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Investing your values: What matters most

July 5, 2022
clock 5 MIN READ

Sustainable investing is gaining traction. Sometimes referred to as values-based investing, this is not to be confused with “value” as an investment style, famously championed by Warren Buffett and loosely defined as picking stocks with upside potential but trading below their intrinsic (or book) value. Rather, sustainable investing in our context is aligning sustainability goals with financial objectives by balancing environmental, social, and governance insights with financial metrics. 

Years ago, this was generally referred to socially responsible investing (SRI), and the gist of it was simply buying a mutual fund that excluded tobacco, weapons, or sometimes, oil stocks. That’s a crude generalization of course, but it’s how this early iteration of sustainable investing was often implemented. 

Things have changed, and more investors – from individuals to institutions - are getting in on it. Today, SRI has evolved and (mostly) replaced by three new letters: ESG. ESG investing refers to an approach that uses environmental, social, and governance considerations alongside financial information in the broader investment process. 

Environmental criteria reflect issues like climate change, biodiversity and whether a company is a good steward of the environment. Social criteria look at diversity and inclusion and how a company treats all its stakeholders and the community at large. And governance focuses on items like a company’s executive compensation, board oversight, and whether a company maintains shareholder-friendly policies. 

In general, ESG factors can be used to avoid companies with lagging policies and practices, or increasingly as a tool to identify companies well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. This sort of investing has been embraced by many pension funds and other institutional investors who have included sustainable mandates as part of their investment policy statements. And now more than ever, sustainable investing is resonating with individuals. After all, just as they do with spending, investors have choices in how they allocate their own capital, and aligning personal interests with investment portfolios seems like a natural extension of living one’s ideals. 

While it’s impossible to give a comprehensive primer on sustainable investing in a short blog, here are a few considerations if you’re interested in further exploring such an approach. 

  1. Do your homework:  There are more and more ESG-focused mutual funds and ETFs available every year, which can help investors to allocate capital to align with their values efficiently. As ever, caveats apply. Glossy marketing can make it a challenge to understand what approach to sustainability a fund takes. Investors should do their due diligence on these funds—look for details in the prospectus and reporting that supports the manager’s stated philosophy and methodology.  
  2. But investors may wish to ease into it and add a small slice—a few ESG-focused investments or a fund or two—before endeavouring to restructure an entire portfolio around a specific focus. And when reallocating, it’s important to note how adding in an ESG fund can inadvertently tilt your portfolio. For example, if an ESG fund eschews certain energy, industrial or cyclical stocks, does that mean it skews more toward a growth fund1 and away from value2 in terms of investment styles? Be aware of how these decisions might impact your entire portfolio’s diversification features. 
  3. Don’t go it alone: By now, most advisors and financial intermediaries understand that sustainable investing is not a fad, and many are well equipped to help clients navigate the landscape and provide advice in this area. Don’t hesitate to implement your own approach to sustainable investing, but don’t hesitate to ask for help either. 

1 Value fund: A value fund aims to provide long-term capital appreciation and income through security selection in stocks that are undervalued based on fundamental characteristics and valuation metrics such as price-to-earnings, price-to-book value or return on equity. 

2 Growth fund: A growth fund aims to provide long-term capital appreciation through security selection in stocks that grow earnings at a rate that is above analysts' expectations or faster than the market as a whole.

Information presented is intended to be educational and should not be construed as investment advice. Carefully consider the investment objectives, risk factors and charges and expenses before investing.

Information provided in Canada by SEI Investments Canada Company, the Manager of the SEI Funds in Canada.

The information contained herein is for general and educational information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal, tax, accounting, securities, research or investment advice regarding the strategies or any security in particular, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment. This information should not be construed as a recommendation to purchase or sell a security, derivative or futures contract. You should not act or rely on the information contained herein without obtaining specific legal, tax, accounting and investment advice from an investment professional. 

Sustainability guidelines may cause a manager to make or avoid certain investment decisions when it may be disadvantageous to do so. This means that these investments may underperform other similar investments that do not consider sustainability guidelines when making investment decisions. There can be no assurance goals will be met. If a product or strategy is subject to certain sustainable investment criteria it may avoid purchasing certain securities when it is otherwise economically advantageous to purchase those securities, or may sell certain securities when it is otherwise economically advantageous to hold those securities.   Sustainability is not uniformly defined and scores and ratings may vary across providers.

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