The Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) may have to shift to a bigger venue for its next NZ conference after selling out the Auckland Hilton for the third year running.
Simon O’Connor, RIAA chief, said the growing popularity of the NZ conference reflected the “massive” surge in responsible investing across the country over the last year.
He said the NZ conference, to be held this Tuesday, would explore the next phase in RI development beyond the exclusion craze that swept through the KiwiSaver market in particular during the last 12 months.
“The result of the big focus on KiwiSaver has seen managers push ahead with exclusions across other product ranges. But exclusions are just one part of the consumer expectation,” O’Connor said. “Now fund managers and asset owners are working out contemporary policies that include environmental, social and governance [ESG] issues as part of mainstream investment decision-making.”
Providers from boutique operation Pathfinder to institutions like Kiwi Wealth and AMP Capital were now forging unique NZ responses to the RI challenge, he said.
“You can’t prescribe just one way to incorporate ESG in investing,” O’Connor said. “It’s good to see NZ investors are grappling with the need to develop strategies that reflect their own customers desires and beliefs.”
The conference proper features a mix of offshore and local perspectives with Phillipe Joubert, former deputy CEO of the France-headquartered electricity giant Alstom, providing the headline act.
O’Connor said Joubert, now adviser to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development among other roles, offers his corporate “gravitas” to the ESG debate.
“Phillipe argues that the business-as-usual model is dead and that sustainability factors are integral to how businesses must run today,” he said. “Investors need to understand these factors that will see companies prosper in the future.”
Meanwhile, local ‘green’ business entrepreneur, Malcom Rands, founder of Ecostore, and Clement Chia, CFO of the NZX-listed fishing operation Sanford, will expound on their respective profitable ESG strategies.
The RIAA event also features the inevitable exploration of how regulation is impacting the RI trend across a number of sectors “including advice, product issuance and disclosure and corporate governance”.
Chaired by Pathfinder director, John Berry, the panel also includes: Financial Markets Authority director of external communications, Paul Gregory; Paul Richardson, Mint Asset Management chief investment officer; and, Sarah Barker, Minter Ellison special counsel.
According to O’Connor, the conference will further highlight the likely rise of impact investing strategies, currently in a nascent phase in NZ.
Impact investing is assuming a greater focus, too, for the RIAA this year with a new forum on the sector launched this year. The industry body is also working with Philanthropy NZ to develop impact investing here.
“New Zealand has a potential big advantage with a lot of intelligent data available on the cost of provision of social services – which can underpin impact investment options,” he said.
O’Connor said with the majority of the Australasian funds management industry committed “in one way or another” to responsible investing, the RIAA was now more focused on “defining best practice” rather than promoting the broad concept.
“We’re also seeing rising demand from managers for us to verify their products through our certification program – we provide that outsourced due diligence for investors,” he said.