ASrIA strengthens Hong Kong team

The group steps up its advocacy of socially responsible investing in Asia with the hire of McLetchie and Chan in Hong Kong.
The Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA) has added Claire McLetchie as executive director and Wai-Shin Chan as development director to its team in Hong Kong.

McLetchie has overall responsibility for ASrIA's operations and strategy, while Chan supports this process and serves as membership liaison.

Previously, McLetchie was an investment director at Standard Life Investments, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom until 2005. She subsequently ran her own investment consultant business in Hong Kong.

Chan has been working in sustainable finance since January 2007 as the environmental, social and governance analyst for JPMorgan in Hong Kong. He trained as an analyst and brings the benefit of his SRI analysis to ASrIA.

ôIn the current markets we want to make ASrIA even more effective, working with our members to grow sustainable finance in Asia,ö says David Sheil and Tessa Tennant, ASrIA's co-founders. "Many people are talking about the new green deal as a way forward for the US and other Western economies, this has implications for Asian investors and companies, and we want to maximise the opportunities in this part of the world".

Last month, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP) announced a Green New Deal for the global economy. It aims to mobilise and refocus the global economy towards investments in clean technologies and natural infrastructure such as forests and soils, which the UNDP considers the best route towards real growth.

In Asia, awareness for socially responsible investments (SRIs) has risen significantly since the Hong Kong-based ASrIA was formed in 2001.

öThere is no doubt that awareness of sustainable investing has grown substantially among Asian investors during the past seven years,ö Chan says.

One piece of evidence that Chan points to is the number of SRI funds in the region, which has grown from less than 10 in 2001 to more than 200 today. In the past 18 months, most of the SRI funds launched were thematic funds that mainly focused on specific sectors such as water and clean-technology.

Japan stands out in terms of demand for SRI funds in Asia, trailed closely by Korea. Including the Pacific, Australia is also a leader.

Japan has more than 60 SRI funds, which include pure SRI products as well as more theme-oriented portfolios.

Being the only developed economy in Asia, Japan has faced the results of a demographical shift in society earlier than its neighbours in the region. This led to growing interest towards more long-term oriented and more environmentally and socially conscious investments, Chan says.

Japan also has high public awareness of environmental issues, strong corporate responsibility, better corporate information disclosure, and a persistent promotion of SRI products by Japanese financial institutions.

The factors that make socially responsible investing more acceptable differ from country to country in Asia, Chan notes, mainly due to the history of financial market development, regulatory status and a host of other factors.

For example, the driving force behind the promotion of sustainable investing in Korea has been institutional investors, particularly the state's pension scheme, the National Pension Service, Chan says. Awareness of sustainable investing among individual investors in Korea is still at an early stage, he adds.

In Hong Kong, most SRI products are globally launched and managed but registered for distribution locally.

ôAlthough we see evidence that individual investors in Hong Kong, especially high-net-worth investors, have become more conscious of the impact of their investment, the volume of SRI funds under management is greater in Korea,ö Chan says.

The biggest challenge ASrIA faces in advocating socially responsible investing in the region is the lack of understanding at every level, from retail investors, to institutional investors, to financial advisers, to the investee companies themselves. A large part of ASrIA's work involves raising awareness and competencies about SRI issues and how they affect investment fundamentals in Asia.

ôWhen ASrIA was launched we were starting almost from scratch in terms of the financial sector's understanding of environmental sustainability. Now there is general awareness of issues like climate change but still limited integration with day-to-day investment decisions,ö Chan says.

The current state of financial markets globally serves as both a threat and an opportunity to the development of socially responsible investing in Asia.

ôOn the one hand, shrinking budgets can mean less is spent on internal environmental solutions in companies,ö says Chan. ôOn the other hand, more forward-looking managements see the chance to cut costs and protect margins by using resources and energy more efficiently.ö

ASrIA rallies the strongest support for promoting socially responsible investing in Asia from its investment fund and company members in the region, Western financial institutions investing in the region, and a wide range of government and civil society groups who see that environmental sustainability is integral to economic prosperity.

ASrIA has a core team in Hong Kong that works with a network of partners across the region. There are around 25 people directly involved with ASrIA's activities on a regular basis.
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