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Cerulli reports ESG demand is growing

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Research firm Cerulli Associates reports that retail client channel awareness on the topic of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing is growing, but warns that asset managers should focus on converting interest into investment opportunities.

The research identifies that the supply of investment products incorporating ESG factors is increasing, that home offices have bought into the idea of ESG investing, and that society’s awareness of ESG factors is trending upward; yet, actual investment is lagging. According to Cerulli’s latest report, this discrepancy lies somewhere between the adviser and the investor.

“There are several factors at play to help explain why financial advisers have not wholeheartedly adopted ESG mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs),” states Brendan Powers, senior analyst at Cerulli. “A sense that ESG strategies do not fit into client investment policy statements (26 per cent), negative impact on investment performance (24 per cent), and cost (19 per cent) top advisors’ reasons to not use ESG strategies.”

Adviser demographics may also be a factor. According to Powers, “Advisors are aging. Roughly 36 per cent plan to retire within the next 10 years. With retirement in reach, these advisors are less likely to rethink how they manage client assets and are less likely to adopt strategies that incorporate ESG factors, especially if they have trouble understanding them.”

Based on investor interest and asset manager/home-office efforts, Cerulli believes the key to ESG investment product adoption lies with the adviser. To grow adviser mindshare, Cerulli recommends that asset managers help advisers understand how to use ESG in client portfolios and then educate them, so they feel comfortable talking about the subject. To address concerns about performance, managers will need to demonstrate ESG strategies provide market-level performance as their new products begin to accumulate track records.

“Data-driven educational material and more hands-on training will ultimately be what’s required. This effort will necessitate cooperation from asset managers supplying the product and their distribution partners (eg, broker/dealer home offices, registered investment advisor custodians) that have built out the platforms for advisors to access the strategies,” Powers suggests. “Moreover, the advisor should have the necessary training to break down complex investment products and help their clients understand them. Therefore, helping them apply these skills to talk about ESG strategies with their clients will be essential. Investor education should be a focus too, preferably through broader, more scalable digital marketing channels.”

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