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Sustainable Investing: Debunking 5 Common Myths

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Sustainable Investing Infographic

sustainable investing

This infographic is available as a poster.

Sustainable Investing: Debunking 5 Common Myths

It began as a niche desire. Originally, sustainable investing was confined to a subset of investors who wanted their investments to match their values. In recent years, the strategy has grown dramatically: sustainable assets totaled $12 trillion in 2018.

This represents a 38% increase over 2016, with many investors now considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors alongside traditional financial analysis.

Despite the strategy’s growth, lingering misconceptions remain. In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we address the five key myths of sustainable investing and shine a light on the realities.

1. Performance

MythReality
Sustainable strategies underperform conventional strategiesSustainable strategies historically match or outperform conventional strategies

In 2015, academics analyzed more than 2,000 studies—and found that in roughly 90% of the studies, companies with strong ESG profiles had equal or better financial performance than their non-ESG counterparts.

A recent ranking of the 100 most sustainable corporations found similar results. Between February 2005 and August 2018, the Global 100 Index made a net investment return of 127.35%, compared to 118.27% for the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI).

The Global 100 companies show that doing what is good for the world can also be good for financial performance.

Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights

2. Approach

MythReality
Sustainable investing only involves screening out “sin” stocksPositive approaches that integrate sustainability factors are gaining traction

In modern investing, exclusionary or “screens-based” approaches do play a large role—and tend to avoid stocks or bonds of companies in the following “sin” categories:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Firearms
  • Casinos

However, investment managers are increasingly taking an inclusive approach to sustainability, integrating ESG factors throughout the investment process. ESG integration strategies now total $17.5 trillion in global assets, a 69% increase over the past two years.

3. Longevity

MythReality
Sustainable investing is a passing fadSustainable investing has been around for decades and continues to grow

Over the past decade, sustainable strategies have shown both strong AUM growth and positive asset flows. ESG funds attracted record net flows of nearly $5.5 billion in 2018 despite unfavorable market conditions, and continue to demonstrate strong growth in 2019.

Not only that, the number of sustainable offerings has increased as well. In 2018, Morningstar recognized 351 sustainable funds—a 50% increase over the prior year.

4. Interest

MythReality
Interest in sustainable investing is mostly confined to millennials and womenThere is widespread interest in sustainable strategies, with institutional investors leading the way

Millennials are more likely to factor in sustainability concerns than previous generations. However, institutional investors have adopted sustainable investments more than any other group—accounting for nearly 75% of the managed assets that follow an ESG approach.

In addition, over half of surveyed consumers are “values-driven”, having taken one or more of the following actions with sustainability in mind:

  • Boycotted a brand
  • Sold shares of a company
  • Changed the types of products they used

Women and men are almost equally likely to be motivated by sustainable values, and half of “values-driven” consumers are open to ESG investing.

5. Asset Classes

MythReality
Sustainable investing only works for equitiesSustainable strategies are offered across asset classes

This myth has a basis in history, but other asset classes are increasingly incorporating ESG analysis. For instance, 36% of today’s sustainable investments are in fixed income.

While the number of sustainable equity investments remained unchanged from 2017-2018, fixed-income and alternative assets showed remarkable growth over the same period.

Tapping into the Potential of Sustainable Investing

It’s clear that sustainable investing is not just a buzzword. Instead, this strategy is integral to many portfolios.

By staying informed, advisors and individual investors can take advantage of this growing strategy—and improve both their impact and return potential.

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Infographics

The Rise of the Values-Driven Investor

Values-driven investing is on the rise, and this in-depth infographic profiles the diverse demographic it appeals to and why.

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The Rise of the Values-Driven Investor

Many consumers today are considered to be “values-driven”, meaning they consider a company’s stance on environmental and social issues before making a purchase.

Such individuals will research a company’s reputation, boycott brands that are not aligned with their beliefs, and avoid products that negatively impact the environment. These types of concerns, however, aren’t just influencing the things people buy—they’re also changing the way people invest.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we profile the values-driven investor and examine the different ways their concerns can be incorporated into an investment portfolio.

What is a Values-Driven Investor?

Values-driven investors seek to align their portfolios with their personal beliefs and create a positive impact for society. Because of these goals, they are naturally driven to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when selecting investments.

