British people have been donating record amounts to help refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
The UK Disasters Emergency Committee says an incredible £1 million an hour has been donated since it launched its appeal a week ago.
However, while helping Ukraine with one hand, Brits could – through pensions, bank accounts and other investments – be unwittingly investing in Russia with the other.
Here, we look at what action the UK’s leading pension schemes, banks and fund managers are taking to ensure that your money isn’t contributing to the crisis.
A poll by the Make My Money Matter (MMMM) campaign, led by Love Actually director Richard Curtis, found that 86 per cent of UK adults do not want their retirement savings invested in Russia.
MMMM CEO Tony Burdon said: “Our pensions are invested in Russian companies and Russian government debt. We believe this is morally wrong and financially unsustainable in the current climate.
“And the British public agree, with 86 per cent saying they don’t believe UK pensions should be invested in Russia. That’s why we’re calling on all pension providers to divest from their Russian investment as soon as possible. In doing so, the financial sector can display moral leadership, sound financial management, and help protect the savings of UK pension holders.”
What action have UK pension schemes taken?
Government-backed pension scheme Nest (National Employment Savings Trust), responsible for the retirement savings of 10 million UK workers, was quick to order a complete boycott of Russia investments. It told its fund managers to sell all existing Russian shares and government bonds as soon as possible and pledged to not buy any more.
The Church of England has sold all £20 million of its investments in Russian companies in response to what the archbishops of Canterbury and York described as Vladimir Putin’s “act of evil” in Ukraine.
The Universities Superannuation Scheme, the UK’s largest private scheme, has committed to sell £450 million – 0.5 per cent of its £90 billion portfolio.
The £13 billion TfL Pension Fund, the scheme for London Underground workers, said it is freezing Russian investments and has instructed its investment managers to freeze all existing direct holdings in Russian-domiciled investments. It said it currently has £28 million, 0.2 per cent of total assets, exposed to Russia, including £25 million in direct investments.
Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) said it had sold stakes in Russian companies and was reviewing its policies. “The invasion of Ukraine contravenes almost every measurable Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) metric,” a spokesperson said.
The Local Government Pension Scheme advisory board has told its members, the schemes for councils around Britain, to “examine their portfolios” for links to Russia.
Aegon has said it is “not making any active investments in Russia across our general account portfolio, where we have full operational control,” adding that it is aligning with the international sanctions across all its investments.
Aviva, which has £357 billion under management, has reported having a “negligible” direct exposure to Russia, saying it will “work with clients on any investment changes they wish to make.” A spokesperson said: “It is important to remember that pensions are designed to be a medium to long-term investment. Stock markets, by their nature, can experience periods of volatility but if pension customers have any questions or concerns, we recommend seeking financial advice before making any changes.”
Royal London said its holdings in Russia made up about 0.1 per cent of its portfolio, and that it will “get rid” of these investments as soon as trading resumes in Moscow.
Abrdn Investments, which manages more than half a trillion pounds, announced it “will not be investing in Russia or Belarus for the foreseeable future, on ESG grounds.”
Schroders, one of the UK’s largest pension fund managers with £574 billion under management, said that it was reviewing its policies and investments towards Russia.
According to Bloomberg, HSBC owns equity stakes in five of the biggest Russian oil and gas companies – Gazprom, Rosneft, Tatneft, Lukoil and Novatek. Both Gazprom and Rosneft’s biggest shareholders are the Russian state. HSBC is the 19th biggest shareholder in Gazprom, holding over 16 million shares, and has just under a million shares in Rosneft.
In 2020, UK-based multinational bank Standard Chartered was fined a record £20.47 million for allegedly breaching restrictions on loans to Russian financial institutions.
As yet, none of the big UK banks have disclosed their policy towards either investing in Russia or allowing oligarchs as customers.
Several asset managers have suspended their Russia funds or stopped investing in the country. These include Liontrust, Pictet, BNP Paribas and Fidelity International.
Janus Henderson, with £419 billion of assets under management, said it had sold off almost all of its Russian investments, with only a “tiny” amount of foreign exchange remaining.
In general, actively-managed, genuinely sustainable funds have relatively low exposure to Russia. This is because Russian companies tend to have high levels of environmental, social, and governance risk and fossil fuel involvement.