Marina Phillips, Chief Financial Officer will present the award on behalf of Epworth
Epworth Investment Management Limited, the UK investment manager dedicated to serving the needs of Churches and Charities, is proud to sponsor the Children & Youth Award at the 20th Annual Charity Awards. This is the second year that Epworth is sponsoring the Children & Youth category.
This year’s Awards will be held on 5 June 2019 in the Pavilion at the Tower of London and will honour individuals and organisations across the charity space. The awards celebrate leadership, good governance, innovation and excellence.
Marina Phillips, Chief Financial Officer, commented: ‘We feel very privileged to sponsor the Children & Youth category again. Epworth has a longstanding commitment to children as part of our Christian ethical investment process, so it is a great fit for us.’
Mark O’Connor, Head of Business Development, said: ‘Charities are under incredible pressure, yet they continue to deliver for those most in need. It is important to take time out to celebrate the wonderful work of those in the charity sector and we look forward to doing so again next June.’
Stephen Beer, Chief Investment Officer of Epworth Investment Management Limited,
This announcement is a good step along the way to a lower carbon world. It is right that executive remuneration is linked to progress on reducing carbon emissions. Shell has set a standard here for other fossil fuel companies.
The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church (CFB) and Epworth Investment Management Limited (Epworth) have welcomed the announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it will set carbon footprint targets. We are looking for still more action from fossil fuel companies on climate change.
Shell will incorporate net carbon footprint targets in its remuneration policy. It has also announced it will review its membership of lobbying organisations to ensure they are consistent with its stated positions on climate change. These are significant steps and set an example for other oil and gas companies to follow.
Shell’s announcement came in a joint statement made with investment institutions which are part of the Climate Action 100+ coalition, of which the CFB and Epworth are part. Climate Action 100+ is a five year initiative led by investors to engage on climate change especially with “systemically important greenhouse gas emitters”. It consists of 310 investors with over US$32 trillion in assets under management. It is coordinated by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), of which the CFB is a founder member.
Shell has previously announced an “ambition” to reduce its Net Carbon Footprint “in step with society’s drive to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”. It believes this translates to a reduction of its Net Carbon Footprint by approximately half by 2050 and around 20% by 2035. The Net Carbon Footprint includes not only direct carbon emissions from Shell, but emissions from the use of its products.
Shell has now announced that it intends to incorporate this ambition into its remuneration policies from 2020, as short term targets set each year for the following three or five years.
Stephen Beer, Chief Investment Officer of the CFB and Epworth said: “This announcement is a good step along the way to a lower carbon world. It is right that executive remuneration is linked to progress on reducing carbon emissions. Shell has set a standard here for other fossil fuel companies. We also welcome the news that Shell will review its membership of lobbying organisations. It doesn’t make sense for an oil and gas company to say one thing about climate change but support a lobbying organisation which is resisting measures to limit global warming.
“However we believe Shell – and other fossil fuel companies – should go further. A key test is, what investment decisions taken by the company will now be different?”
The CFB and Epworth apply three climate change policies to their investment process. They are currently undertaking a further review of fossil fuel companies. This review aims to understand the extent to which fossil fuel companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”.
Stephen Beer added:
“Shell states that its Net Carbon Footprint “ambition” is set by the progress society makes to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Yet companies are part of society; they are not merely passive. This is what corporate responsibility is about.
“The Paris Agreement on climate change sets the target of limiting climate change to “well below 2 degrees”. It would be great to have fossil fuel companies publicly commit to ensuring their business models will be aligned with this goal no matter what. The urgency is clear, with consensus is moving to regard a limit to global warming of +1.5°C as the key measure.”
“The research was illuminating. Trust and shared values are as important to many charities as returns.”
