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Sustainable bonds and loans: can we achieve more?

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Sustainable bonds and loans: can we achieve more?

The transition to a sustainable global economy requires real and immediate efforts regarding the financing of investments that provide environmental and social benefits.

Bond markets are playing a key part through the emergence of new instruments such as green, social and sustainability bonds whilst the loan market, through banks and professional associations, is also playing an essential role in attracting capital to finance these global needs.

The targets that we need to reach in terms of sustainability are far better understood than ever before, with sustainable finance now growing at a fast pace.

The rules imposed on issuers or borrowers have not received much attention, yet with adequate incentives to drive the emergence of a sustainable economy forward, its development would be significantly boosted.

Looking back

The Sustainable Development Goals[1] (SDGs) were born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, and are a universal call to action by the UN Development Program (UNDP) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The objective was to produce a set of goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges our world is facing.

The SDGs were built on the Millennium Development Goals issued in 2000, and have expanded to include additional critical matters such as gender equality, life underwater and on land, peace, justice and strong institutions.

Meeting the SDGs target is going to be costly, and will require the involvement of the public, but also of the private sector. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says achieving the SDGs will require no less than five to seven trillion US dollars in annual investments[2].

ESG in asset management

The investment community has become increasingly active and vocal on sustainable issues that consider environmental, social and governance factors in portfolio management, predominantly in the equity space. The fixed income market via the green bond market and, more recently, social and sustainability bonds and green and sustainable loans have gained strong momentum.

On these particular segments, less attention is paid by investors to the monitoring of how debt issuers and borrowers comply with their undertakings under green social and sustainability bonds or loans.

Green, social and sustainability bonds as well as green or sustainable loans, are any type of debt instrument where the proceeds will be exclusively applied to environmental and/or social projects. These products do not differ from standard instruments and the regulations applying to them are the same as for other fixed income instruments.

However they are attractive for different reasons. Bonds have historically been the remit of the asset management community and institutional investors, who in particular are starting to realise the high-risk posed by climate change to social and financial stability. Green and sustainability loans are traditionally made by banks, and may stand to benefit from regulatory capital relief to further incentivise financial institutions to grant them in the future.

In order to be eligible for their target investors, issuers and borrowers must follow certain rules, aiming at uniting the green, social and sustainability market.

The purpose of the below is to advocate for additional efforts and stricter rules to be applied towards issuers and borrowers to ensure that these instruments really meet their goals.

 The emergence of social and sustainability bonds alongside green bonds

The purpose of a green bond is to dedicate the proceeds towards green projects. These projects are described in the prospectus governing the relevant bond and all designated green projects should, according to the Green Bonds Principles[3] released by the International Capital Market Association (ICMA), provide clear environmental benefits. Social bonds are less well known than green bonds, but at least equally inspiring. They operate on a similar principle and are intended for specific target populations. This includes those who are living below the poverty line, excluded, marginalised populations, communities, unemployed persons, vulnerable groups, people with disabilities, migrants and/or displaced people, undereducated or in need of access to essential goods and services.

There are currently several types of social bonds, ranging from plain vanilla social bonds, which contain standard recourse provisions against the issuer and the proceeds of which are used in social projects, to securitised and covered bonds that are collateralised by one or more specific social projects. This latter category includes covered bonds, asset backed notes, mortgage backed securities and other structures, in which the first source of repayment is generally the cash flows and/or the assets of a given social project.

Projects eligible for social bond treatment can be affordable basic infrastructure, access to essential services, affordable housing, employment generation, microfinance, food security, socioeconomic advancement and empowerment.

Lastly, the proceeds of sustainability bonds, which are arguably the least well-known of all, are exclusively applied to finance, or re-finance, a combination of both green and social projects.

Sustainability bonds are aligned with the core components of both green and social bonds. The purpose of creating a hybrid category is because certain social projects also have environmental co-benefits, and certain green projects may have social co-benefits.

A framework for green and sustainable loans

It is worth noting that a new set of principles has emerged in 2018, the green loans principles, under which the Loan Market Association (the leading professional association of banks) released the green loan principles. These principles aim at creating a framework for the green loan market, particularly by establishing the conditions in which a loan can be labelled green[4]. They were followed in March 2019 by the sustainability loan standards.