One common misconception is that this type of investing is only for millennials, but survey data proves this is far from the truth.

Age Group
% Interested in ESG Investing
24-3991%
40-5484%
55+80%

Source: New York Life Investments

Although ESG investing is the most popular amongst younger investors, older investors are not far behind, with 80% of correspondents aged 55+ demonstrating interest. This interest also extends across wealth brackets, as shown in the table below.

Personal Assets% Aware of ESG Investing% Likely to Invest in an ESG Fund, if Aware
$100K-$150K41%43%
$150K-$250K43%40%
$250K-$500K31%41%
$500K-$1MM34%37%
$1M+42%29%

Source: New York Life Investments

It’s clear that ESG investing has captured the attention of a very diverse group of people, but what kinds of issues do these values-driven investors actually care about?

ESG Priorities by Age Group

Values-driven investors are likely to prioritize issues differently depending on their age. For individuals between the ages of 25 and 39, longer-term issues such as global warming receive the highest concern. This is likely due to younger investors having more years ahead of them, and thus a greater chance of exposure to the effects of climate-related issues.

Below is a breakdown of each age group’s ESG priorities.

IssueAges 25 - 39Ages 40 - 54Age 55+ 
Global warming34%34%27%
Impact of plastic on the oceans21%30%26%
Sustainability24%23%17%
Data fraud or theft14%20%29%
Gun control13%20%22%

Source: New York Life Investments

For investors with a shorter time horizon to retirement, immediate concerns take the highest priority. For example, 29% of investors aged 55 and over were concerned with data fraud or theft, compared to just 14% among those aged 25 to 39.

How Can a Portfolio Reflect These Concerns?

Values-based investors have two primary approaches to choose from when building a portfolio tailored to their beliefs.

Approach #1: ESG Exclusionary

The first approach is ESG exclusionary investing, also known as “negative screening”. This method is well-suited for investors who want their portfolios to be completely aligned with their beliefs and values.

It involves the reduction, or avoidance, of exposure to specific industries that go against one’s values. Industries that are commonly screened out include tobacco, gambling, alcohol, and fossil fuels, the latter of which has gained significant attention in recent years.

Commonly referred to as “fossil fuel divestment”, this type of exclusionary approach focuses on freezing new investments in the sector while gradually removing existing portfolio exposure. Today, over 1,200 institutional investors representing $14.6T in assets have pledged their commitments to going fossil fuel free.

Institution TypeBreakdown of Total Assets Pledged
Faith-based organization32%
Educational institution15%
Philanthropic foundation15%
For profit corporation13%
Government13%
Pension fund13%
Non-governmental organization (NGO)4%
Healthcare institution1%

Source: Fossil Free (a project of 350.org)

Approach #2: ESG Inclusionary

The second approach is ESG inclusionary, also known as “positive screening”. This method is for investors who believe that companies with strong sustainability practices can outperform over the long term.

Instead of avoiding specific industries, an ESG inclusionary approach seeks to identify the best companies in any given industry. In practice, this involves the analysis of both traditional financial metrics and ESG factors.

Examples of Traditional Financial AnalysisExamples of ESG Factor Analysis
Analyze the company’s financial statementsExamine the company’s waste management practices
Study historical market trendsMonitor the company’s employee relations
Consider the direction of the broader economyGrade the company’s transparency & disclosure

Research on the effectiveness of ESG factor analysis has been overwhelmingly positive, and is a likely reason for the robust growth these types of strategies have seen in recent years. In fact, ESG leaders (companies with strong ESG practices) even outperformed their respective indices during the COVID-19 selloff in Q1 2020.

Building a Well-Aligned Portfolio

Despite several myths surrounding sustainable investment, there is an incredibly diverse group of individuals who want their portfolios to reflect their personal beliefs.

The typical values-driven investor is 48 years old, which means they’re likely in their peak earning years and are able to make larger portfolio contributions. Thus, this growing demographic is one that the investment industry should not ignore.

The types of issues these investors care about, however, can vary depending on age and other metrics. Thus, it’s important for them to learn about the different investment approaches available. Armed with this knowledge, investors can take better control of their finances and feel more confident in their decisions.

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Infographics

Paradigm Shift: The Rise of Women’s Earning Power

As women’s earning power continues to grow, wealth managers who cultivate a deeper understanding of these clients will ultimately stand out from the rest.

