Obituary: Jon Aldecoa, Spain’s SRI maestro

Responsible Investor is saddened to report the death of Jon Aldecoa Olañeta, a pensions consultant whose peers considered him one of the founding fathers of SRI in Spain. Aged 60 years, he died on 3 October due to a sudden illness.

Aldecoa served for the last decade as Senior Consultant of Novaster, where he introduced and designed responsible investment policies for almost all of the country’s main occupational pension schemes.

Those corporate pension schemes advised by Aldecoa have now become driving forces of SRI in Spain, including Pensions Caixa 30, the plan of Caixa Bank’s employees, the largest with almost €6bn.

Jordi Jofra, who presides Pensions Caixa 30’s board of trustees, tells RI he considers Aldecoa the great master of SRI in Spain.

“He helped us with our very first Statement of Investment Principles. We started our SRI policy from scratch and Jon was there guiding us to gradually make it more sophisticated,” Jofra says.

Aldecoa was the brains behind the first SDG-themed fund launched in Spain one year ago by Bankia, the fourth national largest bank.

Contacts between Bankia and Novaster were prompted by the services Aldecoa was rendering to Bilbao-based Anesvad Foundation, which had already put in place ESG strategies to finance its international health and social development projects.

Gorka Goikoetxea, Anesvad’s Deputy Director, tells RI that Aldecoa worked pro bono for almost 3 years during which he transformed the foundation’s portfolio.

The governing body then decided in 2016 to professionalise its SRI policy hiring Novaster as its EAFI (the Spanish equivalent of an Independent Financial Adviser) and appointing Aldecoa to Anesvad’s Committee of Independent Experts.

“Before meeting Jon, the foundation had a traditional approach to investments, now our portfolio is 98.8% invested in SRI products. In many ways, Jon carried the SRI voice of Anesvad, representing us in international fora,” Goikoetxea says.

Goikoetxea believes Anesvad was a project close to Aldecoa’s heart and he also refers to Mikel Postigo, his colleague at Novaster, as one of Aldecoa’s personal bets.

Aldecoa hired Postigo as a consultant about two and a half years ago, soon after he completed a Masters in Finance at Deusto Business School.

Aldecoa was a lecturer on asset management where he inspired passionate students, such as Postigo, who then later sought to establish careers in the SRI space.

Postigo tells RI that everyone in the industry would tell him how lucky he was to work side by side with Aldecoa.

“He’s been a boss and a friend, but above all an example. Extremely hard-working and humble. He would attend an international conference and tell me: ‘Look, Mikel, I’m the only Spaniard here. Spain needs to up its game.’ Then he would bring back and share all what he had learnt.”

Aldecoa had been recently appointed to the board of trustees of Vital Foundation (formerly Caja de Ahorros de Vitoria y Álava), a non-remunerated role where he was already involved in the design of an SRI policy, according to Postigo

Jon Recacoechea, a colleague at Deusto Business School and Head of ESG at Fineco, the private banking arm of the Basque savings bank Kutxabank, tells RI that Aldecoa was clearly ahead of his time.

“He’s been a tenacious leader in this field. SRI evolves very slowly in Spain. Others would have thrown in the towel, but he kept fighting for what he thought could make a healthier financial system,” Recacoechea says.Javier Santibáñez Grúber, the Director of the Master in Finance in which Aldecoa was a lecturer, tells RI he was very well-respected and popular among students.

Santibáñez shares with RI anonymous feedback from students who praised Aldecoa, both personally and as a professional.

Santibáñez also says that Aldecoa scored a rating of 4.9 points on a scale of 1 to 5 as a quality lecturer. “I’ve got 35 years of experience in academia and I can tell you that it’s not easy to build such a great reputation.”

Aldecoa, himself an alumnus from the Deusto Busines School who graduated in 1980, started his career as a tax civil servant at the Basque regional government of Álava (Diputación Foral de Álava).

He then moved to the pensions world in 1986 and became the head of Elkarkidetza, one of the first welfare and pension schemes controlled and overseen by Basque government (known as Entidades de Previsión Social Voluntaria or EPSVs).

In 1998, Aldecoa was appointed Technical Secretary of the EPSVs Basque Federation, a role he undertook for almost a decade until he became a pensions consultant.

More than 10 years ago, he started working with Diego Valero, President of Novaster and a long-term friend.

Valero tells RI: “I believe Jon was the professional who knew most about SRI in Spain. It is a great loss for me as a friend but also for his industry peers. He was a pioneer and his legacy will be with us forever.”

In a March 2017 interview, Aldecoa told RI: “Since 2007 we have been aware of SRI innovations going on in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and elsewhere. We have been pioneers not because we are smarter than anyone else, but because we have bothered to know what others are doing abroad.”

Aldecoa was proud to have attended since inception all RI Europe conferences, organised by Responsible Investor’s events division.

According to Tony Hay, Publisher of RI, Aldecoa is probably the only delegate who has attended all 11 editions consecutively since 2008.

Aldecoa, who was never afraid to speak his mind and engage in constructive criticism, told RI about how reluctantly and bizarrely the Spanish pension laws introduced a “very peculiar approach to comply-or-explain” regarding ESG.

“If you don’t do ESG you don’t have to explain anything. It’s like a punishment for those who practice SRI: Don’t comply, don’t explain!” Aldecoa told RI about the 2014 reform of Spain’s Fund and Pension Plans Regulation (See Article 69).

Aldecoa was closely involved with Spainsif, the national SRI forum, for which he authored the annual Observatory of the SRI, a comprehensive state of play report of the industry.

Nonetheless, when asked, Aldecoa would highlight “the somewhat dysfunction” of not having pension funds represented per se at Spainsif. “It must be the only SIF [sustainable investment forum] I know where asset owners such as pension funds are missing,” he told RI.

Jaime Silos, Spainsif’s President, paid tribute to Aldecoa at this year’s annual conference, held in Madrid on 16 October.

“We would like to pay homage to a comrade in arms, one of the greatest promoters of SRI. We will always be grateful for your contribution, Jon,” Silos said.

Silos suggested to close the event on a positive note with a warm round of applause in Aldecoa’s remembrance, following which his peers gave the Spanish SRI maestro a standing ovation.