The green loan principles set out a list of examples of green projects that include, for example: renewable energy projects, biodiversity conservation and wastewater management. Although these principles leave aside certain aspects of social and sustainability projects, compared to the green, social and sustainability bonds, they unite the criteria to be used by banking institutions and are a great way to incentivise them to be more active in green and sustainable finance.

These criteria and the duties of the borrower there under, closely track the green, social and sustainability bonds principles, as detailed below.

The responsibility of the issuer

Regarding disclosures, issuers of green, social and sustainability bonds are required under the various sets of principles to communicate to investors the sustainability objectives, the process by which they determine how the underlying projects fit within the eligible categories, the related eligibility criteria and the process applied to identify and manage potential environmental and social risks associated with the relevant project[5].

The Green, Social and Sustainable Bonds Principles also encourage issuers to position the information they provide to investors within the context of their general objectives, strategy, policy and processes relating to sustainability, and to disclose any green standards or certifications referenced in the project in which they deploy the capital they raise[6].

Regarding management of proceeds, the Green, social and Sustainability Principles provide that the net proceeds of the relevant issuance should be credited to a sub-account, moved to a sub-portfolio or otherwise tracked by the issuer in an appropriate manner, as well as attested by the issuer in a formal internal process linked to its operations for sustainable projects[7].

In terms of reporting, issuers are required to provide up to date information on the use of proceeds to be renewed annually until full allocation, and on a timely basis in case of material developments[8].

Transparency is of particular value in communicating the expected impact of green, social or sustainable projects[9]. For example, the Green Bonds Principles recommend the use of key performance indicators and, where feasible, quantitative measures such as energy capacity, electricity generation, greenhouse gas emissions reduced/avoided, number of people provided with access to clean power, decrease in water use, reduction in the number of cars required etc.

Regarding green and sustainable loans, according to the Green Loans Principles the relevant borrower should clearly communicate to its lenders its environmental and sustainability objectives and the process by which the relevant project fits these criteria. Similarly to green, social or sustainability bonds, proceeds of the loan should be credited to a dedicated account and appropriately tracked.

Borrowers are also encouraged under such principles to develop internal governance structures for tracking allocation of funds and should always maintain an appropriate level of information on the use of proceeds, including the expected or achieved impacts of the loan. Key performance indicators, measures and disclosure of underlying methodology are recommended.

As one can see, the above-described principles are certainly great steps forward, however, they still fail to be coercive.

Great principles. But what if?

There is a risk that funds raised under a green, social or sustainability bond or loan are not applied consistently, or that a given organisation represents its activities or policies as producing positive environmental outcomes when this is not the case. This practice is known as “green washing” and it is one of the main hurdles faced by the green and sustainable finance market.

The green bond principles make it clear that investors in green bonds are not responsible if issuers do not comply with their commitments or the use of the resulting net proceeds and that these bonds will not default if green bond recommendations are not followed.

The same is also true of for green loans, where no event of default is triggered by the failure to track use of funds or to observe any of the duties described above.

A breach of covenants related to use of proceeds, or meeting specified key performance indicators is generally also not considered as an event of default or even a circumstance that would cause the early repayment of the loan.

Many market participants are encouraging preferred capital treatment for banks that are more active than others in providing green or sustainable loans. This would be a great way to promote them.

However these instruments need to be clearly definable and must contain strict requirements to be efficient in reaching their objectives. If we want them to be attractive, appropriate incentives must be in place for both issuers (or borrowers) and underwriters.

If a default is still a step too far, failure to report or justify that the proceeds of a given bond or loan are used in accordance with the legal documentation, could justify an increase in the spread of the relevant instrument, or additional financial (or other) covenants or undertakings. The purpose of which, would be to compensate the fact that the relevant investment or instrument is no longer eligible for green, social or sustainable treatment.

This should be the price to pay for an issuer or a borrower to benefit from a privileged status, and the way for finance to contribute more than it presently does to the efficiency of green and sustainable development.

Sustainable bonds and loans: can we achieve more?

 The transition to a sustainable global economy requires real and immediate efforts regarding the financing of investments that provide environmental and social benefits.

Bond markets are playing a key part through the emergence of new instruments such as green, social and sustainability bonds whilst the loan market, through banks and professional associations, is also playing an essential role in attracting capital to finance these global needs.

The targets that we need to reach in terms of sustainability are far better understood than ever before, with  sustainable finance now growing at a fast pace.

The rules imposed on issuers or borrowers have not received much attention, yet with adequate incentives to drive the emergence of a sustainable economy forward, its development would be significantly boosted.

