Natixis Investment Managers has named Aegon Asset Management’s former Global Head of Responsible Investment, Harald Walkate as its first ever Head of ESG.
Speaking about his appointment, Walkate told RI that in the newly-created role he will be responsible for “articulating and organising the group’s overall approach to ESG”.
He explained that there are currently teams working on ESG at many Natixis investment units – 12 of which are signatories to the UN supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) – but said that, to date, the group’s approach has been more “grassroots”.
There is now, he said, “a desire to have more consistency across Natixis Investment Managers”, which will be Walkate’s role, commencing next month.
Natixis IM, which manages over $1trn in assets, oversees 26 investment ‘affiliates’ – mainly across France and the US – including its Paris-based sustainability specialist Mirova.
Initially, the plan is for Walkate to work with existing ESG staff at the affiliates and “leverage as much of their expertise and experience as possible for the benefit of the broader group”, he said, expressing his “excitement” at the prospect of working with Mirova’s CEO Philippe Zaouati, who he described as a “thoughtful” proponent of ESG. However, he pointed out that, owing to the diversity of investment approaches within the group, “what works for Mirova may not be appropriate for every other Natixis investment unit”.
A “one-size-fits-all approach” to ESG wouldn’t make sense, Walkate said, “when there is such diversity in terms of investment style, asset class, clients and geography among the affiliates”.
Natixis IM has already begun mapping the ESG work being undertaken at the investment units, so Walkate believes things will move “reasonably quickly”.
Walkate said that both he and his new employer share a “pragmatist” sensibility when it comes to ESG.
“We are going to focus on the things that are actually going to make a difference, a difference to our investments or a difference in creating a better world”, he said.“We are not going to waste time with efforts that sound good but don’t actually contribute that much to bringing about change”.
On this theme, Walkate and ESG stalwart Cary Krosinsky recently penned an article calling for a more “enlightened” approach to impact investing, one that is underpinned by greater rationality.
“There are a lot of actors in ESG and impact investing that have very large expectations from investors and what financial markets can do, but often don’t understand them very well” – Walkate
“When I attend conferences I often get the sense that we are repeating the same platitudes but not really getting the shared insights that are needed about how big actors in financial markets make decisions, how capital on a large scale is allocated and how you effectively influence those things”, Walkate said.
“There should be more debate and learning around that because there are a lot of actors in ESG and impact investing that have very large expectations from investors and what financial markets can do but often don’t understand them very well”.
Walkate will be based out of Paris, and will continue his work as an advisor to the Impact Management Project (IMP) alongside the new position. IMP is an initiative backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), PRI, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), seeking to coordinate the development of common impact measurement and management principles. He has been seconded to the project from Aegon for several months.