi-asset MPS that Worthstone is developing in partnership with Helm Godfrey. It will launch on Praemium and Transact from January, with further platform listings planned in due course.  It’ll be an interesting development to watch that’s for sure.

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