Even though responsible investment has come a long way in the past few decades, it seems it is still uncomfortable to talk about the sustainability aspect of finance. Yet Covid-19 is changing society’s expectations towards the environment and it may soon be “cool” to acknowledge values as a fundamental asset for the post-lockdown investment industry.
Converting gas emitted from landfills near Bangkok into renewable energy contributes to improvements in the local environment and living standards. This is just one of the examples of responsible investment practices.
In the face of the global pandemic, investors and companies feel the urge to unite in order to do more in the sustainable finance field. However, as we discover in the Responsible Investor Digital Festival: Summer 2020, it is still not easy for people to say that they are in this field because they want to improve things, to do better and to see finance as a part of the solutions to issues like clean air, biodiversity or stronger communities.
The demand for the right talent is already higher than one can expect
Jane Ambachtsheer, a Global Head of Sustainability at BNP Paribas, says that the industry looks like night and day compared to 20 years ago and she is happy to have chosen a career in finance with a sustainability approach.
“It’s been a fantastic choice in terms of being able to have a career where I focus on what is important to me and the world. I think we can unlock the potential in finance to accelerate a positive change.”
Jane admits she was blessed to work with some prominent and supportive people in the field that allowed her to help shape what was a very young field at the time. She also adds that there is a much bigger demand for the talent who would want to work with sustainability issues than there is supply at the moment.
“Recruitment firms are definitely looking for more and more people who can speak both finance and sustainability languages.”Says Jane
No excuse for unsustainable actions
Jane says there is no better time than now to start developing career in responsible investment.
It is a fantastic time to bring sustainability into what you do in finance. For instance, [at our firm] we have five different pillars of sustainable investing, each of which uses different skill sets, resources and parts of organisation.
And no matter what you are investing in, you should be thinking about the relevant sustainability goal. There is no shortage of opportunities to get involved. Within the organisation, figure out what they are not doing that aligns with sustainability values and start taking actions on how to help them do it.
Speaking up is the way to start making progress
Geeta Aiyer who combines over 30 years of experience in finance, and a great passion for the environmental and social justice, says that coming from India and before entering business school, she had seen the world in a way that narrow spreadsheets could not confine one’s vision.
We had seen the extent to which the effects of corporate actions could change lives for people. But I also feel that I was the ultimate outsider – I was the first person of colour hired by my consulting firm, I was the first woman to join the management committee in the investment firm which was called “Boys Club Plus One” when I joined.
Geeta says she came to a point where she realised she had to tap down the things that were different about her so that other can hear what she had to say.
“Seek a place in them that is ready for change and wants to see a better world.”
The look into the future
Apparently, it is essential to have long-term thinking if we want to see changes in the investment industry.
“If we look into the next five years, a “newer area” that people who are willing to work in this field might find relevant, is emerging markets”, says Jane.
“There are way too many investors in Europe focusing on engaging with European companies when I think we need to branch out and look what are the companies, countries, and decisions in terms of sustainable or unsustainable infrastructure that we are building out in different economies which will impact our future so much more than most people appreciate.”
Another area, according to Jane, is looking into the impact of investors on public policy. She admits that the industry is at the beginning of a fact of engaging with policymakers and that there is still much left to do in terms of defining the collaboration goals, rules, and relevant topics.
In addition, Jane says that partnering with NGOs can allow having a great deal of impact on shaping the responsible investment field.
“For people getting into the field, my advice is to look at the topics that interest you and NGOs in your local market and get involved. It is a great way to give back and also develop your skills. I think if we have more partnerships between big investment firms and NGOs we can accelerate positive change even more quickly.”