There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for pension funds looking to use an environmental, social and governance lens in their investment approach, according to a new publication from the pension research council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Olivia Mitchell, a professor and executive director of the pension research council at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School and one of the editors of the volume, says institutional investors are split over the long-term value of an ESG approach between pursuing values such as moral causes and value regarding protecting investment returns.
“Private pensions, and some public plans as well, hew more closely to the latter. Accordingly, there is no one-size-fits-all regarding ESG and pensions in the U.S. It is an evolving field.”
She adds very few U.S.-based defined contribution pension plans might include ESG funds. “In the U.S., at least, pension fiduciaries are moving only very cautiously in this arena.”
The dialogue around the use of ESG has also increased as a result of a lack of clarity around the exact metrics with taking this approach. Mitchell notes other challenges such as potentially higher administrative fees for actively managed ESG funds, as well as the fact these funds don’t have long track records and, “to some extent — lack of demand on the part of investors.”
The publication also identified the evolving state of risks that fund managers will have to keep a close eye on, including reputation, human capital management, litigation, regulations, corruption and climate. It noted defined benefit pension plans are particularly exposed to sharp asset value declines from downside risks.