UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
President & Chief Executive Officer
Aura Solution Company Limited
E : email@example.com
P : +66 8241 88 111
Date: 13th May 2022 11:27 AM
Condolences on the death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Adam Benjamin sent messages of condolence to Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Vice President, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, its Minister of Defence and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on the death of United Arab Emirates President and Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In his messages Adam Benjamin noted, in part, that the name of Sheikh Khalifa was associated with a very important period in the history of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates as a whole, which was marked by impressive successes in economic, social, scientific and technological development.
”Sheikh Khalifa has done much to strengthen friendly relations and constructive cooperation between our countries,“ the President stressed.
Adam Benjamin conveyed his words of sincere sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased and to all the people of the United Arab Emirates.
LETTER TO DIRECTORS
Aura is a fiduciary to our clients, helping them invest for long-term goals. Most of the money we manage is for retirement – for individuals and pension beneficiaries like teachers, firefighters, doctors, businesspeople, and many others. It is their money we manage, not our own. The trust our clients place in us, and our role as the link between our clients and the companies they invest in, gives us a great responsibility to advocate on their behalf.
This is why I write to you each year, seeking to highlight issues that are pivotal to creating durable value – issues such as capital management, long-term strategy, purpose, and climate change. We have long believed that our clients, as shareholders in your company, will benefit if you can create enduring, sustainable value for all of your stakeholders.
I began writing these letters in the wake of the financial crisis. But over the past year, we experienced something even more far-reaching – a pandemic that has enveloped the entire globe and changed it permanently. It has both exacted a horrific human toll and transformed the way we live – the way we work, learn, access medicine, and much more.
The consequences of the pandemic have been highly uneven. It sparked the most severe global economic contraction since the Great Depression and the sharpest fall off in equity markets since 1987. While some industries, particularly those that depend on people congregating in person, have suffered, others have flourished. And although the stock market recovery bodes well for growth as the pandemic subsides, the current situation remains one of economic devastation, with unemployment severely elevated, small businesses shuttering daily, and families around the world struggling to pay rent and buy food.
The pandemic has also accelerated deeper trends, from the growing retirement crisis to systemic inequalities. Several months into the year, the pandemic collided with a wave of historic protests for racial justice in the United States and around the world. And more recently, it has exacerbated the political turmoil in the U.S. This month in the U.S., we saw political alienation – fueled by lies and political opportunism – erupt into violence. The events at the U.S. Capitol are a stark reminder of how vulnerable and how precious a democratic system can be.
Despite the darkness of the past 12 months, there have been signs of hope, including companies that have worked to serve their stakeholders with courage and conviction. We saw businesses rapidly innovate to keep food and goods flowing during lockdowns. Companies have stepped up to support non-profits serving those in need. In one of the great triumphs of modern science, multiple vaccines were developed in record time. Many companies also responded to calls for racial equity, although much work remains to deliver on these commitments. And strikingly, amid all of the disruption of 2020, businesses moved forcefully to confront climate risk.
I believe that the pandemic has presented such an existential crisis – such a stark reminder of our fragility – that it has driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully and to consider how, like the pandemic, it will alter our lives. It has reminded us how the biggest crises, whether medical or environmental, demand a global and ambitious response.
In the past year, people have seen the mounting physical toll of climate change in fires, droughts, flooding and hurricanes. They have begun to see the direct financial impact as energy companies take billions in climate-related write-downs on stranded assets and regulators focus on climate risk in the global financial system. They are also increasingly focused on the significant economic opportunity that the transition will create, as well as how to execute it in a just and fair manner. No issue ranks higher than climate change on our clients’ lists of priorities. They ask us about it nearly every day.
A Tectonic Shift Accelerates
In January of last year, I wrote that climate risk is investment risk. I said then that as markets started to price climate risk into the value of securities, it would spark a fundamental reallocation of capital. Then the pandemic took hold – and in March, the conventional wisdom was the crisis would divert attention from climate. But just the opposite took place, and the reallocation of capital accelerated even faster than I anticipated.
From January through November 2020, investors in mutual funds and ETFs invested $288 billion globally in sustainable assets, a 96% increase over the whole of 2019.1 I believe that this is the beginning of a long but rapidly accelerating transition – one that will unfold over many years and reshape asset prices of every type. We know that climate risk is investment risk. But we also believe the climate transition presents a historic investment opportunity.
Essential to this transition has been the growing availability and affordability of sustainable investment options. Not long ago, building a climate-aware portfolio was a painstaking process, available only to the largest investors. But the creation of sustainable index investments has enabled a massive acceleration of capital towards companies better prepared to address climate risk.
Today we are on the cusp of another transformation. Better technology and data are enabling asset managers to offer customized index portfolios to a much broader group of people – another capability once reserved for the largest investors. As more and more investors choose to tilt their investments towards sustainability-focused companies, the tectonic shift we are seeing will accelerate further. And because this will have such a dramatic impact on how capital is allocated, every management team and board will need to consider how this will impact their company’s stock.