Mark O’Connor, Head of Business Development
New Affirmative Deposit Fund campaign rewards Charities with a competitive interest rate
Epworth Investment Management Limited, the UK investment manager dedicated to serving the needs of Charities, is to launch a new national campaign for its Affirmative Deposit Fund for Charities (“the Fund”). The Fund is available only to charity investors. It is designed as a safe home for a charity’s cash and pays a competitive interest rate of 0.5%.
Independent research among UK charities ahead of designing the campaign showed that while a good interest rate was important, other factors also rated very highly. These were personal service, the security of knowing they could trust the organisation and that it shared their values. The campaign reflects this research and highlights that the Fund is only available to “those that make the world a better place”.
Despite lower rates of interest being available to charities in recent years, the Fund has consistently paid a competitive rate. The campaign aims to get charities thinking about their cash deposits. How much interest are they receiving from their existing bank or savings accounts? Can they safely and securely improve the interest rate they are receiving with an organisation that shares their values?
The campaign will run from June to September 2018.
David Palmer, Chief Executive, commented: “At Epworth, we are dedicated to serving the investment needs of charities. We place Christian values at the heart of everything we do. We realise the importance of personal service and have a dedicated team supporting the charities that invest in this Fund.”
Mark O’Connor, Head of Business Development, said: “The research was illuminating. Trust and shared values are as important to many charities as returns. This Fund will provide charities with the security they need in these key areas and also a competitive return that will support them in delivering their charitable mission.”
Stephen Beer, Chief Investment Officer of Epworth Investment Management Limited,
Charles Jacob Memorial Lecture 2018, 24 April 2018
Chair, members of the CFB Council and Board, colleagues
I begin with a statement.
“…it is not the responsibility of the Central Finance Board to report at all to the Conference but members of the Board have regarded it as most appropriate and highly desirable that they should give an account of their stewardship, whatever the legal responsibilities…
…Those who are involved in the professional activities of the Board either as full time employees or on a voluntary basis giving their expertise to the Investment Committee and the Council are an absolutely essential part of the whole operation. The Central Finance Board could not operate without such expertise…it is important that one should follow carefully through the implications of some of the statements that have been made within the Methodist Church in the last few months to ensure that everyone is entirely clear about future options.1”
Those are not my words but the words from a draft CFB document from 1982. Charles Jacob was the Investment Manager who steered the CFB through those times. It was a pivotal time for the CFB because it saw the church wrestle with and resolve how it should best ensure it invested its assets with a Christian approach. Much was learned on all sides, leading to significant developments in ethical investment and our Christian approach to investing today.
It saw the formation by Methodist Conference of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment, which continues to this day, thirty-five years on. Much has changed since and today we are an organisation fully integrated and working together with the wider Methodist Church.
It is a great honour to be giving the Charles Jacob Memorial Lecture this year, following on from two distinguished and accomplished speakers since the Lecture was inaugurated. I knew Charles a little as he continued to be in contact with the CFB after he retired, and so I got to speak to and meet him on a number of occasions.
I am now in my 25th year at the CFB and I have been well aware from the beginning that we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. Charles, as the first Investment Manager, brought investment expertise and an investment mindset to the management of Methodist Church investments, which continues today. He also pioneered the integration of investment and ethics; work which was developed so extensively through his successor, Bill Seddon, and to which we remain wholeheartedly committed.
How can we best describe what we do? Well, not that long after I joined the CFB as a trainee I found myself being introduced to the editor of a tabloid newspaper at a conference.
“So you work for the Methodist Church?”, he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And you invest money?”
“So you make money for God?! What a great good news story!”
We would certainly not describe ourselves this way, but there is something different about what we do.
It is this subject, which we would perhaps prefer to call ‘investing with a Christian approach’, that I want to address today. It is not an approach which is getting any easier. It is still the case that we seek to apply the absolute truths of the Christian faith to messy, complicated, issues. That after all is the calling of every Christian.
