Stockholm (NordSIP) – Earlier this month, Norwegian pension giant KLP announced promoting senior analyst Kiran Aziz to Head of Responsible Investments. Aziz is hardly a stranger to NordSIP’s readers, having contributed to many of our publications. Upon hearing the news of the well-deserved promotion, we reached out to her to congratulate her and hear more about her background, her thoughts on sustainability and what she aims to achieve in her new role.
“It is such a great opportunity,” exclaims Aziz. “Having worked at KLP for a couple of years now, I am confident that my personal values are well-aligned with the company’s proposition, and this sense of ownership and belonging is really important to me.” KLP is known for the serious and ambitious work they do in the field of sustainable finance, with plenty of dedicated resources, on a group level as well as on the asset management side of the business. “ESG is embedded in the organisation at KLP,” says Aziz. “I don’t feel like I need to convince anyone how important sustainability is here,” she adds.
“Just before joining KLP, I was seriously considering a career in academia,” recalls Aziz. After working as an international tax lawyer at Ernst & Young for a few years, she went on to lecture and research at BI Norwegian Business School. She was involved in the FairTax project for EU as well as cooperating with a former employee from the World Bank on a project with relation to Tax Responsible Investments. “It was during my time at BI that I realised I really wanted to be a practitioner, and that the intersection between law, finance and impact finance is perfect for me,” she adds.
As a newly appointed head of the organisation, Aziz is aware of the need to prioritise among the many sustainability issues that need to be tackled, like the climate, biodiversity, or labour rights. Asked to pick the one aspect that is most important to focus on going forward, however, she refuses. “For me, a holistic approach is essential, both for companies and for investors,” Aziz says. “You cannot focus on the ‘E’ in ESG only and forget about the ‘S’ and the ‘G’,” she adds.
Aziz is eager to use all the tools in the palette of a responsible investor, from engagement and voting to exclusions. “With exclusions, we need to be very selective and use them wisely, though, if we want to utilise their powerful impact fully,” she warns. Not that Aziz shies away from reverting to this drastic tool, as evidenced, for instance, earlier this year, by KLP’s exclusion of the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited on the basis that the company’s activities in Myanmar and its business partnership with the country’s military. Yet, she also emphasises the need to be a patient and long-term investor. “Long-termism is embedded in KLP’s strategy,” she points out. “It takes time to engage with stakeholders meaningfully.”
Aziz seems determined to apply the same patience and long-term view on her role as a newly appointed boss, too. “It takes time to become a good leader,” she comments. “I have, however, got plenty of motivation, and I genuinely enjoy seeing different people’s perspectives, which should hopefully help,” she says without a trace of false modesty.
The new leader’s passion for diversity shines through when she talks about her Pakistani heritage. “I have been privileged to grow up in Norway with many opportunities, yet I must admit I miss the diversity, chaos and lack of predictability of Pakistan,” she says. “And, lets’ face it, the world at large looks more like Pakistan than like Norway when it comes to many challenges as inequalities, the immense impact of climate change, gender equality to mention some. For me belonging to such different countries gives me an advantage in terms of understanding the local context and perspective. I believe it is important that we all learn to embrace diversity,” she urges.
Aziz sounds optimistic that the financial industry is on the right track. “The momentum is there, both among companies and investors, increasingly aware that a strong ESG focus can safeguard a company’s long-term success,” she says. “There is a push, both from regulators and from the public, especially the younger generations. It is becoming obvious that if you want to stay relevant, you need to embrace sustainability,” concludes Aziz.
Photo courtesy of KLP