UBS Asset Management’s Harford says she’s changed her mind on ESG

UBS Asset Management’s head of investments Suni Harford said she’s changed her mind on environmental, social and governance (ESG) governance when it comes to managing money.

“I will say, a couple years ago, I was a skeptic. It was hard to find an investor to pay up for a green bond, for example,” Harford said from the Delivering Alpha Conference in New York. “But I’m in a different seat now and it’s a very different world. We now have data and technology that facilitates a really robust change to the investment process.”

ESG investors seek not only to generate market-beating gains for clients, but also to use their money in a morally responsible way. Some elect to allocate capital to companies or funds with a focus on developing renewable energy, while others look to invest in companies with diverse boards.

Others, like activist hedge fund managers, have started to use their money to hold management accountable for everything from workplace safety to reducing the gender-pay gap with the ultimate goal of creating more value for shareholders in the long run.

“Across fixed-income and equity portfolios you can now have data and look at things like governance, and the number of auditors and board makeup,” Harford added at the conference last month. “There is enough data that you can truly make a difference in how you’re investing. It’s a way to get engaged with companies; that’s the new flavor in sustainability – is ‘corporate engagement.'”

“It’s very proactive.”

Harford who spent 24 years as Citi’s global head of fixed-income strategy, has led UBS Asset Management since July 2017. She is also a prominent diversity champion, both in the financial services sector and the wider business community, and served as the co-head of Citi Women and on the board of directors of The Forte Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women leaders in business.

Harford is one of the most powerful women in finance, overseeing $831 billion in assets and more than 500 investment staffers.

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