WHEB Asset Management has come on leaps and bounds since bringing in the Henderson team in May 2012. A year on, Alex Blackburne sat down with managing partner George Latham and founding partner Clare Brook to speak about its success.
This article originally appeared in The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013.
WHEB Asset Management has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Launched in 2009, its flagship Sustainability Fund has gone from strength to strength, and is now considered one of the most attractive options in an increasingly attractive positive investment market.
For the first three years of the fund’s existence, it grew steadily. Its philosophy of only investing in companies that provide solutions to some of the most urgent sustainability challenges had allowed it to grow to £29m in size by the end of 2011.
By this point, WHEB was ready to expand. It began looking for a new recruit – a fund manager who could aid this expansion, and who could eventually take over the running of the business. It was around this time that Henderson Global Investors had decided to close its sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) arm – a move that some said marked a “backward step” for the sector – leaving its SRI team unemployed and looking for work.
You can probably guess what happened next.
There are instances in life where one has to sit back and marvel at the way the universe seems to connect everything in one big, intergalactic jigsaw. Had one of these two occurrences been just a few months earlier or later, it’s unlikely that a partnership between WHEB and the former Henderson team would have come about.
As it is, the two combined officially in May 2012, and have not looked back.
“We’ve recruited the best team in the sector”, says founding partner Clare Brook, speaking at the firm’s office near Manchester Square in London.
“We’ve put together a super team. As any follower of Premier League football knows, if you invest in the best players, you’re going to start getting really good results. So our performance has really started to take off. We’re outperforming our one-, three- and six-month benchmarks and a lot of people have started to notice how performance has started to improve since we put the new team in place.”
People want to invest in global sustainability strategies covering both social and environmental themes that take a long-term approach to creating value
And notice they have. Blue & Green Tomorrow conducted a survey at the back end of 2012 among financial advisers that are members of the Ethical Investment Association, asking them which asset managers they use most often.
WHEB’s popularity increase was second only to Royal London – rising from joint 26th place in 2010 with 3% of advisers using it, to joint 12th last year with a third of EIA members now saying they invest some of their clients’ money into its Sustainability Fund.
“We’re starting to get some mainstream ratings agencies grading us very highly, and we think what they’re picking up on is a) the heritage and experience of the team, and b) the robustness of the investment process”, adds Brook.
“Success breeds success. People have started to see we’re getting the assets in and that we are living up to the hype that they had hoped of us when the new team joined.
“We think that this fund is the answer to what people have been looking for. It’s performing well and it’s actually investing in the sort of companies that people interested in sustainability want to see in their fund.”
But it’s not only the arrival of the Henderson team that has kicked WHEB’s progress on. Its fund’s positive focus on nine key sustainability themes – resource efficiency, water management, cleaner energy, environmental services, sustainable transport, safety, wellbeing, education and health – has allowed it to surge ahead of many competitors in the ethical fund market that perhaps rely too much on excluding harmful and destructive industries, rather than focusing on investing in innovative, clean technologies, for example.
Any company WHEB invests in has to have at least a third of its revenue or profits coming from one or more of the nine themes (the average for the fund as a whole is over 80% coming from the themes), and the fund managers have to be comfortable that the rest of the business is not pulling in the opposite direction.
And it’s the focus on companies providing solutions that has driven WHEB’s popularity in the past year.
Managing partner George Latham, ex-Henderson, says, “People want to invest in global sustainability strategies covering both social and environmental themes that take a long-term approach to creating value.
“People are interested in looking for logical reasons why a strategy can and should outperform over a longer period of time that goes beyond the idea that somebody’s going to get up and sprinkle some magic dust over the portfolio. So many investment funds are sold on the basis of some single person’s charisma and most recent track record, which I think is wrong.
“Traditionally, most evidence shows that very few people are able to continue with the magic dust approach for a long period of time.”
At a time when transparency in the ethical investment market is perhaps lacking, WHEB’s decision to publish every single one of its fund’s holdings on its website, along with a five-line rationale as to why each fits in with its themes, also sets it apart from many of its competitors. All funds – ethical or otherwise – have this kind of information readily available. For the vast majority, it’s not a question of how easy it is to publish it; it’s a conscious decision not to.
A report by responsible investment campaigners ShareAction (then called FairPensions) from December ranked 20 of the largest ethical investment houses on their responsibility, transparency, accountability and stewardship. WHEB came joint second, alongside Standard Life and behind F&C Investments. Only nine of the 20 published a full list of their holdings.
But WHEB’s transparency doesn’t stop there.
Latham adds, “Another thing we do, which I think is very unusual, is we have a level of external governance looking at our fund – that’s the eyes and ears of the customer in a way.
“That investment advisory committee sits down with us, and challenges us on whether our stock selection actually fits into one of our themes. In an extreme situation, they can say they don’t agree.
“But what would happen if we then said we don’t care? What we do, which is new to us and fairly unique, is publish the minutes of each meeting. So if we were to have that situation, then that would be very public.”
Brook says that before Latham and the Henderson team joined WHEB, the Sustainability Fund did actually have a holding that was contested by the advisory committee. It was swiftly sold.
WHEB’s combining of finance and sustainability has led to a prosperous past few months. What’s clear is that its management team is 100% behind its strategy (each of its partners have put more than half their own personal wealth into the fund alongside its clients) – something that perhaps wouldn’t be the case at larger investment houses, and something that has unquestionably benefitted both the performance of the fund, and its attractiveness to investors.
For now, its Sustainability Fund – now around £48m in size – will remain its one and only investment vehicle. But neither Brook nor Latham rule out expansion in the future. The pair are ambitious with their future growth plans, but who can blame them?
After the whirlwind 12 months enjoyed by everyone at WHEB, the only way – surely – is up.
Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy
Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.
Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.
Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.
How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:
- They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
- They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
- They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
- They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.
Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.
Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use
The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.
Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.
Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers
Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.
Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.
Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy
Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:
- Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
- Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
- Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.
You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.
How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands
Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.
Small waste adds up over time
A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:
- Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
- Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
- Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
- Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.
Going electronic has significant benefits
If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.
Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:
- Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
- Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
- Using financial software to manage your books
- Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
- Arranging digital feedback and review forms
- Making the most of Google Docs
Going green can help you to make money too
Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.
Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.