Q&A with Martina MacPherson, Head of ESG Strategy and Member of the General Management Committee at ODDO BHF AM and PE

Media 7 | August 16, 2021

Martina MacPherson, Head of ESG Strategy and Member of the General Management Committee at ODDO BHF AM and PE, and President of the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets. In 2014, she founded SI Partners Ltd., an ESG investment content, research, and analytics firm. Prior to that, she has held a range of senior global research, risk mgt., business, and product development roles at Moody's ESG Solutions, S&P Global Inc., MSCI ESG Research, and Lloyds Banking Group - Insight Investment. Earlier in her career, she worked for F&C Asset Management and Deutsche Bank. Martina is a visiting fellow at Henley Business School and a guest lecturer at the University of Zurich. She is an advisory board member at ROSIF, the Sustainable Investment Forum for Eastern Europe, and at the European Law Institute (ELI).

Previously, she was an analyst advisory board member at UKSIF, the UK’s sustainable investment and finance association. She also was a mentor at the Global Thinkers Forum, and at the ICRS. Martina is an award-winning multi-lingual writer, lecturer, and presenter on sustainable investment, risk management, and green finance themes and contributes regularly to industry and academic publications. She has participated in a range of sustainable investment and ‘green’ finance working groups such as Towers Watson's Thinking Ahead Institute Sustainability WG, the Social Impact and Green Finance Initiatives by the UK Gov, CEPS' (EU), and the IIF/IMF's global sustainable finance working groups. She also contributed to the Sustainable Stock Exchanges’ and UK Gov's taskforce reports on sustainable finance, and CEPS' EU report on the restructuring of the Capital Markets Union. Most recently, she became a task force member of the UNGC SDG CFO technical expert group, ICMA's Climate Transition Finance working group, and of the EDM Council's working group on sustainable finance.

Especially for the ESG investments, we are now talking about mainstream activities that highlight the importance of looking at financial and extra-financial perspectives side by side, also delivering a certain element of managing your risk and returns in the active and the passive context from a fundamental, thematic, or factor-related standpoint. And increasingly, the work that's been done around impact.



MEDIA 7: Would you like to take us through your journey, your professional journey?
MARTINA MACPHERSON:
I’ve been in the ESG space for around 20 years on both, the buyer-side and the seller-side. My name is Martina MacPherson and I represent my role on a BHF and PE, a leading European asset management house. With around 58 billion euros under management, 52% of our neutral funds are already in line with ESG criteria and we have a very ambitious roadmap and trajectory to actually move the needle on ESG approaches and activities. These activities include cleaning, integration, and active ownership. I'm also leading the network for sustainable financial markets with The Next Gen Initiative. This is actually a think tank supporting sustainable finance, education, training, and capacity-building programs, which also includes policy and advocacy in certain areas. I have my last leg in academia and NGOs. I'm an academic/visiting fellow at Henley Business School and a guest lecturer at the University of Zurich. I teach various modules on ESG investing and sustainable finance, very often looking at implications for active and passive investment in ESG, different types of taxonomies, standards, or frameworks from a normative regulatory perspective. And of course, the different types of ESG thematics that we're seeing with a strong focus on biodiversity human capital, and increasing technology enablement. I've also made contributions to the AI book last year, the Biodiversity Handbook by Routledge, which is coming out this year, and a new book by RiskNet which will be published next year on ESG portfolio construction.


M7: What inspires you the most about sustainable investments?
MM:
Sustainable investment has come a long way. So first of all, when we look at the paradigm shift of what was traditionally classified as socially responsible, ethical investing, that's where a lot of these topics start. And I'm very still entrenched in this sphere, supporting, for instance, the women in Islamic and ethical finance forum, and they have globally taken the initiative towards ethical investment. Even so, the trajectory has really moved on far from its initial grounding in SRI and ethical strategies.
Especially for the ESG investments, we are now talking about mainstream activities that highlight the importance of looking at financial and extra-financial perspectives side by side, also delivering a certain element of managing your risk and returns in the active and the passive context from a fundamental, thematic, or factor-related standpoint. And increasingly, the work that's been done around impact. And the impact has been always the sister of the ESG investment sphere and it's becoming increasingly and rightly important. It’s making us confront what we are asking ourselves in the context of the broader issues such as climate change, and sustainable development. What do we want to achieve from here? In a short time span, we have achieved from an assets inflow or fund inflows of around 40 trillion US dollars. But is that really enough? This is what inspires me to find out how we can better shape, define and assess what we are actively doing in the field of ESG investing.