We can, I think, call to mind any number of challenges facing us today. Here are some examples: Modern Slavery, the power of the media, exorbitant executive pay of executives and underpayment of those they employ; tax justice; the challenge of mining; farm animal welfare, the efficient and fair use of water; the threat of plastic waste. The Central Finance Board is actively engaging with these issues and many others on behalf of the Church today.
There is one issue we are particularly focused upon and on which I want to dwell a little in a moment, and that is climate change. What should be the appropriate, the wise, and the intelligent, response of a Christian investor to climate change? And does the answer to that question shed any light on how we should approach these other issues today?
So first of all I want to consider what we mean by the term a Christian approach to investing today.
When we talk about Christian ethical investing, what is the impression we are seeking to convey?
I wonder, if we talked to our church congregations, or our friends outside the church, what would they understand us to be talking about?
Perhaps we mean the church does not invest in defence companies, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling companies, and avoids exposure to companies involved in pornography. This is in fact the case; we do avoid companies significantly involved with these activities. In fact, when you add up the companies we currently exclude on ethical grounds, they form almost 15% of the UK equity market. But it is not everything we do by any means.
Today, as we consider what new funds we might launch to help other churches and charities, we are looking again at how we can screen companies for certain ethical characteristics. We already do this but we want to refine the approach. And it is certainly possible to score, or rate, companies on certain criteria, with some scoring so badly we might exclude them from investment. At the same time, we continue to engage with a whole range of companies on a whole range of issues. Contact with companies is made in a variety of ways, from letters to meetings, to shareholder resolutions. There are things we want companies to do and to stop doing, derived from Biblical principles and church teaching.
But this is not actually the very first place to start.
It is easy, very easy, to implement a moralistic approach to investing. To promote a legalistic investment policy. A, ‘thou shalt’ – and ‘thou shalt not’ – approach. It is indeed not difficult to pursue a self-righteous approach…and to threaten with condemnation those who do not comply with our view of how the world should be.
Such a starting point plays into a view of God as an angry deity who demands impossible standards and who condemns those who fall short, with a church created in that image freely condemning likewise. It has links with a ‘works based’ theology that, as the theologian Tom Wright argues2, has pervasively infiltrated Western Christian thinking; more pagan than Christian.
We must start from a different place. A Christian approach to investing begins with God’s grace, through Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the words of St Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God3” and “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus4”. This, really, is where we should start. Both as Christians in our daily lives and as Christian investors.
As we seek to apply the principles of our faith to business and society today, we have in the Bible a rich set of principles from which we can draw. But if we leave out Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection, we are not being truly Biblical at all. If we talk about Jubilee principles for cancelling debt and restructuring banks, without reference to the “founder and perfecter of our faith5”, it is difficult to see how we are being distinct. And if we skip ahead to the new creation and call for a transformed environment without reference to the person and example of the person through whom “all things were made6” it is difficult to describe our approach as, fundamentally, Christian.
Our focus on God’s grace should therefore lead to humility. Awareness of our own sinful nature and fallen state means we acknowledge that this side of the resurrection, no one is perfect, therefore no company of people is perfect, and, therefore, no company in which we might invest is perfect.
Moreover, we acknowledge that we will not get things right all the time as Christian investors.
Our focus on God’s grace at the same time leads to hope. Hope of the resurrection and new creation. Hope that the current state of affairs is not inevitable. And a conviction that change can and should start now.
Christians have been given the ‘ministry of reconciliation7’, witnesses to the Gospel and to creation renewed and reconciled to its creator. It is a great responsibility, to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us8” and to implore others “on behalf of Christ, [to] be reconciled to God9”. Yet this should give us great confidence. We have the right and the responsibility to speak clearly about what the worlds of business and finance might look like if they were “reconciled to God”. More specifically, we are to do plenty of imploring of people in companies. That is, to ‘beg someone earnestly or desperately’. In so doing, we need have no shame! And why should we, if we are calling mining companies to account for the number of people who have died or been injured in their operations, for example?
We should be clear at this point that we are supporters of the market economy. What we want to see is a just market economy.
