LITTLE STAR: Neil Brown, investment manager, ATI

Written by Rebecca O'Connor on 24th July 2016

For too long this notion of doing the right thing has felt at odds with generating returns and it is great to see this already changing

Neil is lead manager of the AT Sustainable Future European Growth fund, which was recently named as ‘Best Buy for Ethical Investment’ in Ethical Consumer’s recently published Guide to Personal Carbon Divestment.

  1. How would you rate your own personal finances for goodness, on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?

Well as you might expect a lot of my personal finances are tied up in investments in my own funds so I’ll go for a high eleven there, but diversification is key and I’d have to confess to not scoring so well elsewhere.

The reality of trying to be good with your money is that the options we face are still too limited in my view. We face a lot of challenges ranging from financial advisers perhaps being new to sustainable investing, funds not being fully transparent and, even worse, sometimes funds being so transparent that there is no clarity, making it impossible to make straightforward investment decisions.

That’s something we all need to keep working on all the way down the chain, from each of us pestering our advisers for more research into sustainable options, to advisers continuing their calls for clear and transparent disclosure from asset managers, and of course to asset managers demanding ever better disclosure from the companies we are all investing in.

  1. What bit of your finances would you most like to change for the better?

Diversification is always a tricky thing when I have a passion for the companies I invest in, yet want as much exposure to our big investment themes as possible. I need to continue to allocate away from my passions and get to know different asset classes and even some of my competitors better.

Having hopefully got the basics sorted, the next step for me would be to have an allocation to more impact investments or projects.  I’m strangely fascinated by bees; they’re in trouble and it would be great to have investments that are more directly involved in projects to arrest their decline or protect biodiversity more broadly. I also have a background in international development and would like to look at different ways of putting our savings to work on global development projects around poverty reduction, education or microfinance.

  1. Which provider are you most impressed by? Why?

Our sister company Alliance Trust Savings has a good proposition and is making a number of changes and improvements as a result of making a big acquisition last year. I am also impressed with the idea behind peer to peer investment manager Abundance. I think a lot of the worst aspects of our financial system come from this notion of just handing over responsibility to someone else. Our clients stay closely involved either directly with us or through their advisers, challenging our positions on key themes as well as particular holdings.

  1. Which provider would you like to see hoisted by their own petard? Why?

Without naming names I think there are still a number of providers who are not yet fully engaging with the rapid developments in technology that could be doing more to improve the relationship we all have with our savings.

  1. Do you think you have lost out financially by making sustainable choices?

No, I’m happy to report that it has been quite the opposite. I know that the sustainable investments we have made in my funds have driven strong absolute performance and relative outperformance against the standard European benchmarks and European peers that I measure them against.

We invest in companies that are capitalising on the positive trends working their way through our economies. I remain completely convinced that companies that treat their customers, employees, community and shareholders well make for the best investment returns.

  1. What personal finance headline would you most like to read in the next year, and why?

“Top 10 richest people in the world all sustainability billionaires.”  I think for too long this notion of doing the right thing has felt at odds with generating returns and it is great to see this already changing. I would like to see that celebrated more through good people making money by doing the right thing by their customers, employees, supply chains and of course their investors, the owners of these businesses, i.e. all of us.

Risk warnings

Past performance should not be seen as a guide to future performance. The value of investments and any income from them can go down as well as up.  Investors may get back less than they originally invested. Examples of stocks are provided for general information only to demonstrate our investment philosophy.  It is not a recommendation to buy or sell and the view of the investment manager may have changed. Fund which undertake ethical screening to meet their investment aims are unable to invest in certain sectors. Before you choose a fund, make sure you understand its aims and risks.  You should ensure you have read the Fund Factsheets and Key Investor Information Document (KIID) beforehand.  These are available on our website: Alliance Trust Investments does not offer investment advice. If you are unsure about an investment, please speak to a financial adviser.

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