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Young people want their investments to be in line with environmental, social and governance concerns, we often hear, but research is contradictory – so what should we believe?
Data can be used in all kinds of ways. It seems almost logical that young people care more about their impact on society and the environment than previous generations did, but it is still necessary to differentiate the evidenced from the plausible.
Research conducted with YouGov by master trust Smart Pension in June 2018 shows that half of under-35s were willing to direct their provider to invest their savings sustainably, which shows their good intention. However, one in three under-35s admitted they still don't keep an eye on their pension at all - suggesting reality might be lagging behind ideals at the moment, a fact that providers of default funds should be interested in.
According to another survey, by US bank Morgan Stanley, 95% of millennial retail investors were interested in sustainable investing in 2019, up from 86% in 2017. Unlike the Smart Pension survey, this one found that 67% of them had actually adopted sustainable investments, an increase of six percentage points on 2017, although still far below the 95% showing interest.
Sustainalytics also believes that China’s millennials are more aware of social and environmental issues than their parents, and that therefore the overall trend is likely to be the same there as the one observed by the Morgan Stanley survey in the US, although it might be at an earlier stage.
“We expect the demand and interest for sustainable investment in China will grow as millennials control an increasingly larger part of social wealth,” Frank Pan, senior associate Asia-Pacific research, said.
But others have questioned how strongly young investors’ decisions are guided by concerns such as sustainability or ethics – particularly when looking at millennial investors globally.
Investment in ethical funds, causes and products came lowest in a list of eight criteria that millennials were asked to prioritise by fintech company Calastone.
The highest proportion of millennials considering ethical investment to be important in choosing funds came – perhaps surprisingly – from the US, while the lowest came from Germany. The UK’s millennials were near the average on ethical funds, ranking reputation the highest instead.
So is ‘sustainable’ what people want investments to be, whereas ‘ethical’ is a step too far in one direction?
Apart from the importance of the phrasing of surveys, they also show that appetite for sustainable investments is there, but people don’t always manage to translate that into action – the reasons for this might be to do with technology, time, or lack of understanding around which funds on a platform are and aren’t sustainable; in short, they can be overcome if the industry is willing to help.
The easiest way to do that would be to create DC default funds that are already sustainably invested. Some UK providers are seeking to do that – wouldn’t it be great if more would follow.