In the words of Caritas in veritate, an encyclical letter of Pope Benedict 16th,
“The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.”10
“The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.”11
“Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence.”12
John Wesley would have agreed. His famous sermon The Use of Money makes in essence the same points. He notes that:
“‘The love of money,’ we know, ‘is the root of all evil’; but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well.”13
He encourages people to, yes, give all you can, to save all you can, but first to gain all you can, which he regards as “our bounden duty”, which we should do earnestly and with all our God-given wisdom.
This injunction of course comes with conditions. We must not “gain money at the expense of life, nor (which is the same thing) at the expense of health.” That rules out for us, and presumably others too, all sorts of occupations which demand long hours or poor conditions. We must also “gain all we can without hurting our mind any more than our body”, which speaks to ethical business practice and avoidance of what he called “sinful trade”. At the same time, we must gain all we can “without hurting our neighbour”, whether in his substance, that is we must not exploit our neighbour’s land or property, or purposefully seek to damage him economically; or “in his body”, which speaks to the type of products or services with which we are associated; or “in his soul”, and in this respect, Wesley argues that if we are involved in business activities which “are either sinful in themselves, or natural inlets to sin of various kinds, then, it is to be feared, you have a sad account to make.” Indeed, he goes on to say, “O beware, lest God say in that day, ‘These have perished in their iniquity, but their blood do I require at thy hands!’”
At this point, the Christian investor is tempted to throw up their hands and say ‘Who, then, can be saved?’!14
But of course the point is we aim to do what we can, driven by grace, in humility and in hope.
No fire and brimstone but bold, loving encouragement and conviction.
And we are but one part of the picture. We are not campaigners but investors, on behalf of the church part owners of companies. We are not the prophet in the wilderness, but more those striving to be faithful where God has placed us. As Bill Seddon has remarked in the past, not like Elijah, but more like Obadiah.15
Such then is the basis for a Christian approach to investing. It is, I believe, fundamentally different from other types of ethical, or responsible, investing. A Christian approach rests firmly on the Biblical worldview, informed by centuries of church wisdom. It is rooted. We have found that this can nevertheless be an inclusive approach, bringing in and working alongside others with different worldviews but common concerns.
Our wholly-owned subsidiary, Epworth Investment Management, invests for churches and charities outside Methodism. It has a range of clients from different perspectives which are nevertheless attracted by ethical investment based on a foundation of values.
The challenge of each time may vary, but the starting point remains the same.
I believe that today, the age in which we live, this is more important than ever in the history of Christian ethical investment. It contrasts with ethics by opinion poll, or social media storm, or subject to sudden changes in the climate of public opinion.
Of course in one respect, a changing climate is of particular concern. Back in 1983, thirty five years ago, we were not thinking about global warming. Let alone the implications for Christian investment institutions.
A recent internal CFB paper noted:
According to the IPCC, for a thousand years prior to the industrial revolution (1750-1800) greenhouse gases (GHG) remained at a fairly constant state, changing for natural weather events but not from human activity . Since then, human-generated, ‘anthropogenic’, emissions have increased the quantity of GHG in the atmosphere, causing the mean temperature of the planet to increase by almost 1°C between 1880 and 2012 . Total anthropogenic emissions between 2000 and 2010 were the highest in human history, with 78% arising from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes.
Two years ago, average CO2 concentrations exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time. It presents today an urgent existential threat to humankind, and the world as we know it. And a profound example of how men and women have disregarded and dismissed their Garden of Eden mandate.
The Methodist paper, Floods and Rainbows – Christian Faith Concerning the Environment, was published in 1991 before climate change was a concern, but its words are relevant:
“This is God’s world. God orders, brings into being, sustains, and will ultimately complete the whole universe.”16
But that as creatures made ‘in the image of God’,
“We are to be stewards of the world on God’s behalf, custodians of its amazing richness, companions to its variety of creatures, its “priests”. We are to represent the whole created order to God, and to God within the creation”
“We have become the greatest abusers of the earth, exploiting it with selfish carelessness, and adopting an attitude of ruthless arrogance towards nature.”
