Meet Handelsbanken AM’s New Head of Sustainability

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – Following four years as an ESG Investment Analyst at Skandia Liv and 11 years as Senior Engagement Manager and Senior ESG analyst at GES (acquired by Sustainalytics in 2019), Aurora Samuelsson became the Head of Sustainability Handelsbanken Asset Management in the middle of February.

    Samuelsson’s ESG journey started as a fresh graduate from the University of Kent at the end of 2003. “I did an internship at Amnesty International Sweden. I started and developed a special volunteer group working on Human Rights risk analysis for Swedish state-owned companies in order to inform them of what risk context they were operating in depending on the country. So next year it will be 20 years since I started working with ESG risks related to companies. It is still as interesting and challenging as it was then but now we are many more people working with ESG compared to 2003, which is great,” Samuelsson tells NordSIP.

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    Challenges Ahead

    In her new role, Samuelsson’s focus will be on compliance with EU regulations, data usage, cooperation with in-house portfolio managers and investee companies and tackling potential misalignments between investment and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “One of our main priorities, in the short term, is to accurately implement and report according to the EU regulations,” Samuelsson says.

    “ESG-data in general and climate data, in particular, are another challenge. It is important that we have an open discussion related to data and that we be aware of what it is actually telling us. We need to focus on and discuss how to use total and absolute emissions as complements to relative data. It is important that we make decisions based on reality and not only on relative aspects. There is a mismatch in what is reported and real-world emissions. Total and absolute emissions are globally increasing while at the same time many companies claim to be reducing their emissions,” Samuelsson explains.

    “I look forward to continuing the ambitious work that Handelsbanken Asset Management started several years ago by working closely with our portfolio managers and with the companies we are investing in. Another challenge is to work with goal conflicts where a company in one way is positively contributing to Agenda 2030 but on the other hand may face severe ESG risks due to where they operate or how they operate,” Samuelsson adds.

    Making Real Changes

    For the new Head of Sustainability, biodiversity, social issues and human rights, the Agenda 2030 are the dominant sustainable investment themes going forward. “Biodiversity is one key concern that is not perhaps a trend but where we see an increasing awareness and constructive discussions. Some companies are already reporting on biodiversity risks and how they manage these risks. I would encourage more companies to start working on this and not wait for a final, perfect reporting framework,” Samuelsson argues.

    “Social issues and human rights risks are also concerns that are more pragmatically discussed alongside the climate change challenge. On a more positive note we also see that more investors are working hard to identify and invest in companies contributing to solutions driving the Agenda 2030 forward. At Handelsbanken Fonder we often say that Agenda 2030 is the world’s largest investment order and our vision is to create sustainable financial returns and ease the burden of the planet. In addition to all of this we all need to act quickly since the time we have available to actually make real changes is limited,” she continues.

    Swedish Idiosyncracies

    According to Samuelsson, Sweden stands out from the rest of the Nordics regarding sustainable investments due to the history and awareness created by its very specific pension system. “I think that one historic difference is that many Swedes invested in mutual funds early on due to our pension system, which means many they are aware and have invested in funds for some time compared to people in other markets,” Samuelsson says.

    “When it comes to sustainable investments we have had a quite long history of ethical elements in some funds. In the case of Handelsbanken Asset Management, we started our first fund with an ethical investments strategy in 2005. Being an early adopter is itself something that stands out about Sweden. Therefore sustainable investments in Sweden have worked for a long time with both exclusions and selecting solution companies contributing positively to society,” she adds.

    Managing Geopolitical Risks

    Last but not least, sustainable investments require constant monitoring of ongoing geopolitical developments. “Our starting point has been that we invest in companies, not in countries, but companies are clearly affected by the country in which they operate. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it painfully clear, and it is not the only example. The military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 made it difficult for the companies operating in the country to avoid indirectly contributing to the ongoing human rights violations,” Samuelsson explains.

    “Geopolitical change is something we follow closely and include in our constant ongoing analysis. Handelsbanken Asset Management had limited exposure to the Russian market and we acted quickly and were able to exit from most of our exposure. That was an immediate effect at that time and we also temporarily closed one of our funds due to difficulties in valuing final existing exposures in Russian companies,” she concludes.

    Image courtesy of Handelsbanken
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