Glass ceiling hit for responsible investments

Read this online at the Times Colonist

By Andrew A. Duffy, Times Colonist June 22, 2011

The Canadian socially responsible investment industry appears to have hit a wall in terms of growth, says the chairman of the industry’s annual national conference being held in Victoria.

Stephen Whipp, senior financial adviser with Stephen Whipp Financial Manulife Securities and chairman of the Canadian Responsible Investment Conference, said while the industry saw impressive growth between 2003 and 2008, it’s been holding steady ever since.

“It seem to be there’s a glass ceiling there and we’re asking how do we get beyond that,” said Whipp between sessions at the three-day affair, which drew 240 to the Victoria Conference Centre.

There was plenty of research at the conference to show Canadians are open to the concept of investing in assets designed to promote positive social change and environmental sustainability.

But Whipp notes it’s been hard to get them to walk the talk. “What perplexes people is what happens to that 60 per cent of the population that wants to invest with some kind of value-guidance … but are not,” he said.

Results of a survey by Vancouver-based public relations firm Hoggan & Associates, and unveiled during Day 2 of the conference by company vicepresident Nancy McHarg, showed 79 per cent of Canadians rate the concept of sustainability as a high priority. It showed 10 per cent of the general population are sold on sustainability with about 70 per cent open and receptive to it.

“What’s interesting is over 75 per cent of asset managers believe SRI will be the norm in five years,” said Whipp. “But that’s a big change. How do we get there? We are now [representing] about 25 per cent [of assets under management in Canada].”

Whipp noted the industry has been stuck at that 25 per cent figure for three years, though he admits it’s a far cry from the three per cent SRI represented about seven years ago.

According to the Social Investment Organization’s most recent survey of assets, there was $530.9 billion managed under SRI guidelines as of June 2010, which is about 19 per cent of the total assets of the pension industry, the asset management industry and the mutual fund industry.

“The question is how do we broaden the base of advisers who are into SRI or should be,” said Whipp. “How do we move beyond that, because it’s not inconceivable for us to be [at] 50 per cent.”

That was one of the over-arching themes of the conference and included input from marketing experts and analysts on improving the industry’s message to the public and advisers.

The three-day conference also looked at new trends and the responsiveness of industries the SRI field has been working with to improve their performance.

One focus was Canada’s resource-extraction industries, with sessions on the future of the oil and gas sector, how it deals with its shareholders and positive steps being made in the reduction of resource waste, energy use and pollution.

Whipp said in Vancouver there is only VanCity Savings credit union and a few other advisers to service the SRI needs of the province’s largest city, while in Victoria there are about 12 advisers who dabble in the field and just a handful who focus on that kind of investing.

© Copyright© The Victoria Times Colonist

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Leede Jones Gable Inc. is a
Member of IIROC and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund
Stephen Whipp is a member of the Responsible Investment Association