One cause might be because the market has become a place where, in this respect, “the strong subdue the weak”.17
As another Papal encyclical, Laudato Si, argues:
“…economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, ‘whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market’”18
Laudato Si goes on to argue that:
“…we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximising profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.”19
We should note it is a deified market that is the problem, not markets themselves. Indeed, as a CFB paper, Theology of Creation20, noted in 2002, environmental degradation was an important feature of communist economies.
Understanding causes is important for finding solutions. But time is running out, the world including investors is having to play catch up, and the ethical case for global action is becoming stronger. If no action is taken, it is predicted that the average temperature could rise to between 3.7C and 4.8C.21
Hope in God’s Future, published by the Methodist Church in Britain in 2009 – that is to say, nine years ago – makes the point that:
“In encountering biblical warnings about the consequences of failing to love and deal justly with those in need, it is hard to escape the conclusion that in continuing to emit carbon at rates that threaten our neighbours, present and future, human and other than human, we are bringing God’s judgement upon us. Even here we should not despair: that God judges rather than abandons us is a sign of God’s grace and continuing love for us.”22
The CFB has been playing its part.
In 2009 we launched our first policy on climate change. This committed us to managing portfolios with relatively low and declining carbon footprints, and to a focus on carbon emissions from companies whose shares we held. It applied – and still applies – to every company across all sectors.
We added to this another policy, focused more intensely on the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, namely electricity generators24. This policy pushed for reductions in emissions and emissions intensity from these companies. It led to one divestment, RWE, and another company, Drax, being excluded from investment, and engagement with other companies.
Two years later we published our third policy, which focused on the implications for different fuels25. We underlined our practice of encouraging companies to act consistently with reducing carbon emissions by 50% in 2050 and we took a dim view of thermal coal and tar sands. This policy led directly to a large number of exclusions, including some divestments. The largest of these was Glencore, which had significant exposure to coal, but we also excluded a large number of oil exploration companies.
And now, as you may have heard, Methodist Conference last year asked JACEI to push for an acceleration of our effort to analyse fossil fuel companies. Principally, to accelerate our assessment of the extent to which their business investment plans are aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit the average rise in temperature to “well below 2 degrees”.
It is fair to say that this work has dominated our ethical investment work over the past few months. And this has happened during a major operational review, implementation of MiFID II regulations, the planning of new fund launches, the publication of at least four new ethical investment policies on other subjects, and the active management of outperforming funds. I therefore do want to acknowledge here the hard work of our dedicated team.
We will be reporting on progress to Conference in July, but I wanted to say a few words about the work today.
First, we reviewed the vast range of scenarios available. Basically, they seek to work out the implications of scientific projections of climate change for energy resources. Most go with a +2C starting point and try to reverse engineer to suggest what amounts of fossil fuels would be consumed consistent with this temperature rise. We prefer those which err on the side of caution and which do not assume there will be a large roll-out of technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which we are not convinced will happen.
At this point I should note that in the CFB we do not place much store by analyst forecasts beyond a couple of years at most, so figures forecasting fuel use in 2030, 2050, or further out we consider highly inaccurate; they will be wrong. But the point is they are illustrative projections. They give a sense of the scale of the challenge.
After identifying key scenarios, it is possible to come to some conclusions about overall global consumption of fossil fuels by certain dates – a timeline if you will. The challenge is how to assess companies rigorously in this light. What does complying with the Paris Agreement actually mean for an individual company? After all, it is clear that fossil fuels will still be consumed in a well below 2C world, if at much lower levels.
