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Webcast: What Stewardship and ESG means to Martin Currie

What does stewardship mean to Martin Currie? How has the Stewardship & ESG focus developed over time? What is Martin Currie’s role with the PRI? How do you translate SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and climate change theory into investment returns

Leading the Stewardship & ESG Evolution: Webcast home
Date published
18 Aug 2020
David Sheasby Head of Stewardship, Sustainability and Impact
Part 1: What does Stewardship mean for Martin Currie

Kimon Kouryialas and David Sheasby, Head of Stewardship and ESG for Martin Currie discuss the development of Stewardship and ESG at Martin Currie, and the industry in general.

Read the full script below

Leading the Stewardship & ESG evolution series

This video is part of a multi-part webcast series where we welcome you to join Martin Currie’s panel of Stewardship & ESG experts, along with representatives from Australian companies that are leading on the Sustainability front

Webcast home page

We always believe that it should be the investors who are the people who integrate ESG, they should be the people who leading on engagement and active ownership


Kimon: Hi, I'm Kimon Kouryialas. I hope this message finds you and your family safe and well.

Today I'm speaking with David Sheasby. David is Head of Stewardship and ESG at Martin Currie in Edinburgh, and we're planning today to have a discussion around the development of stewardship at Martin Currie and the industry in general.

Good morning David, to what I believe is another bleak and wet outlook in Edinburgh for the day.

David: I think the word we use here is ‘dreach’. So yes, a bit grim.

Kimon: David, let's start by keep getting some insights into your thoughts about what do you believe stewardship means at Martin Currie?

David: I think so first and foremost is stewardship for us is about investment. So, it's about how we integrate ESG into our analysis, it's about importantly how we act as active ongoing owners, so how we engage with companies, and how we cast proxies for example.

But also, it's about working with our clients, so it's very much how we partner with clients and deliver the outcomes that they're looking for

And then, thirdly, it's really about how we behave as a business, so how we run our business in a responsible manner.

Kimon: And in your opinion, I mean, how is that evolved overtime and one of the challenges that you have seen in relation to that evolution?

David: So, I think certainly something that we're seeing is increasing interest from all parts of the investment chain, so from clients, from consultants, and also actually companies are interested in kind of how we're approaching this.

We've been doing it for a long time so we we've seen it this evolve overtime, but there are clear challenges in terms of how, for example, things like data. Increasingly there's a desire to get data in a consistent manner, so that's clearly a challenge.

A lot of that is being asked of companies, so companies are facing challenges in terms of what they disclose, how they disclose, and for example, they're being increasingly asked to demonstrate resilience to climate change, and how they’re approaching that.

But then for the industry overall, there's also the challenge of regulations, that regulation is developing, and there's a big focused increasingly on outcomes, and that plays into our reporting, for example our Stewardship reporting. But yeah, that regulation is also really focused on the asset management industry now, and well a lot of it is well intentioned, I think it can lack pragmatism

Kimon: Before we get into specific details about climate change, can I just get your views on, you know, the relationship that you have with the PRI and what sort of involved involvement do you have there?

David: So, we were relatively early signatures to be honest, so we signed up to the PRI back in 2009, and we have been quite involved in, for example, some of the collaborative engagement. So, we were early to get involved in that, and that particularly because we are very experienced, for example, in emerging markets and the way we approached engagement.

And so that we found those very useful, and I think through that, basically I've got involved, for example, with the what was the ‘ESG Engagement Committee’ but it's now the ‘Stewardship Committee’, and so that's kind of evolving in terms of how that's shaping active ownership through the PRI.

Kimon: And what do you see the role of the PRI being? I know that there is a number of different views as to what the PRI stands for, and you know, we've had many discussions with clients and industry bodies in the past about whether or not it's just a box ticking exercise when it comes to the fund manager community, but do you believe there is a really significant role for the PRI to play?

David: I mean I think the role of the PRI is evolving, so initially it was about signing up the asset managers and asset owners to an approach to responsible investment, so basically committing to engaging and committing to integrating ESG.

But I think what you've seen over the last few years is that the PRI is starting to say its focusing more on outcomes, so it's looking at the ‘so what?’, so OK, you signed up but actually what are you doing and what is changing?

It also has got a little bit more teeth in terms of, originally people would sign up, but now actually the PRI is starting to kick people out if you don't effectively meet minimum standards.

So, I think it's definitely is definitely evolving, and there have been some positive outcomes in terms of some of the work that has been done, for example, through those collaborative engagements.