M7: You are going to be talking about sustainable investment at a conference that is going to take place really soon. What can the audience expect from you?
MM:
I am going to talk about how in the past five years, environmental, social, and government investing has become really mainstream. It has never been more popular. We have seen the tremendous inflows that are highlighted- we went from a 12 trillion US dollar market in 2012 to a 40 trillion dollar market. But we’re still a long way to go. Likewise, we are seeing the increasing demand from different types of investor groups with different supply needs for sustainable investment activity. Also, to make this growth material for the long term, especially in Europe, there are new shifts moving us from a normative voluntary space to a regulatory space. So, I’m hoping to touch on some of the key regulatory frameworks that are relevant for industrial issues. I’ll be talking about project costs of the EU sustainable finance action plan, and then I'm hoping to assess a couple of the key developments that are driving active ownership in our market, the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. I'm driving there with many investors as a part of a coalition towards a just transition, connecting the dots between environmental issues and societal context, so I hope I can touch on various aspects to really showcase how far our spheres come with the sustainable investment industry, but also to outline some of the remaining challenges and gaps.


By all this, I mean that it's an ongoing process- learning and education. I'm teaching, but I'm also taking in and I'm trying to be part of the conversation that's literally the key I think to what we're trying to do.



M7: Could you please tell us a little bit about the importance of green finance today?
MM:
Green finance has very often been thrown into the mix with ESG investing. I think it needs its own area of focus and therefore segmentation. I see green and sustainable finance as broader and also involving capital market participants. What we've frequently seen in the trajectory of green and sustainable finance is the focus on green or sustainable bonds. And in some of the recent work I've undertaken in my previous roles at Moody's and highlighted in the upcoming biodiversity book, we’ve talked about green bonds and green finance instruments. It's very important to note that this is a market that has gone from less than 10 billion to over 600 billion US dollars within a decade. Ultimately, the issuances in this year are ever-increasing and are also very much ever-diversifying, if you look at the sheer spectrum of players that are being involved. We are looking at diversification of the type of issuers. Initially, we saw many multilateral supporting the government agenda like climate action. We then ultimately saw the shift towards corporations and corporate issuers now playing an important part in this context. We also witnessed involvement from sovereign levels and government levels. And hence, we have seen the diversification of the type of green bonds or sustainable bonds that have been issued, project link bonds in the first instance, the so-called Classical ACHEMA sustainable bonds which include green social and sustainability bonds these days.To summarize again, sustainable finance is its own bucket and is heavily supported by many of the different types of issuances we have seen in this field.


M7: You mentioned two of the books that you have authored. One of them has been published and the other is yet to be released. Would you like to tell us more about it?
MM:
I've been contributing to areas of research concerning biodiversity for some time. A few years ago, we published the current edition and we've worked on a book, looking at the extinction crisis, especially pollinator extinction. As you might know, two-thirds of our food chain might vanish or be severely impacted by the extinction of the pollinators and that obviously has major economic and ultimately financial consequences for the entire food supply chain and other sectors involved. From there, our research moved more towards looking at other areas of species and biodiversity, and we have just finished the upcoming biodiversity handbook, published by Routledge, and are looking at the entire stakeholder sphere. That means, we're looking at taxonomies and frameworks being aligned with biodiversity. TNFD, for instance, is a brand new example. But we also had different types of frameworks for some time that tried to define metrics, and border frameworks and taxonomies for assessing biodiversity risk. This is increasingly important as biodiversity risks are also moving in Europe onto the regulatory agenda.

They've already formed part of some of the categories of the green taxonomy, the EU’s taxonomy currently focusing on environmental categories, but they've also made it into French law directly saying that biodiversity risks have to be disclosed by investors under Article 173, which just came into force as well this year. Finally, beyond the regulatory requirements, we have then assessed the role that financial service providers at large, across the investment and capital markets sphere, can play to support biodiversity initiatives and highlighted in various case studies, biodiversity initiatives that are being led by leading NGOs, for example, the finance pledge for biodiversity, which was launched some time ago at Linked Foundation. We are members and authors of this particular pledge and of the foundation. This group really tries to work with other NGOs such as TFT to develop relevant frameworks for physical and transitional biodiversity risks, but also aims to really get the topic onto the agenda in front of the leading investors globally. That means we're highlighting the full spectrum of taxonomies, solutions, and ultimately multipliers and influences in this context and I'm very delighted to say we have more than 30 different contributors from around the world and different interests and concepts for solutions.