We have been developing a methodology which looks at key criteria, including asset mix, investment plans, and company strategy. We will rate companies and use that as a basis for engagement and a judgement of companies’ progress. We will start with our direct holdings, but we need to view them in context. It is important to note we operate in a dynamic market economy. Things are constantly changing. Companies are adapting.
Look for example at the moves Shell has made. It now publishes Scope 3 emissions data; data on emissions from the use of its products – together with ambitions for future levels. It is a big investor in renewable energy. Can it do more? Most probably yes. The oil tanker that is Shell has turned slightly. We need to work out if it will turn sufficiently.
That, in summary, will be the focus of much of our attention in the months to come. But I want to bring us back what we are trying to achieve. We are not trying primarily to cleanse our conscience and feel better or look better by selling some more oil companies; even though we may conclude we need to. That is pointless and hypocritical. The aim is to play our part in encouraging the world to reduce carbon emissions. And we are keen to focus attention further across the portfolios – at the companies which demand heavy use of fossil fuels and which then are responsible for emitting greenhouse gases. The utilities; the transport companies; and heavy industry. And we will continue to do so mindful of our duty to be wise stewards of church and charity investments, including the pension funds upon which our ministers and staff rely.
Some might hear echoes there of those debates thirty-five years ago but the CFB I see today is intrinsically linked and integrated with the church of which it is a part and which it serves.
Together, with others in the church fulfilling their anointed roles too, we can work to be a Christian witness to the world; with a Christian approach to investing, imploring others on behalf of Christ, and together as we navigate the complex world of investing with a Christian approach holding “fast to the hope before us…a sure and steadfast anchor…”26
“The Charity Awards are a great opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary work that so many individuals and communities are involved with. We are honoured to be a part of this evening.”
Mark O’Connor, Head of Business Development
Epworth Investment Management Limited, the UK investment manager dedicated to serving the needs of Churches and Charities, is proud to sponsor the Children & Youth Award at the 19th Annual Charity Awards. The sponsorship follows Epworth’s longstanding commitment to ensure it considers ethical concerns relating to children before it makes any investments.
This year’s Awards will be held on 7 June 2018 at the Pavilion at the Tower of London and will honour individuals and organisations across the charity space. The awards celebrate leadership, good governance, innovation and excellence.
David Palmer, Chief Executive, commented: “This award resonates with our core Christian beliefs and day-to-day investment approach. We look forward to being able to celebrate the life-changing work that is being done by those in the Charity Sector.”
Mark O’Connor, Head of Business Development said: “The Charity Awards are a great opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary work that so many individuals and communities are involved with. We are honoured to be a part of this evening.”
For all press queries related to Epworth please contact:
Seda Ambartsumian or Jason Ochere
Tel: 44 (0) 207 379 5151
“Over a year, this increase will provide around a quarter of a million pounds of additional income to support them in their great work.”
David Palmer, Chief Executive Officer
Epworth Investment Management Limited, the UK investment manager dedicated to serving the needs of Churches and Charities, today announces a further increase in the interest rate payable to investors in its Affirmative Deposit Fund for Charities (“the Fund”). The interest rate increased to 0.40% (previously 0.35%) from 1 March 2018, following an earlier increase in December 2017.
The Fund continues to provide a competitive rate of interest (the best in the market for a common deposit fund) and a high level of capital security. It is an effective way for charities to maximise returns on their short-term cash surpluses, while retaining same-day access to their money. Charities currently invest around £500m in the Fund.
David Palmer, Chief Executive, commented: “We are committed to supporting our church and charity investors in delivering their mission. Over a year, this increase will provide around a quarter of a million pounds of additional income to support them in their great work.”
Stephen Beer, chief investment officer of Epworth Investment Management Limited,
The Sunday Telegraph, Sunday 4 March 2018
After years in the shadows, the Church has become an active investor and serves as a moral compass for the FTSE 100, writes Tom Rees
‘Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” the Methodist Church’s founder John Wesley urged his followers two centuries ago. In 2018 his teachings are not considered essential reading for City fund managers but his words reverberate in the ears of Stephen Beer, chief investment officer at Epworth, an ethics-conscious asset manager owned by the Methodist Church.
