Row over ESG integration sees emerging markets debt team quit NN Investment Partners

Dutch asset manager’s team departs to rival

Dutch asset manager NN Investment Partners has confirmed the departure of emerging markets debt (EMD) chief Marcelo Assalin and a number of key portfolio managers over disagreements relating to ESG integration within EMD strategies.

An NN IP spokesperson told Responsible Investor: “NN IP has decided to further align the investment strategy of its EMD capability with NN IP’s responsible investing beliefs. Naturally, there are different ways to apply ESG within various asset classes.

“Aside from the steps that we had already taken in ESG integration within our EMD strategies, we saw ample additional opportunity to take this further. The team could unfortunately not align on this.”

In August, NN IP announced it had integrated “stringent ESG criteria in the large majority of its AUM” or 66% of total client assets under management, amounting to €176bn.

While the strategies which did not fully integrate ESG were not disclosed, NN IP said that “the nature of the asset class or portfolio construction” of the remaining strategies did not permit for complete integration.

According to a press release, Assalin, along with former NN IP team members Marco Ruijer, lead portfolio manager for EMD hard currency and Lewis Jones, lead portfolio manager for EM corporate debt, has joined the EMD team at Chicago-headquartered William Blair Investment Management. Assalin will report to Stephanie Braming, the firm’s Global Head, and will serve on her leadership team.Commenting on his new role, Assalin said he was delighted to join a firm “where we will have investment autonomy, and be able to incorporate sustainable factors in a holistic and tailored approach that’s beneficial for clients”.

“The team could unfortunately not align on this.”

Following the exits, NN IP has chosen Edith Siermann to helm the EMD team in the interim. A former Chief Investment Officer at Robeco, Siermann is currently Head of Specialised Fixed Income and Responsible Investing. She has been with the firm for less than a year since joining in January 2019 from Dutch central bank De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) where she was CIO.

Until permanent replacements are found, the firm has appointed Joep Huntjens, to oversee the EM corporate debt strategy as lead portfolio manager, Sylvain de Ruijter for the EMD hard currency strategy and Jaco Rouw for the EMD local currency strategy.

A spokesperson from London-based responsible investment boutique Impax Asset Management said: “While we cannot comment on what is happening within other investment groups, we view ESG, and think it should be viewed, as part of the broader risk analysis process, helping investors to identify companies offering attractive long-term growth.”