BlueBay believes that ESG factors can potentially have a material impact on an issuer’s long-term financial performance. Given the limited upside (and potentially significant downside) of fixed income investments, the focus of our ESG analysis is on understanding downside risks.
Poorly-managed ESG risks can lead to inefficiencies, operational disruption, litigation and reputational damage, which may ultimately impact an issuer’s ability to meet their financial responsibilities. Supplementing traditional financial analysis by reviewing ESG-related management practices and performance is therefore not only prudent but also in line with BlueBay’s fiduciary duty to optimise investor returns.
Policy and Implementation
BlueBay has adopted a number of ESG investment risk management related policies:
- ESG Investment Risk Policy
- Controversial Weapons Investment Policy
- Proxy Voting Policy on Corporate Governance & Corporate Responsibility
- Statement on UK Stewardship Code
- Statement on UK Modern Slavery Act
Whilst BlueBay’s investment process has always, to some degree, taken into account ESG-related risk factors in the decision-making process, during 2013 the firm initiated efforts to more systematically incorporate them into the process. BlueBay became a signatory of the United Nations (UN)-supported Principles for Responsible Investments (PRI) in July 2013, a global voluntary initiative focused on the investment industry, whose signatories have committed to integrating ESG factors into investment processes.
Our approach combines a number of complementary ESG investment strategies to different degrees depending on the specific strategy:
BlueBay primarily applies an ESG integration strategy that involves the identification and assessment of investment material ESG factors. While this does not lead to the automatic exclusion of issuers from investment on ESG grounds, it ensures that BlueBay’s investment teams are aware of, and able to take informed decisions about, key ESG risks. As such, ESG factors are an input into BlueBay’s investment process, but they are not necessarily the key determinant in the final investment decision-making process, which ultimately reflects the view of an investment’s risk-return profile.
BlueBay believes that providers of debt do have a role in engaging with issuers on matters with the potential to impact investment returns. Given BlueBay’s approach of not automatically excluding issuers from investment based on their ESG performance, actions to mitigate such risks are raised with investments teams where appropriate. However client expectations of the scale and effectiveness of such engagement should be made in recognition of the fact that as debt investors, we are not owners and as such have more limited legal mechanisms to influence issuers.
BlueBay has adopted a Controversial Weapons Investments Policy which applies to all our pooled funds. NOTE: our ESG labelled pooled funds apply additional ESG criteria and clients in some of our segregated accounts may also apply this screening approach.
Since February 2017, BlueBay has been offering an ESG labelled pooled fund, which applies this strategy (the BlueBay Global High Yield ESG Bond Fund). NOTE: clients in some of our segregated accounts may also apply this screening approach.
This is applicable to one BlueBay pooled fund launched in November 2017, the BlueBay Global Income Fund. It uses the ESG performance data for issuers as the basis to determine maximum portfolio weightings in specific issuers. In this way, it is possible to ‘tilt’ the portfolio towards holdings in better ESG rated issuers.
Given our focus on fixed income investing, we have limited scope for participating in proxy voting. However, it can occur, for instance with Convertible Bond and High Yield bond investments, where our investment may take on an equity element, making us shareowners with formal voting rights. In such cases we will ensure that we make appropriate use of our voting rights on matters of corporate governance (CG) and corporate responsibility (CR).
We focus our efforts with regards to both:
- New investments (pre-investments), and
- Existing investments (post-investment)
Incorporation of ESG factors occurs on many different levels:
- Issuer level, in terms of credit analysis e.g. what is BlueBay’s ESG risk exposure on an individual issuer by issuer level? Do we have exposure to (corporate) issuers with the most severe ESG controversy exposure?
- Sector level, as part of the issuer analysis e.g. what are the material ESG risks for certain industries/sectors, and to what degree are there common ESG risks across sectors?
- Portfolio level, in terms of portfolio characteristics e.g. what is the ESG investment risk exposures at a fund level? and at the;
- Group level, in terms of oversight of ESG risks across BlueBay’s portfolio strategies e.g. what is BlueBay’s ESG investment risk exposure across all the investment desks?
As part of our membership of the UN-supported PRI, we participate in an annual Reporting and Assessment procedure, and receive a report on how well we have performed in terms of ESG integration within our investment process. We believe the PRI reporting and assessment framework can be a useful independent benchmark for our efforts.
The table below summarizes our performance as assessed by the PRI over the last 3 years.