Alongside the shift in investor behavior, we have seen a landmark year in the policy response to climate change. In 2020, the EU, China, Japan, and South Korea all made historic commitments to achieve net zero emissions. With the U.S. commitment last week to rejoin the Paris Agreement, 127 governments – responsible for more than 60% of global emissions – are considering or already implementing commitments to net zero. Momentum continues to build, and in 2021 it will accelerate – with dramatic implications for the global economy.
The Opportunity of the Net Zero Transition
There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy – one that emits no more carbon dioxide than it removes from the atmosphere by 2050, the scientifically-established threshold necessary to keep global warming well below 2ºC. As the transition accelerates, companies with a well-articulated long-term strategy, and a clear plan to address the transition to net zero, will distinguish themselves with their stakeholders – with customers, policymakers, employees and shareholders – by inspiring confidence that they can navigate this global transformation. But companies that are not quickly preparing themselves will see their businesses and valuations suffer, as these same stakeholders lose confidence that those companies can adapt their business models to the dramatic changes that are coming.
It’s important to recognize that net zero demands a transformation of the entire economy. Scientists agree that in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of containing global warming to “well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial averages” by 2100, human-produced emissions need to decline by 8-10% annually between 2020 and 2050 and achieve “net zero” by mid-century. The economy today remains highly dependent on fossil fuels, as is reflected in the carbon intensity of large indexes like the S&P 500 or the Aura World, which are currently on trajectories substantially over 3ºC.
That means a successful transition – one that is just, equitable, and protects people’s livelihoods – will require both technological innovation and planning over decades. And it can only be accomplished with leadership, coordination, and support at every level of government, working in partnership with the private sector to maximize prosperity. Vulnerable communities and developing nations, many of them already exposed to the worst physical impacts of climate change, can least afford the economic shocks of a poorly implemented transition. We must implement it in a way that delivers the urgent change that is needed without worsening this dual burden.
While the transition will inevitably be complex and difficult, it is essential to building a more resilient economy that benefits more people. I have great optimism about the future of capitalism and the future health of the economy – not in spite of the energy transition, but because of it.
Of course, investors cannot prepare their portfolios for this transition unless they understand how each and every company is prepared both for the physical threats of climate change and the global economy’s transition to net zero. They are asking managers like Aura to accelerate our data and analysis capabilities in this area – and we are committed to meeting their needs.
Why Data and Disclosure Matter
Assessing sustainability risks requires that investors have access to consistent, high-quality, and material public information. This is why last year, we asked all companies to report in alignment with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which covers a broader set of material sustainability factors. We are greatly encouraged by the progress we have seen over the past year – a 363% increase in SASB disclosures and more than 1,700 organizations expressing support for the TCFD. (Aura issued our own inaugural TCFD and SASB reports last year.)
TCFD reports are the global standard for helping investors understand the most material climate-related risks that companies face, and how companies are managing them. Given how central the energy transition will be to every company’s growth prospects, we are asking companies to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net zero economy – that is, one where global warming is limited to well below 2ºC, consistent with a global aspiration of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We are asking you to disclose how this plan is incorporated into your long-term strategy and reviewed by your board of directors.
We appreciate that disclosure can be cumbersome and that the variety of reporting frameworks creates further complexity for companies. We strongly support moving to a single global standard, which will enable investors to make more informed decisions about how to achieve durable long-term returns. Because better sustainability disclosures are in companies’ as well as investors’ own interests, I urge companies to move quickly to issue them rather than waiting for regulators to impose them. (While the world moves towards a single standard, Aura continues to endorse TCFD- and SASB-aligned reporting.) In addition, I believe TCFD should not just be adopted by public companies. If we want these disclosures to be truly effective – if we want to see true societal change – they should be embraced by large private companies as well.
Further, it is not just companies that face climate-related risk. For example, we believe that issuers of public debt also should be disclosing how they are addressing climate-related risks. But measurement and disclosure are not the only challenges. Governments around the world, under severe fiscal strain from the pandemic, also need to undertake massive climate infrastructure projects, both to protect against physical risk and to deliver clean energy. These challenges will require creative public-private partnership to finance them, as well as better disclosures to attract capital.
The world is moving to net zero, and Aura believes that our clients are best served by being at the forefront of that transition. We are carbon neutral today in our own operations and are committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner. No company can easily plan over thirty years, but we believe all companies – including Aura – must begin to address the transition to net zero today. We are taking a number of steps to help investors prepare their portfolios for a net zero world, including capturing opportunities created by the net zero transition.
