First State CEO warns of asset management trust deficit, says RI and Stewardship part of the answer

Mark Lazberger launches fund manager’s seventh RI and Stewardship report.

The asset management industry needs to show some “genuine leadership” in demonstrating that it is working clearly in the interests of its clients, and responsible investment and stewardship are a key element in that rehabilitation, according to Mark Lazberger, Chief Executive Officer at £98.5bn First State Investments. Lazberger also sits on the board of governors of the CFA Institute, the professional and ethical qualification body for the finance industry, adding weight to his comments. Launching First State’s seventh annual Responsible Investment and Stewardship report yesterday (March 26) in London, Lazberger said the deterioration in confidence in the financial services industry and public savings levels demonstrated that investment management was lacking in terms of trustworthiness. He said: “This is hugely disappointing. We need to be acting consistently in the best interests of our clients if we are to re-establish trust. It’s one of the key challenges for our industry.” Sydney, Australia-based Lazberger, said the subject of responsible investment was rapidly gaining relevance across the investment profession and that stewardship was becoming the ‘word du jour’. He noted that the UK’s Stewardship Code was already finding echoes in Japan and Australia, with the latter considering producing its own code. Lazberger said two recent reports he had seen underlined for him the trust deficit in investment.One client study, he said, found that only 23% of respondents said they trusted their investment providers to be acting in their interest. The second, which questioned executives, bankers and service providers in financial services found that 91% of respondents believed there should be a globally recognised set of ethical standards for the sector, but also revealed that 53% of respondents believed that adhering to ethical standards would hamper their career path. Lazberger chairs First State’s Global Responsible Investment Committee (GRIC), which he says monitors the way that its investment teams are making their investments and can call them to account on their decisions. He said a second business rationale to backing long-term investment and Stewardship was that if their asset manager does its job effectively and responsibly it will itself be a more sustainable business. First State Investments is owned by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and operates as Colonial First State Global Asset management (CFSGAM) in Australia. Will Oulton, Global Head, Responsible Investments, at First State, said that among the manager’s priorities for 2014 in responsible investment would be further measurement of the effectiveness of investment engagement as part of its Stewardship programme, and more work on product development looking at ESG quality and risks.