Swedbank Robur drops commercial gambling sector as part of ‘sharpened’ exclusion strategy

The investor also sets out expectations across a number of ESG areas including biodiversity and labour rights

Swedish asset manager Swedbank Robur has excluded the commercial gambling sector from its investments, effective 1 January.   

The investor announced the move yesterday as part of a wider update on the strengthening of its policy for responsible investments. 

“The continuous reviewing of our guidelines is an important part of our work. By sharpening and clarifying our policies and strategies step by step, we can also give our customers a greater understanding of how we work and what we as asset managers stand for,”  said Pia Gisgård, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Governance at Swedbank Robur. 

In its updated exclusion strategy, commercial gambling is referred to as “casino, bingo, poker, sports betting, odds and scratch cards – physical gambling and online and mobile phone gambling where the main purpose is gambling for money or the value of money. It also includes development and associated services to companies that offer gambling activities.”

Companies deriving 5% of their revenues from the manufacturing or sales of these activities are excluded, while the revenue threshold rises to 50% for companies developing services for companies that offer gambling activities. 

The SEK 1,868bn (EUR 180bn) investor will however not exclude companies active in sales, development and services for the types of gambling activities “whose primary purpose is not to win money”. It will also refrain from excluding investments related to research and development into gambling behaviour and safe gambling.  

Gambling is widely seen as a sin stock in the responsible investment space, so the timing of the expanded exclusion policy might surprise some.  

Sweden is home to a number of online betting giants including Betsson and Kindred/Unibet, and a number of local asset managers and pension funds have come under fire in Swedish press in recent years for their investments in the gambling industry.  

A Swedbank Robur spokesperson told RI the announcement followed an earlier strategic decision to reduce its exposure to the gambling sector, and that the move was initiated already in 2019. It would not be drawn on specific holdings it has divested since the decision, but said “we do not see that our updated policy will affect our funds’ current holdings at this time”.  

Swedbank Robur Fonder was a top 10 shareholder in Kindred as of 28 February 2020, according to the company's 2019 annual report. It did not appear in the major shareholder list as of 26 February 2021, in the company's 2020 annual report

Meanwhile, Swedbank Robur also published yesterday a range of new documents with its responsible investment expectations on companies in a number of areas including climate, animal welfare, children's rights, labour rights and biodiversity and natural capital management.   

The announcement follows Swedbank Robur telling RI it was a support investor in dialogues with Alphabet and Apple regarding their business activities in Myanmar.