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ESG Investing: More Training, Better Data Will Increase Demand

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A growing percentage of portfolio managers and research analysts consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in their investment analysis and decisions, but many receive no training for those efforts, according to a new survey from the CFA Institute.

(Related: Third of UBS Assets Are in Sustainable or Impact Investments)

The survey of close to 1,600 portfolio managers and analysts worldwide found that while 73% of respondents take ESG issues into account in their investment analysis and decision-making, less than one-third report that employees at their firms are trained to do so, and only about half consider ESG issues on a regular basis. Miscellaneous sources, including research papers, books, conferences and case studies were the primary sources for training in firms that provide it.

(Related: More Sustainable Investments Are Beating the Competition)

Risk management followed by client demand were the key reasons given by those who employ ESG analysis and investing.

Demand from clients is also the primary reason that respondents who don’t use ESG analysis would consider in reversing that position, according to the CFA survey.

Portfolio managers and analysts who use ESG factors apply them primarily to equity assets, followed by fixed income, and governance is the key ESG factor they consider. The most popular governance factors are board accountability and human capital.

Almost $23 billion was invested in ESG-related assets at the beginning of 2016, according to the latest data from the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. About one-third of those assets were professionally managed in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-fifth of professionally managed U.S. assets, according to the U.S. Forum for Sustainable Investing (USSIF).

The CFA survey found that more portfolio managers and analysts would likely incorporate ESG analysis into their investment decisions if they had better data. The three primary factors limiting firms’ use of ESG analysis and investments, were a lack of appropriate quantitative ESG data, a lack of comparability across firms and the questionable quality of the available data. Half the respondents favored audit-quality independent verification to verify ESG disclosures, up from just 6% in 2015.

The survey covered portfolio managers and research analysists in three regions: the Americas; Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA, which is primarily Europe); and Asia Pacific. European managers and analysts use ESG analysis the most: 85% versus 81% in Asia and 68% in the Americas. European respondents are also more likely to get ESG training: 43% compared with about 30% in Asia and the Americas.

As has been reported in other studies, ESG investing is more popular among women than men and among millennials compared to Gen Xers and baby boomers. Sixty-two percent of female analysts and portfolio managers surveyed systemically employ ESG analysis and investing compared with 49% of men. Seventy-eight percent of millennials take ESG factors into account compared with 74% of Gen Xers and 68% of baby boomers.

Almost half the male respondents in the survey said ESG issues are immaterial or add no value to their investment analysis compared with 18% of women.

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