Changing Fast and Slowly
Some cultural changes in business happen slowly while others happen more rapidly. Attitudes to women in the workplace have shifted over decades while investors approach to responsible investing has changed over the last five years.

Speaking at a recent lunch to celebrate International Women’s Day, four senior women from Natixis Investment Managers and its affiliates swapped stories of what it was like to start their careers in a male-dominated environment.

Estelle Castres, co-head of Western Europe at Natixis IM and Head of Insurance, talked about starting her career as proprietary trader in the early 1990s. There were a total of two female traders on the floor at the time.

Castres said: “Not only did everyone still smoke but many of my male colleagues would have pictures of scantily clad women on their computers.”

Today’s asset management industry is both more female friendly and more diverse. Nicole Downer, managing partner at MV Credit, said: “Almost 60% of our staff is female and speaks 15 different languages.”

Gwenola Chambon, CEO of Vauban Infrastructure Partners, added: “Vauban Infrastructure Partners staff is now 43% female.”

But there is more to be done. This generation wants a better work-life balance, and for their jobs to have impact and purpose, said Chambon.

Building better balance means changing the culture. Downer said: “Rather than expecting each employee to do the job of one and a half people, we need to reduce the workload so they have time to live their lives.”

This will improve the industry’s ability to produce better returns. Downer said: “An asset manager who spends 12 hours a day in an office and only thinks about work will not make good decisions.”

Fast Adoption
But while it has taken some time for diversity to improve in the asset management sector, investors have embraced the concept of responsible investing more rapidly.

Downer said: “This is an unusual investment revolution: the process started in the Nordics in Europe when investors began excluding companies about a decade ago.”

This evolved into integrating the analysis of environmental, social and governance factors which allowed investors to select ‘best-in-class’ companies. The latest iteration is to ensure investments have a positive social impact and a greater focus on ensuring investors act as responsible corporate stewards.

Downer said: “This is now a global phenomenon, with investors in Asia and the US also viewing it as an important factor.”

Chambon added: “While US investors have been late adopters of this strategy, their approach is very thorough.” They want asset managers to commit to improving their ESG performance and demonstrate they have had a positive impact.

Certain institutions have picked up the responsible investing baton more rapidly than others. Castres said: “Insurance companies have driven the rapid increase in the demand for ESG integration. Assessing environmental risk is part of an insurer’s DNA, as they are often underwriting risk for severe weather events, such as hurricanes and floods” she adds.

Castres said: “In the future it’s likely the capital charges imposed on insurance companies will vary according to the climate-change risk associated with a particular investment.

Where the insurance industry has led, others now follow. Castres says: “First it was other institutions like pension funds now it’s also other wealth managers and family officers.”

Esty Dwek, Global Head of Market Strategy at Natixis Investment Solutions, says: “Assessing these factors will become standard procedure for investors looking to build sustainable portfolios.”