An attempt by churches to shape modern corporate culture will surprise few but even the most seasoned parishioners might be unaware that they are leading the charge with investment arms managing billions of pounds.
The Church of England is also using the considerable weight of its £7.9bn investment fund to ramp up the pressure on boardrooms skimping on their social responsibilities, while also being an invaluable source of income.
The Church Commissioners, the Church of England’s investment arm, donated £230.7m to the Church, some 15pc of its funding, in 2016, paying clergy pensions, keeping cathedral doors open and investing in schemes to tempt people back to the pews.
Its strategy for influencing markets has evolved from quietly avoiding so-called “sin stocks” to holding corporate giants’ feet to the fire on a range of issues, from excessive pay to climate change, to modern slavery.
Church funds often avoid sinking their capital into stocks investing in arms, gambling, pornography, alcohol and tobacco, areas deemed inappropriate for the Church to profit from. Around 12pc of the FTSE All-Share Index is excluded on such ethical reasons at the Church Commissioners, for example.
Beer explains that Epworth’s fund managers draw extensively on the teachings of Wesley when making moral investment decisions. Epworth tries to offset the effect of excluding a stock for ethical reasons by rebalancing its portfolio.
“If we exclude a tobacco company, our benchmark will have more in pharmaceuticals and food retailers, for example,” he says.
Keeping their noses clean dominated the approach of church funds for decades but they have found their voice as the market’s moral arbiters since the financial crisis, becoming active shareholders and turning up the heat on badly behaving boards.
Working conditions at Sports Direct, director bonuses at FTSE 100 housebuilder Persimmon, and inaction on global warming at US oil giant ExxonMobil have all been in the crosshairs of the Church Commissioners. In the latter case Exxon eventually bowed to shareholder pressure led by the Church to outline its plans to tackle global warming, while Persimmon’s directors gave up part of their generous remuneration last week.
“They have increasingly found their voice around AGMs and proactively get involved in debates about governance, fossil fuels and green energy,” says Eve Poole, author of The Church on Capitalism.
“Other ethical investors follow the Church’s lead and that’s helping get a head of steam around ethical investment more generally.” On Friday miner Rio Tinto became the latest City heavyweight to be targeted in the Church’s quest.
The Church of England Pensions Board teamed up with the Swedish National Pension Fund and Local Government Super Fund to co-file a shareholder resolution calling on the mining giant to disclose its relationship to the Australian coal lobbyists blocking efforts to tackle climate change. Environmental causes have become the Church’s leading ethical issue raised with company boards, and the Church Commissioners often bring together a coalition of shareholders to help enact change. The Transition Pathway Initiative, a programme co-founded by the Church evaluating the move to a low-carbon economy, has collected support from companies with more than £5 trillion in assets under management.
“It is an investment risk but however you come at this issue it’s something institutional investors need to be active on,” Edward Mason, the fund’s head of responsible investment, argues. “We need the products of the mining industry, they are very much the foundations of modern life, but it’s a high-risk sector and it’s important that ethical, social and environmental issues are handled responsibly by mining companies.”
The fund is in a unique and sometimes exposed position as a holier than thou investor. The Church Commissioners were left red-faced after investing indirectly in payday lender Wonga, a company Archbishop Justin Welby had vowed to put out of business. It also had to sell its shares in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Welby’s appointment as head of the Church of England five years ago has accelerated the Church Commissioners’ search for morality in markets. Last year he described capitalism as a “broken” system needing “fundamental reform”.
Poole explains that Welby’s personal interest in applying pressure on corporations and the financial crisis, exposing the “casualties of capitalism in a very visceral way”, has transformed the Church of England into an active shareholder.
“Because of the Church of England’s structure, they are the ones running the food banks so they know what this is costing,” she says. “There was always a worry about capitalism that was voiced periodically by the Church but it has got louder and louder.”
