Over 330 pensions professionals and trustees gathered at the 15th Annual Law Debenture Debate held, virtually – by necessity, on Monday May 10th 2021.
Speakers were tasked with arguing the motion: “This house believes that effective stewardship is more influential in tackling ESG issues than what you invest in”.
View the Debate recording below
The topic is particularly relevant to the pensions industry to whom, as long term investors, sustainability is crucial. The industry is also facing mounting pressure from regulators to incorporate ESG considerations into all aspects of pension scheme management.
During the debate, Pinsent Mason’s Carolyn Saunders as Chair, expertly kept the panel in line. Arguing for the motion were Jeannette Andrews (Corporate Governance Manager at Legal & General Investment Management) and Dawn Turner (independent advisor and non-executive with expertise in Responsible Investment, Sustainable Finance and ESG risks) with Vicki Bakhshi (Director in the Responsible Investment Team at BMO Global Asset Management) and Colin Melvin (founder and MD of Arkadiko Partners) opposing. Our debaters did not get to choose which side of the debate they were on, so the positions taken were to explore the topic fully, rather than necessarily wholly being reflective of their views.
An indicative vote was taken ahead of the Debate to test the audience’s initial views, the results of which were not shared until the final vote was cast. This year there was a swing with the indicative vote initially having 66% of the audience believing that effective stewardship is more important than what you invest in, compared to the final result dropping to 60% agreeing with the motion.
Therefore, overall, there is a strong feeling that positive change for good can be better effected by engaging with the companies held within a pension portfolio than choosing to sell companies with weak ESG credentials to allocate capital to ‘good’ companies.
Still, the swing against the motion post-debate was a victory of sorts for the opposing team, even if the motion won, and points were brilliantly argued on both sides!
Taking on the task of debating virtually is no mean feat and our speakers managed to retain the jovial and engaging manner for which the Debate is known. Feedback has largely focused on the fact that arguing ‘against’ effective stewardship is not an enviable position to be assigned, so big congratulations to Vicki and Colin for arguing so effectively.
"The result, whilst not departing from the majority view certainly showed a swing towards the opposition, and reflected just how complex ESG questions are for the UK pensions industry. We are all at different stages of implementing ESG considerations across schemes and hearing our panel of industry experts explain what they are seeing in the market was hugely valuable. Whilst the Debate is usually face to face, with energetic post-match analysis from our audience at the bar afterwards, this year the Debate itself certainly deserved centre stage, and I for one have taken away some great insights from it."
Venetia Trayhurn, Trustee Director and LawDeb host for the evening