Responsible Investment and the Faith-Based Investor

Nov 23, 2020 10:15 AM ET

by Lloyd Kurtz, CFA, Wells Fargo Private Bank 

Are we at a Tipping Point? There can be no doubt that the field of responsible investment is in the midst of a series of significant changes. Rating systems are moving from the qualitative toward the quantitative, and subjective research techniques are being challenged by artificial intelligence and big data. The structure of the industry is also shifting, with mainstream investment managers entering a field that for many years has been served mainly by specialized boutiques. Brian Bruce, the editor of the Journal of Investing, recently surveyed the 30 largest asset management organizations and found that every one of them now claims to have Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) capability.1

Some might also note a shift in emphasis in the field away from values – especially religious values, and toward disclosure standards and empirical tests of ESG performance within an industry. One way to see this change is in the relative prevalence of exclusions, which tend to be more values-based, and ESG integration, which tends to have a more quantitative and sustainability-oriented character. The distinction can be subtle, but it is very important: exclusions are typically about what a company does, ESG integration is typically about how the company does.

The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance reports that the two approaches are now roughly comparable in scope: exclusions are employed in the management of $19.8 trillion in assets globally; ESG integration accounts for $17.5 trillion, but is growing faster (but many managers employ both techniques, so there is some double-counting in these figures).

So does this represent a tipping point? Will values-based exclusions soon be eclipsed by newer approaches? I strongly doubt it, for two reasons.  First, the wealth management market – particularly in the U.S. – is more focused on religious values than many realize. And second, faith-based investors have not just been a part of the responsible investment movement, they were its creators, and remain vital to its success. 

Read Mr. Kurtz's full article and his impressive bio here - 


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