Looking back 

The Sustainable Development Goals[10] (SDGs) were born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, and are a universal call to action by the UN Development Program (UNDP) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The objective was to produce a set of goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges our world is facing.

The SDGs were built on the Millennium Development Goals issued in 2000, and have expanded to include additional critical matters such as gender equality, life underwater and on land, peace, justice and strong institutions.

Meeting the SDGs target is going to be costly, and will require the involvement of the public, but also of the private sector. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says achieving the SDGs will require no less than five to seven trillion US dollars in annual investments[11].

 ESG in asset management 

The investment community has become increasingly active and vocal on sustainable issues that consider environmental, social and governance factors in portfolio management, predominantly in the equity space. The fixed income market via the green bond market and, more recently, social and sustainability bonds and green and sustainable loans have gained strong momentum.

On these particular segments, less attention is paid by investors to the monitoring of how debt issuers and borrowers comply with their undertakings under green social and sustainability bonds or loans.

Green, social and sustainability bonds as well as green or sustainable loans, are any type of debt instrument where the proceeds will be exclusively applied to environmental and/or social projects. These products do not differ from standard instruments and the regulations applying to them are the same as for other fixed income instruments.

However they are attractive for different reasons. Bonds have historically been the remit of the asset management community and institutional investors, who in particular are starting to realise the high-risk posed by climate change to social and financial stability. Green and sustainability loans are traditionally made by banks, and may stand to benefit from regulatory capital relief to further incentivise financial institutions to grant them in the future.

In order to be eligible for their target investors, issuers and borrowers must follow certain rules, aiming at uniting the green, social and sustainability market.

The purpose of the below is to advocate for additional efforts and stricter rules to be applied towards issuers and borrowers to ensure that these instruments really meet their goals.

The emergence of social and sustainability bonds alongside green bonds 

The purpose of a green bond is to dedicate the proceeds towards green projects. These projects are described in the prospectus governing the relevant bond and all designated green projects should, according to the Green Bonds Principles[12] released by the International Capital Market Association (ICMA), provide clear environmental benefits. Social bonds are less well known than green bonds, but at least equally inspiring. They operate on a similar principle and are intended for specific target populations. This includes those who are living below the poverty line, excluded, marginalised populations, communities, unemployed persons, vulnerable groups, people with disabilities, migrants and/or displaced people, undereducated or in need of access to essential goods and services.

There are currently several types of social bonds, ranging from plain vanilla social bonds, which contain standard recourse provisions against the issuer and the proceeds of which are used in social projects, to securitised and covered bonds that are collateralised by one or more specific social projects. This latter category includes covered bonds, asset backed notes, mortgage backed securities and other structures, in which the first source of repayment is generally the cash flows and/or the assets of a given social project[13].

Projects eligible for social bond treatment can be affordable basic infrastructure, access to essential services, affordable housing, employment generation, microfinance, food security, socioeconomic advancement and empowerment.

Lastly, the proceeds of sustainability bonds, which are arguably the least well-known of all, are exclusively applied to finance, or re-finance, a combination of both green and social projects.

Sustainability bonds are aligned with the core components of both green and social bonds. The purpose of creating a hybrid category is because certain social projects also have environmental co-benefits, and certain green projects may have social co-benefits.

 A framework for green and sustainable loans 

It is worth noting that a new set of principles has emerged in 2018, the green loans principles, under which the Loan Market Association (the leading professional association of banks) released the green loan principles. These principles aim at creating a framework for the green loan market, particularly by establishing the conditions in which a loan can be labelled green[14]. They were followed in March 2019 by the sustainability loan standards.

The green loan principles set out a list of examples of green projects that include, for example: renewable energy projects, biodiversity conservation and wastewater management. Although these principles leave aside certain aspects of social and sustainability projects, compared to the green, social and sustainability bonds, they unite the criteria to be used by banking institutions and are a great way to incentivise them to be more active in green and sustainable finance.

These criteria and the duties of the borrower there under, closely track the green, social and sustainability bonds principles, as detailed below. 

The responsibility of the issuer

 Regarding disclosures, issuers of green, social and sustainability bonds are required under the various sets of principles to communicate to investors the sustainability objectives, the process by which they determine how the underlying projects fit within the eligible categories, the related eligibility criteria and the process applied to identify and manage potential environmental and social risks associated with the relevant project[15].