A proposal to jeopardise profits for principles would be met with a stony silence in even the most virtuous boardroom, but that trade-off is not an inevitable one.
The Church Commissioners made an excellent 17.1pc return on their investments in 2016, compared to the 8.8pc average of the UK equity income sector, according to the Investment Association.
“The performance of the Commissioners’ fund has been hugely impressive and that has helped turn the tide around ethical investment,” says Poole.
The Church’s role in capitalism is evolving from picking up those left behind to nipping ethical issues in the bud by influencing boardrooms. If it does so while continuing to reap the rewards, even the clergy of the City may be persuaded that ethical investment also pays dividends.
David Palmer, Chief Executive Officer
Originally printed in City AM, Wednesday 13 December 2017
I recently met up with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. “I’m fat and bald now”, I warned him. Unfortunately, when we met up, he agreed. As we talked, we pondered everything else that had changed.
I found myself recalling my first Christmas in the City. It was a time of deal tickets represented by little green slips that were to be put in the contracts tray by 4:30pm. If we wanted to know any “market colour”, we would call the “box” on the floor of the Stock Exchange. It was their job to maintain a chalk board with all the jobbers’ prices and sizes in key stocks. What felt most cutting was that, as I said this, I realised that even the term jobber is now obsolete.
Looking back, it amazes me how little regulation there was. Before we gave the actual order to the “box” we would write in the nominal, stock and whether it was a buy or a sell on our green slips. The “box” would then call back with the execution details to again be recorded on the slip. Client allocation? Well, that had to happen before the little green slip went into the contracts tray. Such lax client protection was made even worse by the fact that we only settled client positions on a net basis every two or three weeks.
It’s around Christmas when these changes become more apparent than ever.
In my time, jobber, broker and client entertainment was unfettered. Previously, the firm could be as generous as it liked, putting on events throughout December. It was common for my seniors to stumble back into the office in the late afternoon after a heavy lunch. And then there were the notorious Christmas parties; many a City legend was made at those parties.
Nowadays, a combination of legislation and cultural change has thankfully stopped all that. Staff parties have a strict PAYE (pay as you earn) limit and long drinking sessions are unacceptable. I used to dread the partners coming back from their lunch at 4pm. Many people still have a drink in the Christmas week but it’s kept sensible with the unwritten rule that you don’t go back to the office if it’s more than a couple.
One change that I’m not sure I can support is the appearance of the Christmas jumper. A couple of years ago a humorous ex-Guards chief operating officer colleague bought me one to wear in the office competition. It was at least two sizes too small and I’m not sure that the winner’s round of applause was enough compensation for the humiliation.
There is one thing that hasn’t changed.
At lunchtime on the last trading day before Christmas, we all finish early: not to go to the pub but to join our families. As we go our separate ways for the holidays, we all wish each other a “Happy Christmas” with a genuine smile and feeling of goodwill.
While not everyone may be off to celebrate Christ’s birth, he has brought us all together anyway. It’s my favourite moment in the office every year.
“We are committed to supporting our church and charity investors”
David Palmer, Chief Executive Officer
5 December 2017 – Epworth Investment Management Limited, the UK investment manager dedicated to serving the needs of Churches and Charities, today announces that its Affirmative Deposit Fund for Charities (“the Fund”) will pay an increased interest rate of 0.35% (previously 0.30%) from 1 December 2017.
The Fund provides a competitive rate of interest (the best in the market for a common deposit fund) and a high level of capital security. It is an effective way for charities to maximise returns on their short-term cash surpluses, while retaining same-day access to their money. Charities currently invest around £500m in the Fund.
David Palmer, Chief Executive, commented: “We are committed to supporting our church and charity investors. I am delighted that Epworth is in a position to increase the Fund’s interest rate, which will provide some additional money to help our investors in delivering their mission.”