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Paradigm Shift: The Rise of Women’s Earning Power

In 2019, women owned almost 33% of global wealth.

Looking at North America alone, women control $35 trillion in assets. These assets are set to grow by a 6.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) until 2023, after COVID-19 effects are accounted for. Notably, the acceleration of female breadwinners is amplifying this trend.

The above infographic from New York Life Investments examines four archetypes of female breadwinners, highlighting their household dynamic and financial priorities as the wealth landscape continues to shift.

A Room of One’s Own

Today, one segment of women makes up nearly 25% of households with over $250K of investable assets: female married breadwinners.

They remain a blind spot across the wealth management profession, but provide a vital opportunity for wealth management professionals.

From a high-level perspective, these primary earners describe themselves as independent and hard working, according to a study by RTi Research. While 75% work with an advisor, only 41% feel knowledgeable about their finances. At the same time, 82% of the primary earners are college graduates, while advancing their financial education remains a priority.

Below is a deep dive on the spectrum of female married breadwinner households, outlining their key mindsets, behaviors, and outlooks.

The Four Archetypes

Female breadwinner households can be broken down into four broad archetypes.

1. We’re In This Together

Accounting for 39% of respondent households, this archetype reflects a collaborative dynamic where both partners appreciate each other and are aligned on future financial objectives.

Household Dynamic

  1. Works as a team with their partner
  2. Partners are proud and appreciative of one other
  3. Typically have a positive outlook

Defining Opinions and Behaviors

  • My spouse supports me: 80%
  • My spouse appreciates my hard work: 74%
  • We are aligned on future financial goals: 66%
  • We live in a “normal” household: 59%

2. I Got It

This archetype comprised 25% of respondents. Typically, the primary earner illustrated pride and enjoyment in this role. At the same time, they felt supported by their partners.

Household Dynamic

  1. Comfortable and experienced in this position
  2. Spouse is supportive and comfortable with a secondary role

Defining Opinions and Behaviors

  • Primary earner role is a source of pride: 43%
  • Primary earner role is fulfilling: 41%
  • As the primary earner I am in control: 33%
  • Always been the primary earner: 61%

3. A Little Help Please

With 26% of respondents, this archetype was an outlier, mainly as they did not feel a positive impact from being a breadwinner. These women carry a larger burden on their shoulders and would prefer if their partner would take on more household tasks.

Household Dynamic

  1. Feel that everything relies on them, want their partner to contribute more
  2. Would even prefer if roles were reversed

Defining Opinions and Behavior

  • Everything depends on me: 42%
  • Want spouse to take on more responsibilities: 29%
  • Negative impact as primary breadwinner: 97%
  • Prefer if spouse was the primary earner: 59%

4. I’ve Got It From Here

This final archetype accounted for 33% of households. These were characterized by the women taking on a primary earner role later in life, while feeling proud in the role as the highest earner.

Household Dynamic

  1. Typically new to primary earner role
  2. Feels supported by their spouse, and long-term financial goals are aligned
  3. Appreciates the hard work partner has done in the past

Defining Opinions and Behaviors

  • My spouse supports me: 59%
  • My spouse appreciates my hard work: 51%
  • Became primary earner later in life: 100%
  • Feels strong: 52%

Getting a better sense of these archetypes can help advisors personalize their approaches—and harness a clearer appreciation of their clients financial goals.

On the Horizon

Of course, female married breadwinners have a diverse range of financial goals. These investment goals and objectives typically vary across different life stages, but they also share many similarities.

For primary earners 60 and over, the most important investment goals were a comfortable lifestyle and protecting their future. On the other hand, breadwinners between the ages of 40-59 were most concerned with saving for retirement. Finally, the key investment goals of those aged 25-39 also surrounded a comfortable lifestyle, saving for children’s education, and saving for retirement.

As women amass greater wealth at faster speeds, understanding how to manage it well becomes increasingly crucial.

A New Wealth Frontier

It comes as no surprise that the primary female earners who work with advisors have better views on their finances.

As a result, opportunity knocks. Half of female breadwinners see their financial advisor as a business partner, and 33% see them as a necessity. At the same time, 66% of female primary earners want an advisor that will make them the most money.

As this powerful economic force continues to accelerate, it could create a watershed decade ahead for both women’s wealth and the wealth management field.

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