ESG builds momentum in multi-asset

There are still relatively few options for multi-asset investors who want an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) focus. With its Future World Multi-Index range, the LGIM Asset Allocation team aims to fill this gap. Justin Onuekwusi and Andrzej Pioch discuss how they’ve built the new funds.

The momentum behind sustainable investing has gathered pace in recent years: a confluence of increasing awareness, regulatory pressure and stronger environmental reporting have seen flows directed towards environmental, social and governance (ESG)-focused investments.

There are early signs that the Covid-19 crisis may have accelerated this trend. The most recent Pridham Report (2020) showed that ESG and ethical funds took the lion’s share of investment in the early part of this year and as the crisis started. Recent Morningstar figures show that these type of funds have outperformed their peers throughout the crisis so far. (https://www.ft.com/content/46bb05a9-23b2-4958-888a-c3e614d75199)

However, as yet, there has been relatively little in the multi-asset space for ESG investors and certainly not at a lower price point. Legal and General Iinvestment Management’s (LGIM) Asset Allocation team sought to address this gap with the launch of its Future World Multi-Index funds in April 2019, applying the same disciplines used across its Multi-Index funds, but with an ESG agenda.

In doing this, it calls on LGIM’s ‘Future World’ range. This is a collection of index funds, built on three pillars: long-term thematic analysis, the integration of ESG factors, and active ownership. The funds cross themes, asset classes and geographies and have been designed to help identify new opportunities, while also managing risk effectively.

ESG WEIGHTING

The funds include a range of index building blocks and apply an ESG ‘tilt’ based on a proprietary scoring mechanism. The funds are similar to traditional, well-diversified index funds but with a higher weight to companies that score well against environmental, social and governance criteria.

The Asset Allocation team, comprising economists, strategists and fund managers, uses these building blocks to deliver an ESG multi-asset solution for its investors. Justin Onuekwusi, who manages the funds alongside Andrzej Pioch, says: “We saw there was a growing demand from our client base to take the foundations of our existing portfolios – suitability, cost-effectiveness, diversification and dynamic asset allocation – and create a sustainable version.”

The two funds are targeted at risk profile 4 and risk profile 5 clients. They offer a similar level of diversification to that found in the group’s standard Multi-Index funds - including equities, fixed income securities, money market instruments, and alternatives such as property. The result is two funds tilted to reduce exposure to companies associated with poor ESG practices and provide greater exposure to those with better practices.

The Future World Multi-Index funds will perform differently to the main Multi-Index range. For example, the funds will generally be lower weighted to energy companies, which can influence relative performance.

NO ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ ON ESG

The criteria for the funds is that at least 50% will be in investments that incorporate the Future World principles or that clearly define a set of ESG criteria, but also include assets such as government bonds or alternatives which have been shown to enhance diversification of a multi-asset proposition.

Pioch says: “There are so many terms being used and there is no ‘one size fits all’ for ESG investment. Clients have different convictions and we need to be very clear and transparent about what the fund does and what it does not do when it comes to ESG. As such, we asked ourselves how we could deliver a fund that has a tilt towards ESG, excludes the worst ‘sin’ stocks and has a greater emphasis on those with lower carbon emissions, a more diverse workforce and better practices.”

He says this is possible because of the metrics that are now available, which allow them to assign scores to individual companies. In this way, they know how their funds are scoring. “This wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. These statistics were patchy and expensive to get hold of.”

He admits there are areas where data is still hard to come by: “In real estate investment trusts and infrastructure, for example, it is not as easy to get information as it is for equities or credit. However, these areas are valuable to their diversification properties.” Nevertheless, he is clear that in aggregate the funds offer a markedly better ESG profile than a standard fund.

STEWARDSHIP

As one of Europe’s largest asset managers, LGIM has long taken its stewardship responsibilities seriously. Its engagement programme runs across the entire group, incorporating both the Future World Multi-Index funds and the standard Multi-Index range. The company, through its Investment Stewardship team, votes on all shares, rather than outsourcing. The most recent annual statistics show the company’s ESG team has analysed 16,000 companies under its proprietary scoring methodology.

The company is willing to back its views with conviction, including voting against 3,864 board directors globally last year. “We take a stance and don’t simply abstain,” says Pioch. It recently sold out of Exxon Mobile from its future world fund range because of its weak performance in tackling climate change.

There is also Future World Protection List, which excludes those companies that it believes exhibit the greatest risks, including controversial weapons manufacturers, ‘pure’ coal manufacturers and violators of the United Nations Global Compact.

CHANGING INVESTOR PREFERENCES

Although much of the early demand for ESG funds has come from defined contribution schemes, Onuekwusi says that this is spreading all the time: “In particular, social factors are becoming more important - employee rights and how companies support their workforce, plus gender and racial diversity issues - are likely to be increasingly reflected in investor preferences.”

He points to new obligations under MiFID that may require advisers to ask clients about their ESG preferences. Having workable ESG options for clients will be a necessity. The Future World Multi-Index funds, combining risk-targeting with enhanced ESG credentials, add a welcome option in an under-served area.


Article taken from Hub News Issue 46.