Lots of things didn’t play out so well in 2020, but impact investing— including environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and socially responsible investing (SRI)— wasn’t one of them. 

According to Fidelity, in 2020 “stocks at the top of our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) rating scale (A and B)…outperformed those with weaker ratings (D and E) in every month from January to September, apart from April.” That’s a big deal all things considered. 

Impact investing paid off for companies and investors alike in 2020. “Over a relatively short time frame…companies with high sustainability ratings performed better than their peers as markets fell. This bore out our initial hypothesis that companies with good sustainability characteristics have more prudent management and will demonstrate greater resilience in a crisis,” according to a white paper by Fidelity.

The bank’s findings don’t stand alone, rather they are the general consensus after a tumultuous 2020. 

According to Blaine Townsend, director of sustainable investing at wealth management firm Bailard in an interview with CFO Dive, 2021 is the year of ESG capitulation. “A lot of that comes from basic points we’ve argued for 50 years: companies who treat their employees and the environment better and are more transparent with stakeholders might make for better long-term investments.”

He suggests that companies should be proactive about ESG now to position themselves for long-term success. He also underscores that regulatory formalization of ESG reporting from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is on the horizon. 

Investors should take note, as well. Not only can ESG investing reduce portfolio risk, it can generate competitive returns, according to a report by Refinitiv that reflects consensus in the industry. 

Here’s what investors should know about impact investing in 2021. 

What Are the Top Impact Investing Trends in 2021?

“COVID, rather than dampening the interest in ESG-informed investing [has] actually…accelerated a number of these pre-existing themes,” according to AssetTV’s Jenna Dagenhart in an interview with Julie Moret, Head of ESG, Franklin Templeton Investments. 

According to Moret, there are four basic drivers of the ESG investing: (1) the growing relevancy of sustainability challenges, (2) a demographic shift to “millennials [that] are much more sensitized to environmental and social considerations,” (3) increased regulation and policy related to sustainability issues, and (4) increased pressure on corporations for sustainability disclosures.

According to MSCI, the top five ESG trends to watch in 2021 include (1) climate, (2) social inequity, (3) biodiversity, (4) investment return factors, and (5) increased reporting. Here’s why. 

Climate— The Biden administration rejoined the Paris agreement (which is designed to cut significant greenhouse gas emissions globally) immediately after his inauguration. As a result, corporations are busy setting emissions reduction goals in response to both investor demand and anticipated regulation. 

Social Inequalities— The pandemic’s impact on the most vulnerable people paired with the high-profile nature of the Black Live Matter movement have made social causes visible and paramount. According to Moret, “We’ve seen dislocations in markets, and we’ve seen the real impact on the economy… particularly [in] certain segments of the economies where employees…have been left with very little protection, whether that’s leisure, entertainment, and travel. I think it’s an absolutely reasonable expectation that post-COVID from an investor’s perspective, there’s likely going to be downward pressure on free cash flows.”

Biodiversity— Environmental issues are no longer limited to carbon emissions and climate change. Biodiversity loss presents major economic risks. According to an estimate by the World Economic Forum and PwC, approximately $44 trillion of economic value generation is tied to nature. That amounts to more than half of the global GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt highlighted the potential “impact of greater contact between wild animals and human populations triggered by habitat loss,” according to IMPAX Asset Management. Investors can expect biodiversity to gain prominence as a named environmental priority in impact investing. 

ESG Investment Return Factors — According to the MSCI report: “In 2021, we see both hype and skepticism about ESG giving way to acceptance and a more nuanced understanding of when and how ESG has shown pecuniary benefits — and when it hasn’t.” There is a growing interest in correlations between ESG elements and performance, which are likely to be further analyzed and better understood in the year to come.  

More Data and More Reporting Companies are becoming increasingly focused on ESG in order to meet investor demands and attract investment. The government is also taking proactive steps to improve and regulate ESG disclosures, per a July 2020 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that evaluated the state of public company disclosures related to ESG issues. This means that investors and companies alike should expect more standardized ESG reporting requirements in the not-so-distant future. 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world and led average citizens and companies alike to reprioritize. If anything is clear, it’s that impact investing (whether by the name of ESG or SRI) is the way of the future. Not only is that encouraging for environmental and social change initiatives, it has proven that it will pay off for both investors and companies. 

Unlock a World of Investingwith a Free Investment Account

START INVESTING TODAY

Magnifi is changing the way we shop for investments, with the world’s first semantic search engine for finance that helps users discover, compare and buy investment products such as ETFs, mutual funds and stocks. Open a Magnifi investment account today.

The information and data are as of the February 1, 2021 (publish date) unless otherwise noted and subject to change. This blog is sponsored by Magnifi.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individualized investment advice or an offer or solicitation to buy or sell securities tailored to your needs. This information covers investment and market activity, industry or sector trends, or other broad-based economic or market conditions and should not be construed as investment research or advice. Investors are urged to consult with their financial advisors before buying or selling any securities. Although certain information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy, completeness or fairness. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. This content may not be reproduced or distributed to any person in whole or in part without the prior written consent of Magnifi. As a technology company, Magnifi provides access to tools and will be compensated for providing such access. Magnifi does not provide broker-dealer or custodial services.