At James Hambro & Partners we begin all engagement from a positive perspective. We adopt a collaborative approach to enhance our understanding and to improve the long-term outcomes for our clients and other stakeholders.
Engagement with the companies and the independent fund providers with whom we invest forms an essential part of maximising client returns with an acceptable level of risk over the longer term.
Monitoring, interacting with and challenging the management of company and fund investments helps us to build a more complete understanding of the risks and opportunities associated. This enables us to make better decisions on behalf of our clients and to use our ownership to encourage positive long-term change.
As active investors, our engagement focuses on areas where we see scope for improvement that can deliver long-term value. This can include topics such as corporate strategy and capital allocation within the companies we own, or investor alignment and charges at the third-party fund providers with whom we partner.
Furthermore, the challenges of climate change and rising social and economic inequality impact every investment, irrespective of business model, industry, or asset class. Ongoing monitoring and considered engagement are crucial to ensure steps are being taken both to address risks these issues pose and to capitalise on the significant opportunities these trends are creating.
Our ability to influence change will be impacted by several factors, including the size of our investment within a company or fund and our access to key decision-makers. The resource-intensive nature of engagement means we must prioritise those instances where we believe change will be most impactful or where we deem the risks to be greatest. The importance of an issue to our investment thesis, the extent of our investment across JH&P and the likelihood of effecting change are key aspects we consider when committing to engage.
Notwithstanding these limitations, we believe that targeted engagement combined with proxy voting plays a vital role in positively influencing a company or fund’s behaviour and ultimately helping them to build long-term sustainable value for all their stakeholders.
Engagement is an essential part of our investment strategy across both direct and third-party investments.
We aim to identify businesses that can deliver sustainable growth.
Alongside strategic and financial considerations, an analysis of the firm’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials forms an essential part of the qualitative assessment we carry out, helping us to establish a more complete picture of the long-term opportunities and vulnerabilities faced by a business.
Our sustainability framework classifies companies we consider investing in across three categories: Mitigating, Transitioning and Enabling. This classification helps us consider our exposure to different types and degrees of ESG-related risks and opportunities across sectors and geographies and helps identify issues we feel are most relevant to the companies that we own.
This informs the balance of our portfolio construction and drives the level of early engagement with companies in our portfolios. We would typically expect to focus most of our ESG-led engagement on companies that we classify as Mitigating or Transitioning.
In addition to engagement topics identified during our initial analysis, we monitor ongoing developments during our ownership. Areas of concern are identified through several means, including public company statements, external research (including ESG-focused providers), general media and proxy voting guidelines.
We expect the firms we work with to take account of environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in their investment process. We believe that this will improve the long-term performance of their portfolios and ensures a better alignment with our own approach.
Our formal due diligence process includes a specific analysis of each company and fund’s approach to ESG. This allows us to identify relevant issues at both the parent company level and those which will impact the investment process of the fund itself. We meet the managers of all funds we invest in on a regular basis. Discussion on material changes to the fund’s ESG approach forms a core part of this ongoing engagement, along with other key issues such as ensuring our clients benefit from fair and transparent charging structures. Where possible, we strive to push the benefits of our scale onto our clients through negotiation of lower fees.
How we engage
We prefer to take a supportive rather than adversarial approach to engagement, believing this provides the highest likelihood of achieving positive change. This is reinforced by our investment process, which actively promotes investment in companies and funds that allocate capital responsibly, putting environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations and sustainability at the centre of their operations. This typically limits our exposure to businesses and jurisdictions in higher risk areas that often require more intensive engagement and significant strategic change, such as fossil fuels, tobacco companies or emerging market economies where environmental regulation is less developed.
‘Business-as-usual’ engagement with the companies and funds we own is the responsibility of all members of the investment team. Insights gained from these frequent interactions is recorded within the company or fund’s respective folder and helps develop our long-term investment case for each holding.
Ongoing engagement with a company or fund manager may be either in writing or through face-to-face meetings. Semi-structured interviews on a regular basis are preferred and are feasible given our long-term approach to investing. Given our approach to sustainable investment these meetings typically cover a wide range of topics including business performance, future strategy, and financial risks, as well as more specific ESG issues relevant to the company’s operations or fund’s investment approach.
Potential areas for more targeted ESG-led engagement can be raised by any member of the investment team. These are then considered by the Responsible Investment Committee (RIC) and assessed against the factors outlined above before a decision is made to engage. If we decide not to proceed, the RIC will record the reason for this decision. The RIC also review any specific flags raised by MSCI, our primary ESG research provider, on the same basis to ensure we use our resources proportionately and in a way that emphasises actual outcomes. Any engagement driven by areas of significant concern or ESG-specific issues is then led and managed by the company or fund’s dedicated analyst in combination with the RIC.
Where we vote against the Board on a material issue, we will seek to engage with the company before and/or after our vote, communicating our concerns and aiming to understand the company’s approach for improvement. Depending on the severity of the issue, votes against the Board of a company can either be addressed through business-as-usual engagement or a specific engagement related to the decision.
Records of correspondence related to targeted engagement are maintained in the respective company folder and summarised in a master spreadsheet with a roadmap of priorities and a plan of future engagement.
All outstanding targeted engagement matters sit as a recurring item on the RIC Agenda.
We recognise that we may have to engage on the same issue on multiple occasions over an extended period to influence change.
Where an issue is seemingly not moving forward, for example where a company or fund manager is willing to start engagement but will not necessarily acknowledge our concerns, we will:
- Raise our concerns/aims further up the company or fund’s management structure (if possible)
- Consider voting against individual directors where appropriate
- Explore the possibility of collaborating with the largest stakeholders of the company or fund directly, with an aim to raise awareness and seek support from shareholders with potentially greater influence
While engagement is ongoing, we will also determine whether the failure to address our concerns would significantly impact our investment thesis for the company or fund in question. If we conclude that is does, we will exit the position. If not, we may review the level of existing exposure and record the issue for priority monitoring and discussion during future interactions with the company or fund.
As noted above, all outstanding targeted engagement matters sit as a recurring item on the RIC Agenda.
Given our size and the nature of our investment approach, collaborative engagement focused on the specific companies and funds we own is rare – our investment process tends to steer us away from companies and sectors with major concerns that are often the focus of collective engagement.
We recognise the benefits of collaboration and collective action on responsible investment issues. We are increasingly active members of a select group of responsible investment organisations and continue to search for those where our priorities are aligned; this is particularly important given our size, and requirement for any collaborative engagement undertaken to be constructive.
Through our membership of the UN PRI and the IIGCC we have developed our understanding and involvement in the wider policy framework. We are active in collaborative working groups with both organisations, and continually look for new opportunities for collective action on specific areas of focus, or on wider themes that transcend many portfolio companies.
We will also look to cooperate with initiatives such as Climate Action 100+ when there are campaigns which are aligned with our own stewardship objectives and relate to companies we own on behalf of our clients. Other organisations aiming to coordinate shareholder activities are gaining momentum. The ‘Say on Climate’ movement is one such group which is aligned with our own climate objectives, and we have engaged with the founders behind the initiative.