Stockholm (NordSIP) – Following up on the results of the IRRI Survey published a few weeks ago, we went to find out how sustainable investment works at the asset management arm of one of Sweden’s largest financial institutions: SEB. We met with Anette Andersson, ESG Investment Specialist, who described how she and the team drive sustainability within the organisation and what their challenges are.
“Here we are very few ESG specialists working in a dedicated sustainability team,” Andersson starts, “because we have integrated expertise in each asset class. We are only four in the team supporting the organisation with expertise. We drive our own dialogue with Swedish and other Nordic companies; now we have even developed our engagement with companies beyond the Nordic borders, specifically focusing on occupied territories. Given the size of our team, we can’t possibly do everything ourselves, so we do collaborative engagement with PRI and IIGCC for instance, and also work with London-based Hermes EOS who engages with stakeholders globally.”
Another area Andersson is active in is education. “I spend quite a lot of time in front of students, at the University and in the different higher education schools, like the Stockholm School of Economics and the Royal Institute of Technology. We target future economists and financiers, as well as engineers. I also meet many clients. We see a high level of interest from institutions who come to us. Sustainability is so complex and broad, and clients sometimes don’t know where to start. They all have different goals and priorities. ‘How should we think? How should we set our placement policy?’, they ask. We try and help by giving them smaller bits to chew.”
Before driving ESG efforts within SEB asset management centrally, Andersson was the fund manager responsible SEB’s ethical fund. Initially, she entered the realm of sustainability as she took charge of a mandate for the Church of Sweden’s portfolio. “Initially, this meant mainly implementing exclusions, but it got more sophisticated over time,” comments Andersson. “In 2008, SEB became a PRI signatory, and the evolution of our strategy evolved around that. Today, 25 percent of our funds’ capital is managed according to our highest sustainable criteria. It has been a really exciting journey: five years ago it was only a few percents. We also have several more niche products that are targeted at sustainable issues. One of our Swedish funds has received the “Swan label” which rewards fund dedicated to the environment. We also offer a Green Bond fund and microfinance funds for our institutional clients.”
For Andersson however, the work certainly doesn’t stop here. “We are working extensively to make our mainstream offering more sustainable, not just the niche themed products. My biggest challenge now is to use my time as efficiently as I can. We need to get everyone to walk at the same pace. SEB has 15,000 employees, and to inform and educate everyone is crucial, but it takes time. We need to make people understand that it’s not about saving trees anymore; it’s about processes and how to find opportunities and identify the risks, and that creates value. It’s a journey everyone should be part of.”
Sweden is often seen as being at the forefront in sustainable investing. That said, as evidenced by the IRRI survey, the expertise of asset managers is not always as visible as that of their international peers. “Sweden is great because the market is small and we all work together, even with our competitors, officially but also unofficially. That’s why we have come so far.” Sometimes, however, institutions that have already gone quite far into their sustainability journey, like SEB, forget how important it is to communicate how well they are doing. Andersson proudly reminds us: “SEB is the only Nordic bank in the Dow Jones sustainability index. That’s quite an achievement because many companies are competing for that spot. To qualify the companies can’t just be good, they have to be best.”
Picture © NordSIP