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Our thinking on investment returns has changed

As part of the publication of the asset manager APG’s annual report, APG interviewed Angélique Laskewitz, director of VBDO. In the interview, she explains, among other things, which steps pension funds can take in the coming years to become more sustainable.

Most striking VBDO news in 2023: bpfBOUW knocks ABP off the throne as the most sustainable pension fund after years. To what does the pension fund owe the first place in your annual list?

“The differences are small, but bpfBOUW scored 4.8 on the scale of 5, narrowly followed by ABP with 4.7 and PME with 4.5. In the assessment, the actual implementation of the investment policy weighs heavily. We look at voting policies and impact investments, for example. It is unique for a fund to score this high; for the first time, we awarded five stars.

It is also nice that at bpfBOUW there is a woman at the helm, Eline Lundgren. Only one in 10 fund boards contains as many women as men. And only two of the 49 largest pension funds have more women than men on their boards. It’s still a man’s world.”

One could say that 4.8 out of 5 points means we are pretty much there. What is still missing?

“We get criticism from NGOs, for example, who say things still need to improve at pension funds. And that is true: the funds are far from there yet. So now it’s about what the next step is. There must be something new to fight for, or it would be too easy to remain at the top.

That’s why we need to raise the bar. Next year, we will look more at where a fund can really make a difference: how does it contribute to a cleaner, fairer world? Pension funds can invest more effectively in energy supplies, for instance by putting money into renewable energy. But one can also think about the healthy, sustainable side of food supplies: throw meat companies out of your portfolio and opt for concepts like Beyond Meat. And don’t invest in companies with aggressive tax practices. True sustainability requires real impact and change.

I do not rule out smaller pension funds being at the top of our next list, even if they have less capacity than the big funds. This year, the pension fund Achmea got a tremendously high score. Such a small fund is very steadfast in its policies. Which is really nice.”

Where should the focus be in the coming years?

“First of all, it is important that sustainability strongly lives among fund boards and is embedded in investment strategies. We prefer to see active involvement from the directors. They must take responsibility and speak out about desirable transitions. Then portfolio managers can act accordingly. Society demands it. Pressure is increasing; pension members are also making themselves heard. Yield thinking has changed, it is no longer just financial, but also social. A healthy environment takes precedence.”

NB. The original article in Dutch can be read on APG’s website.


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“We get criticism from NGOs, for example, who say things still need to improve at pension funds. And that is true: the funds are far from there yet.”