The proliferation of investments based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors has led to multiple measures of related corporate behavior, which can be problematic for financial advisors serving clients who want to invest in sustainable assets.
How can they assess with confidence that ESG rating of any one company and compare it to the ESG rating of another, or compare one ESG-focused funds to another knowing that the funds, too, use different ESG metrics, of varying quality.
Financial advisors have another incentive to understand and compare ESG ratings. According to Morningstar and Barron’s, U.S. funds with high sustainability ratings tend to perform better than funds with lower ratings. In addition, TruValue Labs and Quantopian found that a portfolio of companies in the S&P 500 scoring high on their ESG Insight and ESG Momentum Scores outperformed the benchmark index over a five-year period.
Despite the stronger performance of these companies and funds, there are issues with ESG data. Close to 70% of institutional asset owners surveyed by Morgan Stanley recently said that lack of quality ESG data is one of their biggest challenges when investing according to ESG principles. Nearly 60% reported they did not have access to adequate tools to assess how investments align with their sustainability goals.
“There is no common standard for ESG reporting due to self-reporting by companies and data content providers each having their own ranking system in place,” reports Celent, a research and consulting firm focused on financial services technology, in a recent study.
The study reviewed some of the leading data content providers for ESG, and found that some, including Reuters and Morningstar, use a “controversy score” that can offset corporate self-reporting, which allows companies to cherry pick their best data. Advisors can use the information as a guide when assessing even ESG reports from other data providers not included in the Celent report.
Here are some of its highlights:
Thomson Reuters. A database on more than 7,000 companies across the globe, including 1,000 for whom the data goes back about 15 years or so, based on corporate sustainability reports, annual reports and websites; SEC filings, NGO websites and news sources.
Corporate self-reported data is classified according to 10 prominent themes, including emissions and human rights that are discounted for significant ESG controversies.