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 Harriet Parker, investment manager within the Liontrust sustainable investment Team.
How has the coronavirus affected your day-to-day work – from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?
In terms of running our portfolios, remote working at Liontrust has been thoroughly tried and tested; some investment managers have been working from home for over 20 years. Our company’s strategy is all about creating the best possible environment and culture to allow investment teams to focus on running money according to their distinct processes, and this has always meant the opportunity to work remotely. Outside of these extraordinary times, I spend at least a day a week working at home, so it’s been easy transition in that sense.
The biggest change is the prolonged nature of it all – I miss the buzz and the chatter around the desk and having worked with some colleagues for nearly half of my life, it’s also the social aspect of the office that I miss. That said, through video calls and remote working groups, communicating with colleagues has been surprisingly efficient and on balance, we perhaps have even higher quality connection with each other. We’ve found it easier to engage and focus on the things that are most pertinent, instead of getting trapped in the everyday things that the office can lure us into. We can more easily plan meetings instead of having to battle against busy schedules and business travel, we are all readily available for the Friday afternoon (virtual) social and most importantly, we are all rushing around a lot less.
What feedback have you had from clients since the coronavirus sell-off?
Clients have understandably been concerned about the sell-off and have asked us how the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on asset allocation and changes to our portfolios in terms of stocks. We’ve also been asked about the impact of the crisis on sustainable investing more generally, and the risks of an ESG bubble as sustainable investing grows into the mainstream. We’ve needed to be even more responsive and flexible to clients’ needs as they face their own set of new challenges to working remotely.
Early on, we switched to webinars and video calls to reassure and communicate with clients as well as stepping up our written communications. We’ve had good feedback; clients seem happy with how the funds have held up, appreciate how quickly we respond and keep them in the loop. They want to see that we continue to stick to our process of finding high quality companies that are exposed to sustainable investment themes and are reassured of the strategy.
There are other positives too; I think we’ve finally shown any clients that were not already converted, that paper presentations aren’t so necessary after all!
How do you think attitudes to ESG initiatives will be affected as we move through the crisis?
The coronavirus pandemic and its fallout will have far-reaching consequences, but we believe that ESG initiatives will be positively impacted, because they will be all the more relevant longer term as the economy recovers. The pandemic has so far served to exacerbate the many social problems that already exist in society; hard to tackle inequalities that will take global effort to address but here, corporates play a critical role. It is easy to see why ESG has moved into mainstream strategies, and as we move through the crisis, the investment community must continue to step up and take action where companies are failing in areas such as protecting worker’s safety and financial security or when they prioritise things like executive pay.
Share some good news you have heard recently about the holdings/sectors/themes you invest in?
Some of the companies in the funds are making a positive impact. Roche continues to win approvals in diagnostics with an active test for infection and development of an antibody test for previous infections. Grifols has both a therapeutic product potential, giving patients blood plasma from those who have recovered from covid-19, and a Hyperimmune product potential based on extracting specific antibodies. Infineon is also another of our holdings playing a key role in the fight against covid-19, with its semiconductors essential to reliably and efficiently control the motor of many ventilators.
Elsewhere, as millions of us face up to working remotely for the foreseeable future, several names held under our Connecting People theme have held up well including Cellnex, American Tower and Equinix – all major communications infrastructure players. Two other companies are seeing strong growth for their services; DocuSign is a US business that allows organisations to manage electronic agreements and TeamViewer is a German software company that offers remote access and working from home solutions.
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
Usually I try and go to the gym or yoga at lunch, as I find it gives me a boost of energy ahead of an afternoon in the office. Since lockdown, I’ve swapped that for working out with my partner before lunch; living with a fitness coach certainly has advantages and there’s no excuse – I can’t forget my gym bag after all! I’ve also been heading out for a walk when the day is done, the weather has been warm and sunny, so it’s been nice to explore footpaths in my local area I hadn’t known about and enjoy the natural environment and wildlife.
What is your favourite sustainable snack/hot drink when working from home?
I’ve been snacking on stewed rhubarb from the garden; low on food miles, healthy (as long as I ease off on the sugar) and I get a dose of fresh air. If there’s any left, I’ve been adding oats and having it for breakfast.
If applicable, how is home schooling being managed in your household?
I’m a proud mother of two children. I co-parent, which means that some days I have a very peaceful home to work from, and other days in addition to my day job, I’m assisting with home schooling. I’m proud of the effort and commitment they’ve both shown. Google Classroom is impressive, the children can connect with their friends, see class videos and know what is expected of them each day. It has taken the pressure off and has helped make the experience a positive one for us all so I’m grateful for the effort of their teachers, who have done a brilliant job preparing the lessons. My favourite aspect though has been livening it up a little with a couple of DIY experiments that I found online. Kaboom!
To view the previous articles from the Working from Home with … series see below: