Investment titan Vanguard announces first ever ESG head

Moves comes as JP Morgan appoints former UK minister Chuka Umunna to ESG role

Vanguard has announced its first ever Head of ESG, while JP Morgan has appointed former UK politician Chuka Umunna to a newly-created ESG position.

Fong Yee Chan is joining Vanguard as Head of ESG strategy for UK and Europe. She joins from  FTSE Russell, where she headed up its Sustainable Investment Products team. She’s also held roles at private equity software firm eFront, where she was ESG director and she sits on the board of directors for the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association. 

Investment giant Vanguard has been seen as a laggard on ESG compared to its peers BlackRock and State Street Asset Management. It is notable for its absence from massive shareholder engagement network Climate Action 100+ and its voting record on ESG has been poor. 

A Vanguard spokeswoman said: “We share the goals of Climate Action 100+ and of other groups that call for thoughtful governance of climate-related risks. Vanguard funds vote and engage independently of external organisations. Should a company not make progress in how they address such matters, we may use proxy voting to effect positive change on behalf of the long-term interest of our investors.”

According to a report from ShareAction last year, Vanguard was one of the least supportive asset managers voting in favour of climate-focused resolutions, supporting just 14% in the 12 months through to August last year. This compared with dramatic increases from peers such as Wellington Management International who supported 62%, up from 10% and JP Morgan Investment Management who voted for 51%, up from 7% in 2018/19.  

Elsewhere, JPMorgan has appointed former UK Labour minister Chuka Umunna to Head of ESG EMEA – a newly-created role. This will be Umumna’s first role in ESG finance, although he has been Head of ESG at PR firm Edelman for the past nine months. Before getting into politics he was a solicitor. 

JPMorgan Asset Management also made a big ESG hire this week with Yo Takatsuki joining as Head of Investment Stewardship for EMEA. Takatsuki, known for his thought leadership in the green and social bond space, joins from AXA Investment Management. Prior to this he spent seven years at BMO Global Asset Management, focused on governance and sustainable investing.  

US President Joe Biden recently poached BlackRock’s Global Head of Sustainable Investing, Brian Deese, to be his top economic advisor. BlackRock told RI that his position will be filled on an interim basis by Jessica Tan, the firm’s Global Head of Corporate Strategy. “Together with Brian, Jessica has been a guiding force behind much of BlackRock’s Sustainability efforts,” a spokesperson said. “Her deep knowledge of both the firm and sustainability will make this a seamless transition.”