There's no doubt that we've seen an increase in focus on responsible investing. With COP26 in Glasgow and climate change high on the agenda, it's hard to miss. However, it isn't necessarily translating into changes to the way people invest their pensions.
Research we carried out or showed that while many people have made changes to their lifestyle to help tackle climate change, such as turning down the heating thermostat by one degree (which almost six in ten people told us they are doing) and cutting down on single use plastic (which over four in ten are doing), only one in seven people with a pension told us they currently invest it responsibly. However, that is not to say there wasn't significant interest in this area, with over half of people (57%) telling us they are willing to have their pension invested responsibly.
The question that leads on from this is, why is there a gap between what people say they want for their pension and what they are actually doing?
The opportunity for advisers
From our research, it appears people don't know where to start when it comes to responsible investing - or they simply don't know what it means and what it involves.
If those are blockers to people taking action, or at least considering responsible investment, it provides an opportunity for financial advisers.
Financial advisers excel at helping their clients understand the choices they face and the implications of one course of action over another. We believe that advisers have a key role to play in helping people understand what responsible investing is and what the options are when it comes to their pension.
The role of advisers is not to push clients down a responsible investing path, but to explain the options and - by asking questions - find out what matters to their clients and what that might mean for their investments.
Some clients may be more interested in the idea of responsible investing than others. Our own research found a significant age divide, with more 18-34-year-olds (66%) willing to invest their pension responsibly than those aged 55+ (40%). Women were also more likely to say that all pensions should be invested responsibly (52%) than men (41%) - but they are also more likely to say they don't know where to start.
The challenge of explaining responsible investing to consumers
Responsible investing isn't complex, but it isn't necessarily straightforward to explain either. In the early days of ethical investing, it was arguably a simpler story to tell as the few ethical funds that existed aimed to screen out so-called ‘sin stocks', such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling.
These days, fund managers running responsible funds are more likely to engage with companies they invest in to influence and, where necessary, put pressure on them to - for example - reduce their impact on the environment, ensure that their decarbonisation plans don't have a negative impact on their workforce and community or improve their governance.
The social and environmental gains of a large company making a shift in the way it operates can be significant. However, explaining the benefits - and limits - of engagement is more complex than stating that a fund will simply not invest in certain companies or sectors. Divestment is an option, but it is likely to be used as a last resort.
How advisers can help to shape the future
We only have to look at the increasing number of extreme weather events (and data that shows 2020 concluded the warmest ten-year period in history) to realise that climate change is something we cannot afford to ignore. Responsible investing has a part to play in tackling climate change and ensuring that consumers can retire with a good standard of living.
If responsible investing is to become the future, and not be a short-term fad, then the involvement and expertise of the advice community is vital. That means not assuming that if a client doesn't mention responsible investing that they are not interested in it, but exploring with a client how they picture their retirement and what, if any role, they want the power of their pension to play in shaping - not just the income they receive - but the future they retire in.
Is responsible investing just a trendy phase or the start of things to come?
This post was funded by Royal London