Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Day three of CFA UK’s virtual conference saw a range of discussions, from how to drive stewardship forward, build more racially and ethnically diverse institutions, and lessons and thoughts from leading practitioners.
Day three of CFA UK’s virtual conference, Inclusion at the Heart of ESG, explored a range of compelling challenges and issues that the investment industry needs to address, if it is to drive further change.
Marilyn Swinney, CFA, member of CFA UK’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee and managing director and head of institutional sales for UK and Ireland at Principal Global Investors, welcomed attendees and emphasised the importance of inclusion.
“Opening the session today, in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis, given the events of the last two weeks, I’m more convinced than ever that we are all interconnected in some way because of our intersectionality or even our values, be it climate change or social justice. It’s a reminder that we all have a part to play in driving the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda globally, and I see ESG factors at the core,” she said.
The first panel discussion, Actioning Stewardship, was moderated by Arun Kelshiker, CFA, vice chair of the CFA UK Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and head of environmental and social at Georgeson.
Deborah Gilshan, founder of The 100% Club, emphasised that investment stewardship was fundamental to the role of asset managers and asset owners, distinct from portfolio management and ESG integration, while Tilly Franklin, chief executive officer and chief investment officer at Cambridge Investment Management discussed the decision of the Cambridge University Endowment Fund – one of the biggest of its kind in Europe – to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030, as part of the University’s plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2038.
However, Franklin said she believed that divestment was just one ‘tool in the toolkit’, pointing out that divestment meant assets still remain in the market. “For me, engagement with fund managers is the most important element of our approach,” she said.
Anubhuti Gupta, CFA, head of investments APAC at Rosenberg Equities, and chief investment officer at AXA-IM Singapore, talked about the progress seen in the region, but also some of the challenges to stewardship, including the diverse approaches country by country, the fact that there are already nine stewardship codes in play, and that broadly, institutional ownership concentration is low in APAC, (with the exception of Japan and Australia).
“What it does is that it makes it that much harder for institutional investors to be motivated and effective in their role as stewards,” she said.
For her part, Gilshan argued that stewardship should not be a zero sum game between divestment and engagement, pointing out that shareholders need to exercise all their rights, for example in the UK, the right of voting on issues of governance on companies, to call an Annual General Meeting, or proposing a shareholder resolution.
“I would really be keen to see investment stewardship move outside of engagement and divestment but more to the full spectrum of rights available to equity and bond holders,” she said.
The second panel discussion of the day, Driving DEI Within Financial Services Organisations – a practioners’ perspective, brought together Noreen Biddle Shah, founder of reboot. and head of marketing and communications at Numis, Leanne Mair, managing director and co-founder of Benefactum Consulting, Mark Freed, co-founder of E2W Services, and Dominie Moss, founder and managing director at The Return Hub. The panel was moderated by Victoria Thompson, CFA, member of the CFA UK Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and EMEA risk governance and strategy lead at JPMorgan Chase.
Participants discussed data from the Women in Finance Charter and recent stats on the gender pay gap, illustrating the fact that much more still needs to be done.
“There’s been an awful lot of pressure, a lot of that is coming from government and policy, to get the financial services industry to do a lot more. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of setting targets, and a lot of activities, although progress has been relatively slow,” said Moss.
Biddle Shah discussed some of the sobering statistics from reboot.’s inaugural Race to Equality report, around ethnic minority respondents’ experience of discrimination in their organisations, the commitment of companies to diversity and inclusion, and career progression concerns.
Mair discussed the importance of intersectionality, and about the need to move beyond tokenism. “It’s great having me at the table, but can I actually change anything going forward? For a lot of people, that’s the bottle neck or the rub, they might be in the room, but how much does their vote count?” she said.
The group also discussed the importance of changing recruitment practices, raising awareness from senior leadership, and the change that is being driven by investors themselves.
“We have to understand as straight white men in many ways the culture is us. We set the culture, we set the values, because we are at the top of the organisation. We need to open our eyes to the relative advantage that gives us, and to how our accidental sexism and racism affects and prohibits the progress of people from other groups,” said Freed.
The next panel brought together members of CFA UK’s Black Professionals Working Group, and was introduced by Natalie Gregoire-Skeete, CFA, and moderated by Fola Anjorin, CFA, senior business analyst at Capital World Consultants. The session was entitled Race and Finance: asset managers fail to walk the walk, in a nod to a Financial Times article of the same name. Panellists explored their own experiences of entering the industry and navigating their careers. Caroline Vincent, ASIP, fund manager at Wesleyan, discussed her ‘unconventional’ path into financial services, wanting to be an accountant or lawyer and being told she should focus on being a nurse or secretary. Vincent, an industry veteran, also talked about leaving one role when it became clear that there was a ceiling she wouldn’t be able to break through.
Aneka Beneby, CFA, discretionary portfolio manager at Julius Baer International, who was born and raised in the Bahamas, talked about growing up seeing black people and black professionals thriving in leadership positions across all sectors of society, while Justin Onuekwusi, CFA, head of retail investments, EMEA, Legal & General Invest Management, discussed growing up in a single parent household in Manchester, finding his way to the actuarial world, before realising that he wanted to work in investment consulting. Onuekwusi, who was awarded the Freedom of the City of London in 2020, also discussed his experiences of being co-founder of #talkaboutblack, a movement which focusing on creating more senior black corporate leaders, and other initiatives.
Panellists discussed the important of gathering data and insights on representation figures, the need to build mentorship and sponsorship programmes and to collaborate across companies, as well as the importance of organisations recognising some of the invisible barriers that impact black or ethnic minority workers.
Later in the afternoon, Aoifinn Devitt, chief investment officer at Moneta Group, held a fireside chat with Mitesh Sheth, chief investment officer, multi-asset at Newton Investment Management, and former chief executive officer of Redington.
Sheth discussed his own experience of growing up in the UK with immigrant parents from East Africa, and taking part in a programme for young people growing up in inner cities and other disadvantaged parts of the UK. The group were taken to the Lake District to build on their social and other skills.
“One gentlemen from Aon took an interest, heard I was good at maths, and encouraged me to look at the actuarial profession. He kept in touch with me and learnt that I was struggling once I had gotten into the actuarial route to get a job, and he kindly introduced me to his HR team for a summer internship. The rest was history,” he said.
Sheth described dealing with ‘imposter syndrome’ and building sustainable inclusive working environments. “Moving to a place of curiosity, rather than a place of assumptions, is the most inclusive thing you can do,” he said.
Sheth and Devitt were followed by Helena Morrissey, the financier, author, and campaigner, who talked about the lack of progress in bringing women into portfolio management positions, the need for greater inclusion of ethnic and racial minority groups, as well as addressing disability, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, or even socio economic diversity inclusion.
“Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that no progress has been made all. So I joined the investment industry almost thirty-five years ago. And at that place in time, I’d say workplace culture was really quite antagonistic, not just to women but to anybody who wasn’t white, male, middle class, and privately-educated. And today there is a widespread belief, in contrast, that diversity and inclusion are important. It’s just that we don’t quite know what to do about it,” she said.
Morrissey, who is chair of The Diversity Project, highlighted the work of the organisation and its three-point plan to reach its 2026 gender targets.
The day ended with closing remarks from Racha Sibai, CFA, member of CFA UK’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and head of ecosystems and strategic partnerships at Tap Payments.