David Boudville, Intern (Jan – Jul 2020),
ESG Investment Team, UOBAM
I joined UOB Asset Management (UOBAM) as an intern early in January as the second member of the ESG Team headed by Victor Wong, Head of Asia ESG.
UOBAM had become a signatory of the United Nations backed Principles for Responsible Investments (PRI) on 2 Jan 2020. I have always been passionate about sustainability and was curious to see how it plays a role in the investment community as well as whether how we can invest for both purpose and profit. Six months later I can honestly say I am 100% convinced that it is possible.
UOBAM 2020 Investment Outlook Seminar, Raffles Hotel
16th January 2020
UOBAM 2020 Investment Outlook Seminar
David Boudville, Intern with the UOBAM ESG team
On my first day, there was barely any time to waste. I was immediately assimilated into the ongoing preparation efforts for UOBAM’s Investment Outlook Seminar 2020 and was tasked with the logistics and engaging with guests.
The event was very well-received and attended by over 200 clients and guests from around the region. During the seminar, there was a presentation on sustainable investing and through some of my interactions with guests, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of the guests were excited about Sustainable Investments and its role in the investment community in the near future.
I was particularly impressed by CEO, Thio Boon Kiat’s speech and the firm’s commitment to sustainability which was especially commendable for an asset manager based in Asia, given that many leading investors based in the West had not even begun to consider these issues.
Full-throttle towards a sustainable future
The seminar was however just the beginning.
In the following weeks, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered his Budget 2020 address in which he announced a slew of sustainability initiatives that will be launched in the following years. So it appears that our government was clearly on the green path as well!
Subsequently, I started to analyse sustainability trends to identify potential implications for asset managers and investors before summarising the findings into an article to share with clients.
Embracing a sustainable culture
But of course, our commitment to sustainability extends past the realm of investments. We knew that in order to truly embrace sustainability firm-wide. We started to encourage sustainable workplace practices and habits via electronic direct mailers (EDMs) to staff.
Building on this momentum, the team organized a coastal clean-up day and a food-rescue programme in partnership with Food Bank Singapore for our staff. To make these events more meaningful, we linked them to specific United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which allow us to target specific goals.
The process involved a lot of meticulous planning with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other interested parties. I found it highly rewarding to be involved in the organising of these events which were meaningful, educational and a big step towards UOBAM’s sustainable culture as they connect with our immediate communities. These events were scheduled to be held in May and June, but unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they had been postponed to the end of the year.
During the circuit-breaker, many of us made a transition to work-from-home (WFH) arrangements. Sustainability however, could not afford to take a back seat for it is especially during these times of crisis where the importance of sustainability truly becomes apparent. We ramped up our sustainability events and initiatives via virtual platforms and also launched our fourth firm-wide pillar, Sustainability@UOBAM to nurture a culture of sustainability among our staff. Following the government’s solidarity payout in April, we launched a “Solidarity Donation Drive” to encourage staff to donate to needy beneficiaries such as the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC), Community Chest and Giving.sg
Building a dedicated team
As we ramped up our efforts and beefed-up our team, we welcomed our own in-house Data Scientist, Hong Li in February. Li’s skills in programming and coding allowed us to begin working on our own ESG Investment Process with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) at the core. The initial stages were arduous and filled with uncertainties as we started from the basics: from mapping relevant ESG factors to the sourcing of data providers such as MSCI, Arabesque and Refinitiv. We have progressed significantly and are now in the process of developing an ESG real-time news model to complement our existing processes. From this experience, I was now beginning to connect the dots between investing and sustainability.
Joining our ranks in at the end of March before the implementation of the circuit-breaker was Don Tan, who now oversees the governance pillar in our team. He plays a critical part in developing our Active Ownership policy and ensuring that UOBAM is aligned with PRI frameworks. In the following weeks, the team continued to work tirelessly to develop our proxy voting and engagement policy. With these systems in place, we are able to more effectively take a proactive active role in the companies which we have a stake in.
