Awards spotlight: WHEB Asset Management

31st January 2020

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Seb Beloe, head of research and partner at the company, talks about the investment industry's future and winning IEMA's Sustainable Finance Award

What differentiates WHEB from other asset managers?

There has been a huge swell in ESG investing, targeting companies according to governance, how they manage health and safety and so on. However, we focus on impact investing, looking at how companies' products enable and benefit from a shift to a more sustainable economy. There are still very few investment managers that focus exclusively on this area. An oil and gas company, for example, could have great ESG, but could never say its products are enabling a low-carbon economy.

Why are there not more investors like WHEB?

The received wisdom from fund managers is to invest across the whole market in order to diversify your sources of growth. That is held as a self-evident truth, but we disagree. The transition to a zero-carbon economy will have to happen at some point, and if you take that view, then there are parts of the economy that you don't want exposure to because they have no future. Most of the market doesn't want to move away from the ability to invest in everything, but for us, investing in some parts of the economy is not attractive at all.

What can be done to discourage short-term thinking?

Investors like to think they are very independent and objective, but there is definitely an echo chamber in different parts of the investment world, and attitudes to the fossil fuel industry. The threat from electric vehicles or renewables is downplayed routinely, but it is a matter of time before investors see the impact these technologies are having. The problem is that we don't have time, and we need policymakers, pension funds and individuals to push this agenda as quickly as possible. I also think its important to get a positive message across. Some companies will suffer in this transition, but others will do well. There are a huge amount of jobs to be had, and it is a massive investment opportunity.

“It's really important to get a positive message across“

Should governments force asset managers to make sustainable investments?

Five years ago I would have said yes, now I am not sure. It depends on how regulators define sustainability, and in our view they have got a lot of those definitions wrong. It's better for policymakers to change the underlying market – so get a carbon price in place that drives progress in terms of the technology and buildings people use. Governments should focus on a carbon price, and shifting markets, products and services; investors will follow the money.

Will there be more asset managers like WHEB in the next decade?

If there aren't, we are all toast! We have five years to get this right. If we haven't got the policies in place, and are on a trajectory towards net zero-carbon by 2050 at the latest, and don't have those foundations in place, I think it is unlikely we will achieve that. We will be heading towards 3ÀöC of warming or more, and that would be catastrophic. If the asset management industry doesn't look more like WHEB within the next five years we will be in trouble – but there has been progress, even during the past two years.

What did you think of IEMA's awards ceremony?

I have been a member of IEMA for 15 years, and when I joined it felt like a small community fighting this battle. I was expecting 100 people at most, sandwiches and a cup of tea, but it was one of the most glam, high-energy conference awards I have been to – a fantastic experience. We win a lot of awards in the finance world from people who are not necessarily sustainability experts, so it was a real accolade to win an award from people who are the experts.

WHEB Highlights

  • WHEB's current investment strategy, launched in April 2012, had outperformed the MSCI World benchmark on a gross basis by five percentage points at the end of February 2019
  • During that time, the fund has grown from £30m to £300m. The fund is invested in companies that annually help to avoid more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2e, generating 133,000 MWh of renewable energy, treating 18,000 tonnes of waste and 3bn litres of waste water, and providing 11,000 people with healthcare treatment and 22,000 days of tertiary education
  • WHEB has also published an 'impact calculator' that enables clients to calculate the impact associated with their own investment in the fund – a world first.

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