In this regular series, female members of the ESG investment industry detail how they are dealing with the transition to remote working during the coronavirus fallout
Following on from our sister title Portfolio Adviser which has been running the Working from Home series with investment experts from the wider industry, we are running these articles twice a week with women in ESG. This week we speak to Diane Earnshaw, head of consulting at Square Mile.
How has the coronavirus affected your day-to-day work – from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?
Well it feels like I am a lot busier. The impact on stock markets has meant that we need to monitor the funds that we recommend to clients and that we hold within our portfolios even more closely. Client queries have also understandably increased, so we are very busy trying to keep clients informed of what’s going on with their holdings. From a workplace perspective, we are obviously working remotely but this has generally worked brilliantly.
What has been your biggest contributor to performance since the coronavirus hit markets? What has been your biggest detractor?
Within the portfolios we advise on we have benefited from having relatively cautious positioning going into the crisis, with an underweight equity position and, within that, an underweight to the UK. We were also overweight cash and a position in US treasuries has been helpful. However, as the sell-off has hurt almost all asset classes, there have been relatively few places to hide in an absolute sense and most equity holdings have seen significant drawdowns.
What has surprised you most about markets during the coronavirus sell-off?
Not too much about the sell off – it’s been an unwelcome reminder of how bad things can get when all asset classes suffer in an economic shock and liquidity gets squeezed. It is shocking how things can change so quickly and unexpectedly though. For example, no-one could have predicted the global lockdown with the potential economic ramifications that we are now seeing at the beginning of this year.
What feedback have you had from clients since the coronavirus sell-off?
Clients have been grateful for our efforts to keep them informed with how their funds are performing and our ongoing views and analysis of the situation. They are taking a balanced approach to the situation with little sign of panic at the moment. Obviously, everyone is very concerned about not only the health aspect of this crisis, but also the impact on the economy and their investments so we are trying to keep them as informed as we possibly can, while recognising that no one knows for sure exactly how this will play out at the moment.
How do you think attitudes to ESG initiatives will be affected as we move through the crisis?
I think the social conscience of the nation has been reawakened by the virus, as everyone rallies to support our amazing key workers and the NHS. Communities have come together to support each other and moving forwards I suspect, and hope, that attitudes towards ESG initiatives will gain more importance and accelerate even further, with a wider audience and increased momentum. I also think there will be many changes in attitude at a corporate level. For example, how companies treat their staff, clients and suppliers throughout this period matters and will come under increased scrutiny as we move through the crisis.
Share some good news you have heard recently about the holdings/sectors/themes you invest in?
We’ve just had a sector review of the multi-asset funds we rate and recommend to clients. Our newest addition within this sector was a fund with a sustainable investment approach and it’s great to see that our newest fund with a responsible rating has performed the best within our peer group of recommended funds year-to-date and has significantly outperformed the wider sector peers. So far, it’s holding up very well in the crisis.
How do you find working remotely during volatile markets?
Surprisingly easy – our team has responded really well to new technologies and remote working. We are speaking to the managers of funds that we recommend to clients more frequently to keep abreast of what’s going on. The asset management groups have generally supported us well, keeping us informed with the information we need to be confident in our fund recommendations.
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
I spend time with my children or catch up with friends and family on Facetime.
What is your favourite sustainable snack/hot drink?
I usually have an apple most days. That makes me sound very healthy … I do have lots of unhealthy favourites too! Coffee is also a weakness.
How is home schooling being managed in your household?
Well, we’ve just had the Easter holiday so there wasn’t a lot of schoolwork going on! My two children are in secondary school and their school has been great at keeping to their normal timetable. They have interactive lessons and homework set by the teachers so luckily I’ve not had to do any schooling myself. They work remotely at the same time as I am working!
Do you have a ‘top green tip’ to share on working remotely?
Put a jumper on when you get chilly, not the home heating – it’s what I’m telling my children anyway!
To view the previous articles from the Working from Home with … series see below:
Climate debate, board games and weekly podcasts: WFH with Quilter Cheviot’s Claudia Quiroz
Female fund managers, Tiger King and a different approach to home schooling: WFH with City Hive’s Bev Shah
Investment trusts, Jamie Oliver and renewable electricity suppliers: Working from home with EQ Investors’ Sophie Kennedy
Cushioning the falls and home-schooling in French: Working from Home with Morningstar’s Hortense Bioy
Reducing emissions and Morrisons’ corporate responsibility: Working from Home with Kames’ Miranda Beacham
Deadlines, schoolwork and team drinks: Working from home with ESG Clarity’s Natalie Kenway