Impact Investing: Entering the Golden Age

May 8, 2017

Impact investing can deliver meaningful investment returns and powerful social change. Significant developments in the impact investing landscape, including advances in the techniques and strategies employed, have created new opportunities for investors who want to express their values through their investment programs. Individuals, foundations and endowments have been quick to respond, and impact investing in the U.S. now represents $8.72 trillion, or one-fifth of all investments under professional management.1

WHAT IS DRIVING THIS CHANGE IN THE IMPACT INVESTING LANDSCAPE?

Glenmede has identified three converging trends making it easier for investors to implement impact investment programs that deliver competitive returns: an increase in data available to support investors; a shift from negative to positive screening; and the proliferation of sophisticated impact investing options across asset classes and international borders.

A GROWING BODY OF DATA

Data is the engine that powers the investment industry. The information public and private entities share with investors forms the basis for securities research, analysis and recommendations. As public interest in shareholder activism and impact investing has grown, companies have responded by making more data about their environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies available to the public. In 2011, 20 percent of S&P 500 companies published a sustainability or corporate governance report. By 2015, that number grew to 81 percent.2

All this data is a boon to investment managers. It allows them to quantify the relative attractiveness of individual securities along identified ESG factors, fine-tune portfolios to meet specific impact goals and measure performance against relevant benchmarks. As a result, the industry is increasingly able to satisfy growing investor demand for strategies tailored to reflect their faith-based, social, economic or environmental values.

ESG INTEGRATION: POSITIVE APPROACH, POSITIVE RETURNS

ESG integration is a relatively new development in impact investing. Unlike older strategies that excluded stocks of companies with undesirable environmental, social or governance track records, ESG integration strategies use data to rank, and invest in, environmentally friendly and socially aware companies that also implement solid governance policies. Our research shows that  prudent ESG practices  tend to have a positive influence on investment performance.3 Investment strategies that use ESG factors, such as “ESG tilt” or “ESG momentum,” may generate competitive or even excess returns while managing risk.

ESG momentum, the newest flavor of ESG integration, overweights stocks that demonstrate improving ESG ratings and underweights stocks with deteriorating ratings. It focuses less on a stock’s overall ESG footprint and more on the direction of the firm. Relative to other ESG strategies, ESG momentum appears to have the highest probability of generating excess return.4 Glenmede’s research also indicates that the excess returns generated using ESG momentum have a low correlation to the returns generated by more traditional investment strategies, suggesting that it may help manage risk when used as part of an overall investment program.

SOPHISTICATED STRATEGIES: LOWER RISK, DIVERSIFICATION

In the early days of impact investing, values-driven investors were limited to U.S.-based stocks and private equity funds. Today, impact investors can choose from an array of sophisticated global investment strategies across all asset classes, including equities, fixed income, real assets, direct investment in private and public ventures and other alternative investments. For example, an endowment that wants to support clean energy initiatives can now invest in a U.S.-based carbon-free exchange traded fund, a Canadian fossil-fuel-free bond fund and a U.K.-based private equity fund making direct investments in energy generation and distribution platforms in Africa, Asia and South America.

What does this mean for the investor who wants to use their assets to affect positive change? Impact investors can now combine ESG strategies to increase their portfolio diversification to help manage overall risk and produce competitive returns.

VIRTUE MAY NOW BE ITS OWN REWARD

At Glenmede, we evaluate the financial integrity, return expectations and intended social benefits of each investment opportunity to construct mission-aligned portfolios for our clients.

Our investment team has been at the forefront of creating highly customized impact investment programs for our clients, which can include products developed by our affiliate, Glenmede Investment Management LP. These include a large-cap environmentally sensitive strategy launched in 2001 and a large-cap socially responsible strategy, added in 2008, which uses values-based criteria customized for religious institutions.

In 2015, we introduced two additional U.S. large-cap strategies, Responsible ESG, which utilizes ESG momentum, and Women in Leadership, an issue-specific investment strategy.

Based on a client’s specific impact goals, we can focus on companies with the best scores on applicable governance factors and provide a variety of ESG tilt, ESG momentum and ESG value-specific investment options. When a client’s values and objectives call for solutions outside our areas of investment expertise, we identify other impact investment specialists and partner with them to create a customized portfolio.

We are excited about the potential impact investing has to help our clients align their values and investments—and be rewarded with the prospect of competitive returns for their efforts. We will continue to research innovative solutions that leverage our expertise to further enrich our clients’ implementation of this dynamic approach to investing for impact.

Sources: 

SIF Foundation. “Report on Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2016.”

Governance and Accountability Institute, Inc. “Flash Report.” March 15, 2016.

3 “Accelerating the Momentum toward ESG.” Glenmede. 2016.   

4 Ibid.

Glenmede’s Annual Review is intended to be an unconstrained review of matters of possible interest to Glenmede Trust Company clients and friends and is not intended as personalized investment advice. Advice is provided in light of a client’s applicable circumstances and may differ substantially from this presentation. Glenmede’s affiliate, Glenmede Investment Management LP, may conduct certain research and offer products discussed herein. Opinions or projections herein are based on information available at the time of publication and may change thereafter. Information gathered from other sources is assumed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed. Outcomes (including performance) may differ materially from expectations herein due to various risks and uncertainties. Any reference to risk management or risk control does not imply that risk can be eliminated. All investments have risk. Clients are encouraged to discuss the applicability of any matter discussed herein with their Glenmede representative. Nothing herein is intended as legal or federal tax advice