ESG bucks the trend of declining growth among world’s largest asset managers

Assets managed in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) mandates by the 500 largest asset managers in the world rose by 23.3 per cent in 2018, in contrast to their overall assets under management (AUM), which were down 3 per cent from the previous year, according to the latest Global 500 research from the Thinking Ahead Institute.

Assets managed according to ESG principles also increased over the year, by 17.8 per cent.
 
The research was conducted in conjunction with Pensions & Investments, a leading international investment newspaper.
 
Sustainability and the importance of culture in the effective practice of investment organisations were key areas of interest in 2018. The report notes that connecting the dots from culture to strategy, to beliefs and values, and to vision and mission, has become a critical leadership challenge and opportunity. A stronger underlying purpose, beyond the pursuit of only growth and profit, is identified as a differentiating factor in an overcrowded industry facing a challenging environment. Client interest in sustainable investing, including voting, increased across 83 per cent of the firms surveyed.
 
Bob Collie, Head of Research at the Thinking Ahead Institute, says: “Sustainability has now become an unavoidable issue and talk on sustainability is becoming action. There is obviously a saying-doing gap in a lot of places, but perhaps more important right now is the doing-impact gap: our ability to create a more sustainable economy lags behind the desire. The most meaningful efforts on this front are the ones focused on closing that gap.
 
“There is also a growing appreciation of the importance of culture. Good culture does not appear by accident, and our ability to assess and adapt it is developing. There’s room for improvement here.”
 
The research also found that some 242 names in the 2008 list of the global 500 asset managers are not found in the 2018 list. Whilst the past decade has been a fairly benign environment for asset managers with rising markets and strong margins, most observers expect increased pressure in the coming years from rising regulatory activity, fee compression and the high cost of technology. 81 per cent of fund managers stated that they had increased resources deployed to technology and big data, whilst 57 per cent of managers surveyed said they had experienced an increase in the level of regulatory oversight.
 
Collie adds: “The regulatory burden on the industry is a symptom of a lack of trust. Rebuilding that trust means more focus on the long term. Without a clear sense of purpose, you can end up being just another one of 500 firms fighting for elbow room in an ever-more-challenging environment.”
 
BlackRock remains the largest asset manager in the rankings, a position it has held since 2009. Meanwhile, Vanguard and State Street complete the top 3 for a fifth successive year.