And one of those major engagements, for example, is the ‘Climate Action 100’, which we are participating in, and the PRI are a big sponsor of that, and we've already seen change at companies on the back of that.

Kimon: I know in the past, in your previous roles, you were a portfolio manager. So, in this current role that you have, you know, what value do you see in working with the investment floor at Martin Currie, and, you know, what kind of investment tools do you see and are you trying to work with the investment floor to develop when it comes to this whole concept of Sustainability?

David:  So, I think first and foremost we always believe that it should be the investors who are the people who integrate ESG, they should be the people who leading on engagement and active ownership. That's always been our philosophy and that's my background, so I come to this very much as an investor

I've been in this role now full time for five years. I ran money as you say for almost 30 years, and one of the things to my role is really about the kind of guidance and oversight, and kind of working with investors on particular issues, or helping with particular engagements. But the day-to-day responsibilities are very much with the investment teams.

And in terms of the toolkits, so one of the things that I've thought about over time is just like, as an investor what you need kind? What information do you need? and how to how do we evolve how we report back to back to clients?

So, for example we set up industry frameworks back in 2015 looking at what kind of factors are material for different industries. Then we've set up for example, most recently we've been looking at things like the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), so how do we begin to map some of our companies to the Sustainable Development Goals which is an area that the clients are interested in. And also, on climate change how do we think about the sensitivity of the portfolios to climate change and build tools around that?

Kimon: And then you know, the two areas that you just talked about, the SDG's and climate change, I mean, how do you see the work that you're doing there supporting investment returns?

David: So, I think climate change is one of the key challenges that we as a global community face, but in that it presents clear risks, so we need to understand those risks, and we need to be aware of how companies are managing mitigating those risks.

But also, climate change presents opportunities, to present opportunities in new technologies, in companies that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change or address the impacts, for example, of physical impacts of climate change. So, it's about risk. It’s understanding that risk and it's also about understanding where the opportunities are.

I think the SDGs, they've been described as a kind of blueprint for the planet, in terms of thinking about what we're trying to achieve over the next, well it's really only 10 years now perhaps 2030. And again, to support those Sustainable Development Goals, there are immense opportunities, and immense investment opportunities that are presented, and so one of the things that we're looking at is to what extent companies are able to contribute to those, through products that they produced or are innovating on, and again, that presents a real opportunity in terms of how companies might move forward on that.

Kimon: And David, how realistic do you believe the SDG deliverable of 2030 actually is?

David: I think they're clearly ambitious, so there are some very ambitious targets in those. So, there are 17 roles covering everything from poverty, inequality, climate, water, land use etc. So, they are very ambitious. Governments all signed up to them back in 2015, so Governments are committed to those, but they do require huge amounts of investment.

I worry that we won’t achieve it. I mean there is nothing wrong with setting a very high ambition but I think they will be a struggle to fully achieve.

Kimon: And you and I spend a lot of time in unison talking to our clients globally, can you give a view as a sort of a sense of what are some of the main themes that you see when around engagements when we're dealing with our clients?

David: So, I think climate change is clearly one and that's high on a client’s agenda. They want to understand how we are approaching climate change on their behalf. How do we identify the risks? How do we identify those potential opportunities that I talked about?

And increasingly I think we're seeing clients wanting more detail. So, understanding bringing the granularity of some of those things. And that's great, that's really fantastic.

The other thing is I think this will accelerated by the impacts of COVID, but I think there's an increasing focus on the S. If you think about ESG, so environment social governance. I think there's an increasing focus on the S, particularly around how companies approach their key asset in terms of their workforce.  There's been talk about that through this crisis in terms of how companies are looking after their people, but then also things like human rights and modern slavery which very often sits hidden in Supply Chains for companies. And again, that's a kind of key issue I think for clients and increasingly so.

Kimon: And finally, David, your views on maybe engagement with clients around moving to a new low carbon economy.

David: So, I think we've done an increasing amount of engagement around this. I think one of the things that we've seen a number of clients do is kind of set out their own ambitions in terms of how they want to align their overall portfolio. So very often we run a part of their portfolio, but they are looking to align their overall portfolio with, for example, Paris aligned ambitions, which is effectively net zero by 2050. And we need to be very clear in our minds how we can help their clients achieve that, and what contributions we can make. So those are increasingly complicated types of conversations that were having

Kimon: Well David, thank you very much for that. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

David: Thank you, it’s great see you and I hope the sun will come out eventually.

Kimon: And to our viewers out there, I hope you enjoyed our discussion with David Sheasby and stay online. Thank you.

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