Who is in your investment team and what are their roles and responsibilities?
The Sustainable Funds Group includes investment professionals based in Edinburgh, London, Singapore and Sydney. Team members’ experience in the industry averages 13 years, and tenure with the team averages 7 years1, ranging from several decades through to recent graduate hires. Further details on each team member are available here.
Everyone on the investment team is first and foremost a company research analyst. Portfolio managers are simply analysts with additional responsibilities. Engagement and voting decisions are fully integrated into the responsibilities of all analysts.
The Lead Portfolio Managers are responsible for selecting investee companies for inclusion in the portfolio, managing portfolio risk and adhering to the strategy and risk parameters. The Lead Portfolio Managers are supported by Co and Deputy-Portfolio Managers, and the team of analysts.
What are the backgrounds of the team members?
How do you manage key person risk?
We have established a process for handing over lead manager responsibilities and over the years have evolved from one lead portfolio manager to six. Succession plans are in place and are reviewed on a regular basis. We assign a Lead, Co and Deputy-Portfolio Manager for each strategy. This ensures coverage for any period of absence and would enable an effective handover in the event that a PM leaves the business.
Retention of employees is important to us; team culture and a strong belief in our investment philosophy is the most effective tool to achieve this. The strength of our reputation, our long-term investment style and flat structure helps us to motivate and consequently retain employees. In addition we defer remuneration using a Long-Term Incentive Plan. A percentage of annual profits is allocated to team members and invested into the strategies for three years. This approach aligns incentives with clients.
How would you characterise the team culture?
The team’s culture is centred on the concepts of stewardship, long-termism and collaboration. Our starting point is that we acknowledge the privilege of managing others peoples’ money, and do so in a way entirely aligned with how we would manage our own. Our Hippocratic Oath codifies our approach to stewardship and includes a commitment to invest in a way which benefits society as a whole. Each team member must sign the Hippocratic Oath upon joining the firm.
We foster an environment in which analysts feel safe to admit mistakes and to challenge others robustly without taking offence. This requires a bedrock of trust and friendship which we have built over the years.
We have very little distinction in our team between analysts and portfolio managers. Everyone on the investment team is first and foremost a company research analyst. Portfolio managers are simply analysts with additional responsibilities.
Investment mistakes can arise when people identify too strongly with their ideas or beliefs, and hold on to them as sources of identity. To avoid this, we do not assign companies to specific analysts and aim to foster a culture in which all team members feel ownership over the portfolios as a whole, rather than their own ideas.
Analysts do not specialise by sector or geography; we believe that there are huge benefits to being a generalist, principally in terms of the ability to think laterally. Narrow specialisations can lead to sub-optimal behavioural and capital allocation outcomes. There are strong benefits to a geographically unconstrained remit; running Asian and global equity strategies alongside emerging markets has been hugely beneficial to us in developing an understanding of the dynamics of various industries.
We have no Chief Investment Officer or “house view”. There is likely no single holding on which all team members agree, and we view this as a positive measure of the health of our team’s diversity of thought, culture and willingness to respectfully disagree. Group-think, confirmation bias and motivated reasoning are all important behavioural risks we endeavour to mitigate.
While our approach to research and debate is highly collegiate, we do not believe in investment by committee. Individual responsibility is important and each portfolio is managed by a Lead Portfolio Manager who has accountability for investment decisions for that portfolio.
How diverse is your investment team?
The Sustainable Funds Group investment team is diverse across nationality, ethnicity, educational background, work experience, age, culture, language, gender and location. The team believes that diversity and inclusion contributes to better decision-making and consequently improves investment outcomes. Team members’ educational backgrounds range from Ecological Economics to Chinese Language and Literacy. We believe a mix of people with financial and non-financial backgrounds leads to more dynamic conversations and more diverse perspectives. Previous work experiences of team members include land use policy in Africa, journalism in Pakistan and environmental policy in Antarctica.
Our approach to recruitment aims to increase collective diversity and inclusion without setting specific targets. On gender diversity our two most recent analyst hires have been female (2020 and 2021) and we have recently promoted two female analysts to the role of Co-Portfolio Manager. Diversity statistics are collected and published annually by our parent, First Sentier Investors (FSI). Further information is available here and also in the FSI Responsible Investment Report.