RI Careers Interview: “Sustainable finance is a topic that is critical for all business sectors”

Trevor Allen, Sustainability Research Analyst, BNP Paribas talks to Responsible Investor about how he got into ESG and his career to date.

Tell us a bit about your current role and the company you work at?

The team I work within creates research with economic analysis for our clients globally. Within our research department, I head up research with a sustainable finance market view. 

What does a typical working week look like for you? What do you do on a daily basis?

My days are varied with some days fully committed to research and writing market views for our clients, contrasted with days where I am visiting clients in person to discuss our market views, to speaking at conferences or with the media, to internally educating other departments on sustainable finance. A lot of my role is really based around education, both what is sustainable finance and why it is important. 

Have you always worked in RI/ESG? Tell us about your career path.

  • How long have you worked in RI/ESG?

I have had the privilege to work in sustainable finance since 2013. 

  • What was your background?

I was a product specialist in our attribution and risk reporting tool suite. We were looking at how we can expand our risk profiling to incorporate non-traditional risks for individual companies and sectors. Obviously, climate change, and in particular carbon footprint analysis, was key for us in those early days, but we also were quite keen on incorporating water risks, as well as social and governance risks. 

  • Were there any particular steps you took to move into RI/ESG?

We used to get a lot of strange looks back in those days, but things started to rapidly change after 2015, with more and more interest increasing in sustainable finance.

  • What qualifications do you have?

I graduated from the Cambridge CISL, from the Post-graduate certificate in sustainable business. I highly recommend the course. 

  • Was there anything that attracted you to RI/ESG?

My attraction to the subject is really as simple and as complex as saving the planet. That is literally the way I approach it. The aspect of thinking innovatively in the world of finance is also very attractive. 

What do you like most, like least about RI/ESG?

I enjoy being a part of true innovation, and saving the planet. There are a lot of original solutions that are changing the way we address climate change, sustainable bonds, ESG scores, and step up coupons for example. And, the piece de résistance is that we are literally waking up and coming to work to help save the planet. It is a tremendous privilege to be a part of such efforts.

I find it difficult at times to be patient. There are a lot of answers to problems that are fairly straight forward, but they are not always rapidly adopted, whether at the government or private sector level. Sustainable finance is a catalyst for economic growth, not an inhibitor to growth.

 What single thing or person has had the most positive impact on your career, and why?

This is going to sound contrived, but the answer is really my mother. I was raised by a strong, single mother for my entire adolescent life. I saw her having to confront a world prior to #MeToo, where she did not always have a strong support structure. This helped instil in me a willingness to challenge the status quo and have the courage to support positions where you find little or no support. She made it look easy in a much more complex environment. 

What differences do you see, if any, between Sustainable finance/investments and conventional?

There are many, but the key difference is you are asking for more capital to be returned than your initial investment, and for the investment to help save the world. 

What is your understanding of a sustainable workplace? 

A sustainable workplace has a business activity that can continue to be utilised or adapted to public needs for decades to come while having a minimal impact on the environment and upholding the highest levels of social welfare and ethical corporate governance. 

If you knew what you know now what would you have done differently when you started your career. What advice do you wish you’d been given when you started out?

If I knew what I know now when I started my career, I probably would have been drowned out by the naysayers. It is important to know that even if you are right, you still need to convince others why you are right and understand that some people may not be ready to hear fresh thinking. In this way, it is more important to bring people along with you and increase your support. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out today?

Sustainable finance is a topic that is critical for all business sectors, so do not think you need to go down a particular path or work in a particular industry. Sustainable finance affects everything now. 

If you work to learn, your career will develop in ways that you cannot anticipate. Always be curious. 

  • Attending a programme on climate science or sustainable business will provide you with a strong, fact-based foundation of why change is necessary. This will inform your thinking in how you approach sustainable finance in a more organised manner. 
  • Try to work for a company that has embedded the Paris Accord or the SDGs into its business development strategy. Sustainable finance needs to be integrated into the core of all business activities to have a meaningful impact. 
  • Listening and presentation skills, along with understanding the idiosyncratic corporate cultural of your business are critical for success. 
  • It is important to think along trajectories. Identify where the path is heading, and then talk about what is likely to be happening in 3 months or 6 months from now. This comes with experience, but it is a teachable method, where you can train yourself to think in this manner. 

Looking ahead, where do you see the opportunities or growth areas for career paths in RI/ESG? 

Risk is a key area, along with product development. Risk and R&D budgets will be increasing to properly start to address climate change. 


CV at a glance:

  • BNP Paribas 

             Sustainability Research Analyst, 2018 – Present 

             Sales Manager, 2017 – 2018

             Product Sales Specialist (Risk & Performance services), 2014 – 2017

             Senior Business Analyst (Risk and Performance), 2013 – 2014

To access other interviews and Sustainable Finance Careers Report follow the link: esg-data.com/careers