The Green, Social and Sustainable Bonds Principles also encourage issuers to position the information they provide to investors within the context of their general objectives, strategy, policy and processes relating to sustainability, and to disclose any green standards or certifications referenced in the project in which they deploy the capital they raise[16].

Regarding management of proceeds, the Green, social and Sustainability Principles provide that the net proceeds of the relevant issuance should be credited to a sub-account, moved to a sub-portfolio or otherwise tracked by the issuer in an appropriate manner, as well as attested by the issuer in a formal internal process linked to its operations for sustainable projects[17].

In terms of reporting, issuers are required to provide up to date information on the use of proceeds to be renewed annually until full allocation, and on a timely basis in case of material developments[18].

Transparency is of particular value in communicating the expected impact of green, social or sustainable projects[19]. For example, the Green Bonds Principles recommend the use of key performance indicators and, where feasible, quantitative measures such as energy capacity, electricity generation, greenhouse gas emissions reduced/avoided, number of people provided with access to clean power, decrease in water use, reduction in the number of cars required etc.

Regarding green and sustainable loans, according to the Green Loans Principles the relevant borrower should clearly communicate to its lenders its environmental and sustainability objectives and the process by which the relevant project fits these criteria. Similarly to green, social or sustainability bonds, proceeds of the loan should be credited to a dedicated account and appropriately tracked.

Borrowers are also encouraged under such principles to develop internal governance structures for tracking allocation of funds and should always maintain an appropriate level of information on the use of proceeds, including the expected or achieved impacts of the loan. Key performance indicators, measures and disclosure of underlying methodology are recommended.

As one can see, the above-described principles are certainly great steps forward, however, they still fail to be coercive. 

Great principles. But what if?

 There is a risk that funds raised under a green, social or sustainability bond or loan are not applied consistently, or that a given organisation represents its activities or policies as producing positive environmental outcomes when this is not the case. This practice is known as “green washing” and it is one of the main hurdles faced by the green and sustainable finance market.

The green bond principles make it clear that investors in green bonds are not responsible if issuers do not comply with their commitments or the use of the resulting net proceeds and that these bonds will not default if green bond recommendations are not followed.

The same is also true of for green loans, where no event of default is triggered by the failure to track use of funds or to observe any of the duties described above.

A breach of covenants related to use of proceeds, or meeting specified key performance indicators is generally also not considered as an event of default or even a circumstance that would cause the early repayment of the loan.

Many market participants are encouraging preferred capital treatment for banks that are more active than others in providing green or sustainable loans. This would be a great way to promote them.

However these instruments need to be clearly definable and must contain strict requirements to be efficient in reaching their objectives. If we want them to be attractive, appropriate incentives must be in place for both issuers (or borrowers) and underwriters.

If a default is still a step too far, failure to report or justify that the proceeds of a given bond or loan are used in accordance with the legal documentation, could justify an increase in the spread of the relevant instrument, or additional financial (or other) covenants or undertakings. The purpose of which, would be to compensate the fact that the relevant investment or instrument is no longer eligible for green, social or sustainable treatment.

This should be the price to pay for an issuer or a borrower to benefit from a privileged status, and the way for finance to contribute more than it presently does to the efficiency of green and sustainable development.

Investing

COVID-19 is changing people’s preferences when it comes to BTL investments

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COVID-19 is changing people’s preferences when it comes to BTL investments 1

By Jamie Johnson, CEO of FJP Investment

Throughout 2020, investors have had to navigate increasingly treacherous and volatile market conditions as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. No country has been immune to the coronavirus outbreak, particularly here in the UK.

Yet even as the country enters another phased lockdown of sorts, demand for UK property has remained strong. After a brief period of suppressed demand after initial lockdown measures were introduced in late March, the UK’s implementation of the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) holiday triggered a rush in demand for bricks and mortar. As a result, both house prices and transactional activity is rising.

With this new surge in demand resulting in an 18-year-high of UK house price growth, according to the Royal Institute of Charted Surveyors, buy-to-let (BTL) investments have also substantially increased in popularity.

It’s easy to understand why. BTL investments offer landlords both long-term capital growth and regular returns in the form of rental payments. And now, as the SDLT holiday deadline beckons closer, investors keen on taking advantage of the comparative discounts on offer must act quickly.