Striving to become a leader in sustainability in the region
Sustainability amid the Pandemic and Beyond e-workshop 30th April 2020
At the end of April, we also organized a joint sustainability e-workshop for our staff on the topic of sustainable investment trends and opportunities amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The two-part 11⁄2hour session was attended by over 150 staff from around the region which was co-hosted by our partner in sustainability, Robeco. I had the privilege to work closely with our Regional Sustainability Champions via online platforms and feature them through a video I had edited, which was broadcasted during the online e-workshop. It was reassuring to see diversity in the sustainability initiatives across the different regional offices as we all commit to the common goal of embracing a culture of sustainability firm-wide. For example, UOBAM Malaysia had planned a sustainability flea market and food donation drive, UOBAM Thailand was involved in waste management and a donation drive and UOBAM Taiwan had implemented paperless management meetings and sustainable marketing gifts for clients.
Our first virtual sustainability roundtable summit
Sustainability amid the Pandemic and Beyond Roundtable Webcast 3rd June 2020
After the success of our e-workshop for staff, we then proceeded to organize our Sustainability Amidst the Pandemic and Beyond Roundtable Webcast, the first of a series of Sustainability Workshops to provide insights to our valued clients and the general public.
The roundtable was hosted virtually and included a panel of 6 industry experts from the region and was graced by over 300 attendees. Among some of our esteemed speakers were representatives from our partners Robeco and Fukoku Capital Management as well as our fund distributor Standard Chartered Bank. This was one of the most ambitious events we had ever coordinated and there were many challenges along the way, especially due to restrictions arising from the circuit-breaker and logistical concerns as our panelists were dialing in from different parts of the region. During the event, I was the moderator for the Q&A segment and was thrilled to see the enthusiasm and engagement from the attendees, especially in the case of Islamic-ESG which has indeed been gaining traction in the recent months. With everyone’s combined efforts, our first live e-workshop was a big success and is only the first of many to come.
Adapting sustainably amidst the pandemic
Sustainability Nutrition amid the Pandemic and Beyond! e-workshop 12th June 2020
At this point we had entered into our two-month mark since the start of the circuit-breaker and many of us were struggling to adapt to being confined within our homes. Our health and well-being were clearly taking a toll and our waistlines were clearly expanding. As such I hosted an e-workshop titled: “Sustainable Nutrition amidst the pandemic and beyond!” an internal workshop designed to help staff from all around the region to improve their diets and boost their energy levels. Our partner in sustainability, Robeco had kindly sponsored a session with Functional Medicinal Nutritionist Karin Reiter and together we co-hosted a session to discuss healthy tips and tricks to better sustain our bodies!
However, it has not been all just fun and games, we are also now in the midst of developing several funds covering sustainable equities, fixed-income and multi-asset Islamic ESG which complement our current Sustainable Fixed-income Fund in partnership with Robeco. Apart from our primary role as ESG Analysts, we have also published several white papers and commentaries which have been featured on the Straits Times and other news outlets. We have also launched podcasts and intend to ramp up our efforts to be a leader in sustainability in the region.
Reflecting upon my sustainability journey
These are just some of the many sustainability initiatives which we have launched and there are still many planned in the pipeline. The team is new and still growing, in fact, our newest member, Kenneth Tay had just joined us the week before I began writing this account, and as I pass on the baton to him – the future of the ESG Team at UOBAM looks indeed, very promising.
These 6-months have definitely been fruitful and eye-opening. I have learned and taken away so many lessons and am glad to have made a tangible impact during my stint. Before this internship, I held the belief that sustainability was only linked to climate change and environmental issues, but now I realize I was only hitting the tip of the iceberg. Sustainability can also encompass social and governance issues, the sustainable practices of a business, active ownership and engagement and so much more.
I have been very privileged to be given the chance to spearhead and play an integral role in so many initiatives which would not be possible without the forward-looking leadership of CEO Boon Kiat, CIO Jiun Yeh, the assistance of Rhoda Tan and the marketing team, and of course Victor, Don, Li, Kenneth with whom I have forged close lasting friendships with. As I resume my studies at Singapore Management University (SMU), I am confident that UOBAM will continue to champion innovative sustainability initiatives and emerge as Asia’s leader in sustainability in the near future.
Thank you and stay safe, stay healthy and stay united.