US fund manager offers free RI training to asset owners

RI Academy programme proposed to hundreds of pension funds and their trustees.

Bill Mills may be known in the RI world as much by his fine moustache as his name. But a new initiative to offer free responsible investment training to asset owners should prove an equal aide-memoire. In a novel idea, which marries both a desire to boost education on RI issues and to boost his firm’s profile globally, Mills is offering free subscriptions for asset owners to the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia’s (RIAA) RI Academy training programme: Link
Mills, Managing Partner of Highland Good Steward Management, based out of Birmingham, Alabama in the US, says that while the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) sets out six principles, it is not easy to see how investors can support principle 4: to promote acceptance and implementation of the principles within the investment industry.
Internationally minded, Mills sits on the advisory board at the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA): “I was impressed with the quality of the training programme from RIAA and at the same time looking for a way to promote ourselves internationally in a way that the market understood.” He says he is hoping for hoping for “large volumes” of investors to take the training and has sent formal invites out to around 200 asset owners regarding the offer, with a limit of 10 sign-ups institution. Mills was formerly a Chief Financial Officer for a US healthcare group where he was involved in building investment portfolios for not-for-profit healthcare companies, including many Catholic healthcare systems. The religious client connection has remained and Mills has two nuns on the board of Highland: Sister Nora Nash,known for her 2011 pay campaign at Goldman Sachs, and Sister Susan Vickers, Vice President of Community Health for Catholic Healthcare West (CHW).
In 2003, he launched a socially screened fund of hedge funds well in advance of market trends. By 2007, he had developed the business to include an ESG proxy voting and engagement platform that he has subsequently adapted to a third-party relationship with PIMCO, the US bond manager.
Mills says: “PIMCO liked what we were doing around corporate engagement and we now have a fund with PIMCO holdings tied to a forward-looking ESG overlay and engagement product.” Highland uses a number of ESG research houses globally to get full geographic coverage. Mills says the PIMCO fund has been seeded by an unnamed Australian superannuation fund, but that he has also been approached by a number of asset owners, consultants and hedge funds with regards to customization of their own fund platforms with the Highland overlay.
He says the collaboration with PIMCO also intends to send ESG signals to the market: “We will sit down with Mercer, the investment consultant and PIMCO at the end of each year to look at which ESG factors were influential in terms of performance and risk signals. There is so much noise in investment that we would like to see what effect ESG has on portfolio decisions. If you want to be a long-term investor fiduciary you have to measure what you are doing.”
Link to Highland Good Steward