Asset managers can meet asset owner sustainable investing needs

Jessica Alsford, Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing at Morgan Stanley

Asset managers have the opportunity to meet asset owners’ growing demands for sustainable investment practices, products and reporting, according to the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. The latest in the Firm’s Sustainable Signals series, this institutional investor survey polled 110 asset owners in North America, Europe and Asia.

It surveyed 201 asset managers across the regions to understand what asset owners want and what asset managers are offering—and where the gaps lie in delivering ESG solutions.

What were the findings of the survey?

According to the survey, the majority of asset managers and owners (77%) that were surveyed reported increasing interest in sustainable investing since May 2020, driven by pressures from clients and investors, shifting public sentiment and regulatory developments.

About 85% of asset managers and 83% of asset owners state that they implement or plan to implement sustainable investing in their portfolios. Regional differences were observed, with EMEA outpacing others to date, but APAC respondents expressing the most interest in expanding their sustainable investing approach in the next 24 months. However, there is a gap between asset managers and asset owners, with three key areas identified in the study:

  • Sustainable Investing Practices and Policies – The largest gap in sustainable investing practices relates to ESG reporting and disclosure (49%) – with only 39% of asset managers reporting ESG impact alongside financial performance, despite 88% of asset owners saying they seek third-party managers that provide this information.
  • New and Expanded Sustainable Investing Products – 50% of asset owners identified climate change as their top thematic investment priority, while just 33% of asset managers have product offerings that meet that demand. The disconnect extends to additional areas where there is a gap between asset manager products compared to asset owner interest on themes including water solutions (19%) and education (10%).
  • Sustainable Investing Data & Metrics – 82% of asset owners want managers to provide carbon footprint data, but only 63% of asset managers surveyed offer this information. The biggest gap lies with fund managers providing climate risk related data to investors, like stress testing and scenario analysis.

In addition to revealing gaps in asset owner and asset manager sustainability priorities, the survey highlights two main challenges to growth, including insufficient data and a talent gap. Eight in 10 asset owners said they lack data to adequately measure their investments’ environmental and social impact, and more than half of institutional investors (57%) agree that sustainable investing loses credibility when investors can’t measure impact.

Another hurdle identified by institutional investors is an industry-wide talent gap. While a majority of asset managers (66%) and asset owners (53%) report increasing their headcount of sustainable investing specialists between May 2020 and May 2022, they also said the talent pool is still not meeting their hiring demands, with just 39% of asset managers and 23% of asset owners finding enough qualified individuals to meet their firms’ needs.

What do the findings mean for regional investors?

“The results of our latest Sustainable Signals survey show that sustainable investing remains an important focus area for institutional investors globally, with the vast majority reporting an increased interest over the past two years,” said Jessica Alsford, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Sustainable Investing at Morgan Stanley.

“At the same time, our findings show a significant opportunity for asset managers to better align with asset owner priorities in areas including sustainable investing practices and policies, access to key ESG data and metrics, and development of new sustainable investment products. Closing these gaps could help to boost the credibility and adoption of sustainable investing strategies among institutional investors across the globe,” said Jessica Alsford.

View the full results of the Sustainable Signals survey here.