Our Chief Investment Officer, Ian Hooper, was a guest speaker at a Citywire North event in Harrogate at the start of September. He spoke about the experience of the past 18 months and the consequences of the pandemic for the industry and markets and the prospects and hopes for the North, as we begin to build back after lockdown.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the panellists considered the question of ‘what now?’ for a number of key areas. On the topic of the future of investing, Ian explained how Progeny is embracing the challenge:
“People talk a lot about themes for future investing but this is hugely difficult to predict. At Progeny, we therefore employ a multi-factor approach to investing which helps to create a proposition that gives a smoother investment journey for clients, at the right price. Different things work at different times, so as well as getting the asset allocation right, you also have to consider the timeframe.
“During the pandemic, we changed our investment proposition so that it now has unconstrained, passive, systematic and ESG overlays to it. Consequently, what we’re finding coming out of lockdown is that we’re getting planning firms who have found the past 18 months pretty difficult, coming to us as a DFM for advice on their own client investment proposition.
The panel turned their attention to Ethical, Social & Governance (ESG) investing. Ian commented:
“Regulation has effectively driven the ESG agenda, followed by corporate governance. In terms of the investment process, in my view, ESG needs to come first, followed by the investment process – it’s not something that can be bolted on at the end. Personally. I’m hugely concerned about ‘greenwashing’ and I’m not at all convinced that everyone is staying true to their ESG principles.”
“To avoid this, ESG has to be part of a company’s investment and corporate DNA. For example, as a Board, we made the decision to apply for B-Corp accreditation, which is essentially about showing good behaviours across the business and being able to validate this. As a process, it’s pretty strict, and involved an initial six-month data gathering process, so it’s very far from being a rubber-stamping exercise. However, we wanted to commit to being on the right trajectory in terms of our mixture of purpose and profit and this ethos then filters down to our investments and our proposition for our clients.”
Panellists were also invited to consider how the North will move forward from the pandemic, with Ian noting: “In the North, I think we can see a two-tier system developing in the business community, of the Covid savers and the Covid debtors. In terms of the savers, they’ve been able to store their capital up and take it back to the market and they will continue to become more affluent. But there are pockets of the north where there are Covid debtors and they are going to need some Government intervention to get back on their feet, in terms of stimulating growth and jobs in those areas.
“From a macro-level infrastructure perspective, transport is one of my biggest bugbears and for our region to compete, we desperately need the transportation network to improve in a much shorter timeline than that proposed for HS2.”
On Progeny’s response to the pandemic, he added: “From a Progeny perspective, we were able to turn a tough period into commercially our strongest year to date, undertaking several acquisitions during the pandemic, successfully launching two new product ranges in a virtual environment, employing a Chief Technology Officer and growing our head count significantly.
“Underpinning this was our change in working practices, with a more technology-led service delivery increasing productivity and enhancing our client proposition. Our clients are becoming comfortable with seeing all their information on a screen and accessing their documents at the press of a button.
“Also key to this growth was the importance we placed on staff wellbeing. Unlike many of our peers, we made the decision that no staff would be furloughed due to covid, we invested in technology to engage with our team and even built a video studio in our head office, to help deliver live virtual events.”
The full recording of the session can be accessed here.