Institutional Investors Increasingly Seek SRI

A majority of institutional asset managers surveyed by Cerulli Associates have received client requests for socially and environmentally responsible investing mandates.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) mandates are gaining popularity among institutional investors, according to Cerulli Associates research.

More than 50% of institutional asset managers have recently received client requests for socially responsible investing (SRI) or environmental, social, governance (ESG) mandates, Cerulli finds in a new analysis. The research reveals that among investment groups, 68% have ESG capabilities, and 27% have plans to develop these capabilities in the next 24 months. Just 5% of asset managers do not have SRI/ESG capabilities today and are not planning any related product development in the next 24 months.

“Institutional sales teams report that clients and prospects are inquiring about this area as they seek to better understand the different aspects of sustainable investing,” says Susana Schroeder, senior analyst at Cerulli. “Even professionals working in the trenches have witnessed this shift, including request for proposal [RFP] teams, which have reported a rise in the number of RFPs with embedded ESG-related questions.”

The research from the global financial analytics firm reveals that the institutional investing market as a whole benefited from strong equity performance in 2013. The defined benefit (DB) channel still contains the most assets, with a combined public and private DB figure of slightly more than $6 trillion. However, asset growth in this segment is slowing, and Cerulli expects defined contribution (DC) assets to grow at nearly three times the rate of DB assets in the years ahead.

The majority of public DC (96.4%) and public DB (91.8%) plans (asset-weighted) are using advisers and consultants, Cerulli finds. It is expected that public DB plans will increase the use of consultants as more aim to institute de-risking strategies. Additionally, while endowments and foundations see lower consultant employment compared to public DB and DC plans, consultants polled see these nonprofit channels as the ones with the greatest potential for asset under advisement growth.

Cerulli acknowledges the investment consulting industry is hugely important to the asset growth of institutional asset managers, stating 65% of institutional asset manager flows were consultant-intermediated in 2013. In light of the time-consuming challenge that asset managers face when building client relationships, Cerulli finds an increased use of consultants and third-party databases to improve institutional client prospecting.

Cerulli concludes that institutional asset managers are becoming more solutions-oriented for clients and prospects, and firm leaders are looking for institutional sales team members that have specialized knowledge of different institutional channels.

The “Institutional Markets 2014: Opportunities in a Crowded Market” report includes surveys of investment consultants, asset managers, and others involved in the institutional asset management space. Information on how to obtain the report is available here.