M7: How do you consume all of this information and manage to stay on the top of your game?
MM:
I hope I am able to touch on some of the major fringes of what is really happening in our world, but I think it comes with an interest in complex, interconnected issues. I bring a very Universalist approach and background to the table. I studied law, I also studied philosophy and history of art as lower scale subjects in this broader context of when and where I started my education, later on, shaped myself towards the finance community with specialization in degrees in this particular area, and then I spent a lot of time exploring, working on the buy-side and the sales side and working directly with  ESG data or frameworks and rules-based approaches such as constructing indices, for instance. I think these different types of areas, gave me an opportunity to explore in-depth what really makes our sphere and field, and at the same time to understand and learn and grow with different issues that are increasingly coming to the surface. I'm still very much involved in policy work. I'm the co-chair of the SFDR Working Group at ACHEMA. I'm sitting on the sustainability advisory group of the European law Institute, looking at legal frameworks concerning the European Commission's different types of taxonomy activities, regulatory and framework activities, and other groups like the Enterprise Data Management Councils Group on data and framework specifically in our extra financial sphere. By all this, I mean that it's an ongoing process- learning and education. I'm teaching, but I'm also taking in and I'm trying to be part of the conversation that's literally the key I think to what we're trying to do.


Always continue to learn to associate yourself with different types of organizations that can help you professionally, but also drive your areas of interest because at the end of the day you're only as good as the motivation that ultimately drives you.



M7: You are such an inspiration. What is your advice to the young women who will one day try to become like you?
MM:
Oh thank you! I hope they become their own leading professionals in their own right. But I also understand the importance of having good mentors as someone who had great mentors in the past. I see the relationship between a mentor and a mentee as a truly mutually beneficial relationship. I think my first advice would be to educate yourself across your discipline, and across the different disciplines that are out there like, socio-economics, understanding how financial services work, social sciences, human sciences subjects etc. Always continue to learn to associate yourself with different types of organizations that can help you professionally, but also drive your areas of interest because at the end of the day you're only as good as the motivation that ultimately drives you. I was delighted to have as a mentee at Global Thinkers Forum (a fantastic program by the way, which I can recommend to everyone here) one of the most successful young women I've met. This young lady went on to become an ambassador for One Young World. She literally launched her own money platform on Instagram, to educate the next generation of female private investors, retail investors, etc. about how they could invest their money more sustainably. She has become an inspiration to me, to see how much she has grown, how much she has engaged within this event, and how much we can now automate.


M7: Lastly, would you like to share some of your hobbies with us?
MM:
I’ll start with the book I’m currently reading, ‘What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract’ by Minouche Shafik. She has been working for the IMF, for the World Bank for many different institutions, and Christine Lagarde, the President of the European Central Bank has also recommended this book recently on LinkedIn. It's all about the social contract, so hence I'm trying to educate myself but then, I’m also trying to use that information to bring it back into the value chain, as part of my teaching efforts, as part of the speaking engagements, as part of the conceptual papers I'm writing on these more socially related topics. Human Capital Management is one of the other socially linked areas that I'm focusing on. So in my free time, I try to read but I also try, in all fairness, to spend time with my family. I have kids and I have also a strong sense of purpose and meaning that I derive from my daily life not only professionally but also privately. I try to engage my kids in these topics as well. Most recently, my son asked me how to describe what I was doing for one of his school's homework and I said you could classify me as an Eco-warrior. It’s good to know that they have this idea of me out there fighting for something for good. He's really inspired to learn more. This is what I see as a success as well, engaging the communities around us engaging, especially my family.


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ODDO BHF is an independent French-German financial group, created from a French family company and a German bank specialised in the Mittelstand. The Group pursues a dynamic, Franco-German development strategy. The goal is to become one of the leading financial service providers in the Eurozone.

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ODDO BHF

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