My advice to those considering a BTL investment in the UK is to understand and appreciate the longstanding market changes that have been brought about by COVID-19. Traditional BTL hotspots are being challenged by a rise in tenant demand for real estate in up-and-coming cities and regions.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the majority of the workforce working remotely from home. Recent data from property listing site Rightmove makes clear the shift in demand away from central London and towards less densely populated regions; with areas like Cambridge and Oxford seeing 76% and 64% more rental searches respectively and searches in areas like Earl’s Court dropping by 40%.

This is the clear result of previously London-based professionals realising the benefits of working from home. As businesses identify the financial drawbacks and COVID contagion risks of having all their staff physically present five days a week, employers will seek out smaller commercial workspaces.

At the same time, we are also seeing workers looking to rent larger, cheaper properties that might be further away from their office. This is due to the fact that they are unlikely to need to commute every working day to their office, even once the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained.

But, where exactly are the best larger, cheaper properties to be found? Where are the UK’s emerging BTL hotspots that need to be on the radar of prospective investors? I explore these pertinent questions below.

Liverpool life

Those who have been closely following the UK’s housing market will know just how primed Liverpool is for BTL investment. As a key recipient of the UK Government’s Northern Powerhouse funding, and with massive developments like Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters soon to be completed, the city’s housing supply is ready to meet the demands of those taking part in the aforementioned London professional exodus.

With Liverpool constantly ranking No.1 in rankings of UK cities for BTL investment, it’s evident why investors would be keen on completing purchases of Liverpool property before the end of the SDLT holiday. Though even after the SDLT holiday ends, there’re still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Liverpudlian BTL investment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is firmly committed to ‘levelling up’ the North of England through regional regeneration, and planned high speed rail connections between Liverpool and other northern cities will only add to the investment potential of the city.

Leeds living

Although Liverpool boasts the highest rental yields for BTL landlords in real terms, Leeds was recently named the most profitable city to become a landlord in the whole of the UK by CIA landlord. By evaluating numerous metrics; including mortgage costs, average rent, average monthly landlord costs and average property prices, they determined that Leeds was the best city for potential buyers to make their first foray into BTL investment.

And, looking at recent trends, it’s easy to see why. Leeds may benefit more from the London exodus than other cities due to its unique position of being a brain gain city’, i.e. one where more students remain after graduation than move away. As a result, it boasts the largest financial services sector in the nation after London, making it an ideal locale for employers in the financial services sector who are seeking cheaper commercial rent outside of London; likely bringing investment and employees with them.

With its strong urban economy likely to be bolstered by its designation as a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ leading business hub, Leeds is ideally positioned for BTL investment over the long-term.

Cardiff’s regeneration

And finally, the capital of Wales brings much to the table when deciding between different BTL investment destinations. With a metropolitan area population of over 1.1 million residents, forecasted to grow by 20% by 2035, demand for property in the city is set to rapidly increase over the next decade. Those able to capitalise on this population growth will be able to access considerable long-term investment opportunities – as recent reports suggest.

Thankfully, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any shortage of housing supply in Cardiff for BTL investors to invest in. Cardiff Bay has emerged as Europe’s largest waterfront development, and the upcoming Central Quay and £500m coastal developments will assist in attracting further investment into the city.

BTL remains a sound investment opportunity

COVID-19 has made evident just how resilient British real estate is as an investment asset. By offering the best of both worlds, namely long-term capital growth and regular rental returns, BTL has successfully remained an attractive and popular investment choice. And, with demand for housing still outstripping supply, the market need for rental accommodation looks set to only grow.

COVID-19 has permanently changed the UK’s housing market and, as explained above, new BTL hotspots are surely due to emerge over the next year. With renters seeking out larger homes in cheaper areas, flexible working patterns will forever change the landscape of the UK’s residential real estate market, and those able to capitalise on it may benefit hugely as a result.

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Global private wealth holders set to almost double impact investing allocation over next five years

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Global private wealth holders set to almost double impact investing allocation over next five years 2
  • High net worth individuals, families, family offices, and foundations plan to increase their allocation to impact investing from 20 per cent of their portfolios in 2019 to 35 per cent by 2025.
  • A quarter (27 per cent) of all investors expect to move to more than 50 per cent invested for impact within five years.
  • Nine-in-10 (87 per cent) investors say climate change influences their investment choices, while over half (52 per cent) view climate change as the greatest threat to the world.
  • Seven-in-10 (69 per cent) say COVID-19 has affected their views of investing and the economy, while 66 per cent say that it is likely to broaden their risk assessment to include more environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.

