Over the past few months, we have seen several calls to action make their way onto executive and board agendas, driven in part by efforts such as the new Davos manifesto, and the August 2019 letter from the Business Roundtable redefining the purpose of the corporation.
As a result, the business community has been placed under increased scrutiny. Stakeholders want to know how they are adapting their business models to create value for business and society over the long-term. It is a shift away from shareholder primacy which serves to broaden the way companies incorporate stakeholder needs as part of business decisions.
COVID-19 exemplifies the interdependent relationship a company has with the community it serves, and highlights the prominent role that impact and key environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have in contributing to the resilience of a business. As we continue to navigate the uncharted waters presented by the pandemic, there are important lessons fueling the momentum for impact and ESG as the new normal in investing.
As we continue to navigate the uncharted waters presented by the pandemic, there are important lessons fueling the momentum for impact and ESG as the new normal in investing.
Investors play a critical role in driving the shift to stakeholder capitalism. Indeed, there are now a growing number of retail and institutional investors actively scrutinizing companies based on the way they manage ESG risks and opportunities related to their operations.
Some of these investors are going even further, seeking out opportunities to invest in companies based on the positive impact they are able to create through the solutions their products and services provide to social and environmental challenges.
Many large financial institutions are responding to investor demand. Goldman Sachs announced in late 2019, for example, that they would channel US$750 billion towards investments related to climate and inclusive growth.1 BlackRock — already a leader in sustainable investing — announced in January 2020 the launch of its Global Impact Equity Fund as part of its efforts to increase sustainable assets in its portfolio to US$1 trillion.2
Private equity, hedge fund managers, infrastructure and real estate investors are also getting in on the action. KKR, for example, recently closed its US$1.3 billion Global Impact Fund. TPG and Bain Capital are preparing to close their second impact investing funds. In February 2020, the Carlyle Group announced their thematic approach to investing with impact across the firm. Many long-standing dedicated impact investment managers, such as LeapFrog Investments and BlueOrchard (recently acquired by the Schroders Group) are also increasingly active.
KPMG professionals' conversations across the financial services sector suggest we are in the midst of a massive shift as investors seek to deploy capital in opportunities that provide the desired risk/return profile alongside impact. Even casual observers can see that the impact investing market is heading for continued growth.
COVID-19 is resulting in many reexamining both their core values and the factors that drive value in a business. A number of these factors are consistent with the attributes of impactful companies, including an organization’s agility, culture, employee and brand loyalty. The intentionality of the positive impact it has on stakeholders is critical, in particular the solutions it offers to societal challenges through its business model.
Many are now asking how can businesses adapt, and do things differently in the future to maintain these gains and emphasize these attributes as we emerge from COVID-19? How can this be more broadly incorporated into investment objectives?
COVID-19 exemplifies the interdependent relationship a company has with the community it serves, and highlights the prominent role that impact and key ESG factors have in contributing to the resilience of a business.
Another imperative highlighted by COVID-19 is trust. While many investors are embracing the pursuit of impact as part of their investment approach, some are skeptical absent a standard measurement approach, and definitions that govern impact.
Our view suggests that, if financial institutions want to scale up their impact products and attract more investment capital, they will need to focus on improving trust. Furthermore, our experience supporting the growth of impact investing suggests there are three broad areas where financial institutions should be focusing in order to help drive investor engagement and build trust.
There should be no doubt that impact will play a significant role in financial services in a post-COVID-19 world with its appeal to a broader range of investors beyond those who identify as impact investors. With the increasing number of businesses that identify as purpose-driven, and the momentum building to establish standards around ESG and impact frameworks and metrics, the work of asset managers and asset owners will become easier.
While we encourage financial institutions to focus on building trust with their clients and investors, we also advocate continued cooperation at the industry level. Indeed, it will take concerted efforts across the impact investing ecosystem if the industry hopes to drive growth in this market.
Considering impact as part of investment decisions is the future of finance. Welcome to the era of enlightened capital.