A decade of investing responsibly

Our stewardship director Matt Crossman and governance and voting analyst Archie Pearson tell us about putting responsible investing into practice over 10 years under the UN-endorsed Principles for Responsible Investment and where we go from here.

Matt, how did Rathbones first get involved in the PRI? And why?

Our involvement with the PRI goes back to 9 September 2009, when we wrote a letter to the UN marking our formal acceptance of the core six principles (see page 12). Our membership, in what was then a fledgling organisation, was something that very much resonated with Rathbones, given our history and culture, and that we very much wanted to be involved with.

When we signed up, Rathbones had around £10 billion in assets under management, compared to close to £50 billion today. Our membership was spearheaded by Rathbone Greenbank Investments, a team which has more than 20 years' experience in delivering specialist ethical and sustainable investment portfolios.

The decision to sign up to the PRI was a strategic one, supported by the wider organisation, to align with the principles and commit to building on our existing approach. The most important step was recognising that governance and other non-financial risks can be material factors in the determination of investment risk and return outcomes for our clients.

Today we are committed to progressing the responsible investment agenda, interpreting this in the context of individual client objectives and needs and ensuring that we adapt our approach to new information as increased disclosure on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors becomes available.

What have Rathbones’ clients gained from our PRI membership?

We’ve achieved a great deal over the past decade, during which time the signatories to the UN PRI have grown into their thousands, as we’ve sought to implement the core principles of responsible investment.

Our membership of the PRI has informed the evolution of our investment process in applying responsible investment. This has involved formalising our approach, first through the adoption of a formal stewardship policy and most recently the formation of a responsible investment committee.

We’ve worked on providing increased transparency and reporting on our progress in integrating ESG into the investment process, reflected for example, in the steadily improving PRI scoring (as you can see in the graphic on page 13). Our understanding of ESG risk has been enhanced through new data and research inputs and dedicated specialists working alongside analysts and investment managers. Together they interpret and apply ESG risks and opportunities as part of our overall and client-specific investment decisions. We believe our clients have benefited from this more robust risk analysis.

As active investors, engagement with the companies we invest in has always been part of our process, meeting regularly with company management and boards. The formalisation of our stewardship process and an ongoing commitment to education has helped us develop our knowledge and a clearer structure and consistency to our active ownership approach.

Rathbone Greenbank in particular has pioneered engagement with global businesses on a wide variety of ESG themes and it is clear that engagement has had an impact, incentivising more sustainable corporate behaviour around the world and leveraging the influence of Rathbones as a group.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced, and how have you responded?

We were aware of the challenges of operating a detailed stance on ESG in private wealth management, where each client is treated as an individual, with their specific needs and requests met. It’s quite a different approach to the founding PRI members, large pension funds who could take a top-down approach. In the first instance, we focused our time and energy on corporate governance, which we regarded as the most relevant area to most of our clients.

Our equity research analysts incorporate an evaluation of governance risk as part of their investment case, using non-financial data and information, and this is debated as part of our stock selection process. Interestingly over time various social and environmental issues have become governance issues, as governments have begun bringing in legislation in areas like carbon footprint and gender pay gap reporting and supply chain transparency.

How have Rathbones’ responsible investing activities developed over the past 10 years?

We’ve continued to build on our offering so clients can benefit from our research and insights into environmental, social and governance factors in portfolios. This has taken shape through the continued strength and growth of Rathbone Greenbank Investments, and our ability to screen out specific investment types where appropriate for clients. We have also established specialist fixed income and equity funds with clear and defined ethical and sustainability criteria.

We’ve been steadily increasing the proportion of our assets covered by some form of integrated ESG policy, reflecting the nature of our business. We are committed to build on our progress to date, and while we work on refining our processes further we’ll continue to be involved in a wide variety of engagements under the PRI banner.

What other benefits have you seen from being a part of the PRI?

Collaborative action is a key element of the PRI, which has invested time and resources in the initial development of an ‘engagement clearinghouse’. Its successor still operates as the PRI Collaboration Platform.

The clearinghouse was a forum for members to post proposed ESG engagements and seek support, and we have sought to take advantage of this opportunity to engage collectively with global peers. Through the work of the Greenbank team we became involved in a very wide range of topics and projects that we considered of interest to our clients. We were listed in 2014 and 2015 as one of the top 20 most active engagers on the PRI Clearinghouse, despite being relatively small compared with the others on the list. This reflects the energy and commitment of the staff involved in collaborative engagements.

Archie, what attracted you to Rathbones, and what should Rathbones be doing to ensure rapid progress in the next 10 years?

I’ve joined at an exciting time for Rathbones, and really enjoyed grappling with some of the ESG issues facing global businesses. In my first year I’ve worked on projects covering the risks from cybercrime all the way to the environmental impacts of the mining industry. Rathbones has an excellent reputation for quality ESG engagement and I’ve loved getting involved in the big issues facing investors.

In the next 10 years we plan to build on the rapidly expanding interest in ESG and responsible investment internally and externally. Interest in joining collaborative engagements is growing across the business, our industry and the wider world. I’m excited to see the impact we can have by engaging more staff on these issues and the opportunities we have as investors.

The timelines on pages 14 to 19 show some highlights of our engagement in our first decade under the PRI. This work has been led by the Greenbank team but is of increasing importance and relevance to our wider client base.

Visit our Responsible capitalism hub.

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