A new research report launched by Campden Wealth, Global Impact Solutions Today (GIST), and Barclays Private Bank reveals the growth in leading private wealth holders and family offices investing for positive social and environment impact, with the average portfolio allocation set to almost double, increasing from 20 per cent in 2019 to 35 per cent by 2025.

Investing for Global Impact: A Power for Good, now in its seventh year, provides unique insight into the attitudes and actions of a sample of the world’s wealthiest individuals, families, family offices, and their foundations when it comes to generating positive impact with their capital. As a leading global benchmark for those interested in impact investing and philanthropy, data for this study was collected from over 300 respondents from 41 countries, with an average net worth of $876 million and cumulative net worth estimated at $264 billion. Additionally, case studies with prominent investors and philanthropists also feature in the report.

Private wealth holders are increasingly engaging in impact investing

The proportion of the wealthy investors allocating more than 20 per cent of their portfolio to impact investing is expected to increase from 27 per cent to 39 per cent as soon as next year, and a quarter (27 per cent) are predicting to allocate more than 50 per cent within five years from now. As such, the average portfolio allocation to impact investing amongst these investors is expected to increase from 20 per cent in 2019 to 35 per cent by 2025.

Driving this uplift is the belief of two-in-five respondents (38 per cent) that they have a responsibility to make the world a better place. A quarter (24 per cent) believe that this approach will lead to better returns and risk profiles, and 26 per cent are looking to show that family wealth can create positive outcomes around the world.

Climate change considered the greatest threat to the world

The majority of investors (82 per cent) feel a responsibility to support global social and environmental initiatives. Specifically, just over half (52 per cent) believe that the long-term impacts of climate change pose the greatest threat to the world, and roughly four-in-five (83 per cent) are already concerned with the effects of climate change seen globally. These concerns mean that nine-in-10 (87 per cent) say that climate change plays a part in their investment choices.

While just over half (53 per cent) of these wealthy investors say Europe is leading the world in carbon neutral initiatives, 86 per cent want governments to do more, but at the same time, four-in-five (81 per cent) recognise the role of private capital in addressing climate change. With this in mind, two-in-five (39 per cent) would like to know the carbon footprint of their portfolio to inform their investing, while roughly one-in-five (19 per cent) already have this information.

Of those who do know their carbon footprint data, 13 per cent consider it as they make further investments and 9 per cent use it to actively reduce it towards a target, showing that more information around carbon emissions helps create greater positive impact.

COVID-19 is acting as a ‘wake-up call’ and driving interest in sustainable investing

COVID-19 has made individuals increasingly aware of the world around them, with seven-in-10 (69 per cent) respondents saying that it has affected their views of investing and the economy. Nearly half (49 per cent) believe that investing will not return to ‘normal’, even after the crisis subsides, and one-in-five (22 per cent) think that the impact investing market is about to ‘take off’.

In a sign that the implications for impact investing will be long lasting, two-thirds (66 per cent) say that they are likely to broaden their risk assessment to include more ESG factors, while 64 per cent insist that the crisis will force a deeper reconsideration of shareholder capitalism, and 69 per cent agree that how companies behave during the crisis will determine their investment attractiveness afterwards.

Healthcare ranked the second most popular impact sector, and a notable 84 per cent say that they plan to increase their investment to healthcare over the coming year, a proportion that outstrips all others.

Remarks from:

Dr. Rebecca Gooch, Director of Research at Campden Wealth:

“Globally, over $30 trillion is now being invested sustainably[1] and this trend towards responsible investment is catching on rapidly within the private wealth community. A notable proportion of wealth holders are now engaged and there are expectations, particularly since COVID-19, for a considerable hike in their investment over the coming years.

“Wealth holders see the challenging state of the world, and the risks and vulnerabilities both individuals and businesses face due to COVID-19 and climate change, and they want to act. Here is where smart investment and deep pockets can make a real difference in impact and ESG investment. For many, responsible investing is not only the ethical thing to do, but it is simply good business practice.”

Gamil de Chadarevian, Founder, Global Impact Solutions Today (GIST)

“There has never been a better time to fast-track investment for sustainable progress and smart innovation to generate profound impact for people and planet.

“We launched the report to catalyse and accelerate this transformation by serving as the leading knowledge platform to broaden understanding, identify trends, and provide a ‘peer-to-peer’ benchmark for investors in the field.”

Damian Payiatakis, Head of Sustainable and Impact Investing, Barclays Private Bank:

“Investors are being challenged to safely pilot their family’s lives and their portfolios through the disruptions of 2020, and it means they are having more discussions about the future – how their family’s wealth can reflect more of their values and the role they want to play in society.

“Families are considering the impact of their capital and then increasingly taking action, by allocating more towards solving our urgent global societal and environmental issues. We see that investors wanting to make this shift are looking for guidance to navigate the rapidly evolving field and to access high-quality opportunities that can deliver financially and with positive outcomes.”

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Can Covid-19 provide opportunities to change stakeholder relationships for good?

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Can Covid-19 provide opportunities to change stakeholder relationships for good? 3

By Paul Williams, Head of Production and Planning, Speak Media

When the coronavirus crisis hit the UK in March, businesses faced the immediate challenge of making sure that their content output was relevant to a strange and unsettling new landscape.

But, even as lockdown eases, could there be lasting implications for how companies communicate with their stakeholders? In a recent survey created by Speak Media and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), 93% of respondents said that the post-Covid world was likely to bring new opportunities for businesses to connect with their audiences – and pointed to a range of ways in which their relationships could change for good.

Here are four ways in which your relationships with stakeholders could evolve.

  1. Adapting to the needs of your customer base

The ‘new normal’ might be starting to feel more, well, normal – but that doesn’t mean your brand should revert to a pre-Covid content comfort zone. Nearly 80% of the comms leaders who took part in our survey said that organisations have an opportunity to become more relevant by adapting to the shifting needs of their customer base.

It is likely that the challenges and anxieties facing your stakeholders have changed significantly, so don’t assume customer interests are the same as they were before the pandemic. Do your research, communicate with your audience and look at key analytics data to identify areas you can provide real value to your readership – then focus your content efforts on them.

For example, sports brand Nike garnered positive attention for its ‘Play Inside’ marketing message – which not only encouraged its community to stay indoors at the height of the pandemic, but also gave them the tools they needed to workout at home. Meanwhile, in the financial services sector, Barclays has offered customers and clients who are facing coronavirus-related challenges access to insights from senior colleagues through its main digital hub, home.barclays.

  1. Creating meaningful connections

Close to 70% of our respondents cited creating “deeper and more meaningful connections with different stakeholder groups” as an important opportunity for brands. The last few months have placed a new emphasis on authentic brand identities and the values behind them. As consumers renew their interest in the broader significance of companies, there’s an opportunity to highlight your brand’s story, what it stands for – and ultimately create a more profound connection with you audience.

  1. Using your brand as a platform for positive change

It is not enough to ­just proclaim your principles in generic statements – your brand also needs to demonstrate how it is putting its values into action. According to our survey, 75% of comms professionals think the coronavirus crisis gives brands the chance to “serve society better and use their business as a platform for positive change”.

Your content output should become a platform that explains how your brand is making a difference – whether it is by reporting on events, highlighting colleague stories, publishing a think piece on how a problem could be resolved, or giving your readership the resources they need to take action themselves. Sainsbury’s for example has used the news section of its corporate website to post updates about a new partnership with charity FareShare, which will allow customers to help get groceries to people in need.

  1. Become a trusted source of expertise

The pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in almost every industry. It is therefore likely that your audience will be seeking information about the current landscape and how it could evolve.

Show that you deserve their trust by creating content that provides concrete value to your audience on a range of topics that relate to your brand ­– from reports and expert opinions to advice or guidance.

It is more important than ever to ensure information is detailed, accurate, but accessible enough to appeal to the knowledge levels of your varied stakeholders. Brand content from Vodafone, for instance, has recently covered topics such as making the most of tech while working from home and how smartphones could help find ways of treating Covid-19. And insurer Aviva has published engaging editorial perspectives on effective leadership while working remotely through its podcast.

Invest time in showcasing the expertise already present in your organisation and make sure you choose the best format to inform, engage and help your audience.

Foster meaningful relationships

It is crucial that comms leaders look closely at their content to make sure they place the concerns of their readership at the forefront of everything they do. The current situation may give brands opportunities to foster real and meaningful relationships with their stakeholders – but it is also increasingly clear that those who don’t take action to adjust their comms strategies risk losing their audience’s trust.

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