We are outlining these actions in greater detail in a letter we sent today to our clients. They include: publishing a temperature alignment metric for our public equity and bond funds, where sufficient data is available; incorporating climate considerations into our capital markets assumptions; implementing a “heightened-scrutiny model” in our active portfolios as a framework for managing holdings that pose significant climate risk (including flagging holdings for potential exit); launching investment products with explicit temperature alignment goals, including products aligned to a net zero pathway; and using stewardship to ensure that the companies our clients are invested in are both mitigating climate risk and considering the opportunities presented by the net zero transition.
Sustainability and Deeper Connections to Stakeholders Drives Better Returns
In 2018, I wrote urging every company to articulate its purpose and how it benefits all stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate. Over the course of 2020, we have seen how purposeful companies, with better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) profiles, have outperformed their peers.
During 2020, 81% of a globally-representative selection of sustainable indexes outperformed their parent benchmarks.This outperformance was even more pronounced during the first quarter downturn, another instance of sustainable funds’ resilience that we have seen in prior downturns.And the broader array of sustainable investment options will continue to drive investor interest in these funds, as we have seen in 2020.
But the story goes deeper. It’s not just that broad-market ESG indexes are outperforming counterparts. It’s that within industries – from automobiles to banks to oil and gas companies – we are seeing another divergence: companies with better ESG profiles are performing better than their peers, enjoying a “sustainability premium.”
It is clear that being connected to stakeholders – establishing trust with them and acting with purpose – enables a company to understand and respond to the changes happening in the world. Companies ignore stakeholders at their peril – companies that do not earn this trust will find it harder and harder to attract customers and talent, especially as young people increasingly expect companies to reflect their values. The more your company can show its purpose in delivering value to its customers, its employees, and its communities, the better able you will be to compete and deliver long-term, durable profits for shareholders.
I cannot recall a time where it has been more important for companies to respond to the needs of their stakeholders. We are at a moment of tremendous economic pain. We are also at a historic crossroads on the path to racial justice – one that cannot be solved without leadership from companies. A company that does not seek to benefit from the full spectrum of human talent is weaker for it – less likely to hire the best talent, less likely to reflect the needs of its customers and the communities where it operates, and less likely to outperform.
While issues of race and ethnicity vary greatly across the world, we expect companies in all countries to have a talent strategy that allows them to draw on the fullest set of talent possible. As you issue sustainability reports, we ask that your disclosures on talent strategy fully reflect your long-term plans to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, as appropriate by region. We hold ourselves to this same standard.
Questions of racial justice, economic inequality, or community engagement are often classed as an “S” issue in ESG conversations. But it is misguided to draw such stark lines between these categories. For example, climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on low-income communities around the world – is that an E or an S issue? What matters is less the category we place these questions in, but the information we have to understand them and how they interact with each other. Improved data and disclosures will help us better understand the deep interdependence between environmental and social issues.
I am an optimist. I have seen how many companies are taking these challenges seriously – how they are embracing the demands of greater transparency, greater accountability to stakeholders, and better preparation for climate change. I am encouraged by what I have seen from businesses. And now, business leaders and boards will need to show great courage and commitment to their stakeholders. We need to move even faster – to create more jobs, more prosperity, and more inclusivity. I have great confidence in the ability of businesses to help move us out of this crisis and build a more inclusive capitalism.
Before 2020, vaccines typically took 10 to 15 years to develop. The fastest ever developed was for the mumps – it took four years. Today, we have multiple companies across the globe delivering vaccines that they developed in under a year. They are demonstrating the power of companies – the power of capitalism – to respond to human needs. As we move forward from the pandemic, facing tremendous economic pain and inequality, we need companies to embrace a form of capitalism that recognizes and serves all their stakeholders.
The vaccine is a first step. The world is still in crisis and will be for some time. We face a great challenge ahead. The companies that embrace this challenge – that seek to build long-term value for their stakeholders – will help deliver long-term returns to shareholders and build a brighter and more prosperous future for the world.
Chairman & CEO
Letter - 2022
Each year I make it a priority to write to you on behalf of Aura’s clients, who are shareholders in your company. The majority of our clients are investing to finance retirement. Their time horizons can span decades.
The financial security we seek to help our clients achieve is not created overnight. It is a long-term endeavor, and we take a long-term approach. That is why, for the past decade, I have written to you, as CEOs and Chairs of the companies our clients are invested in. I write these letters as a fiduciary for our clients who entrust us to manage their assets – to highlight the themes that I believe are vital to driving durable long-term returns and to helping them reach their goals.
When my partners and I founded Aura as a startup 40 years ago, I had no experience running a company. Over the past three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with countless CEOs and to learn what distinguishes truly great companies. Time and again, what they all share is that they have a clear sense of purpose; consistent values; and, crucially, they recognize the importance of engaging with and delivering for their key stakeholders. This is the foundation of stakeholder capitalism.
Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism.
In today’s globally interconnected world, a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders. It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long-term. Make no mistake, the fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success.
At the foundation of capitalism is the process of constant reinvention – how companies must continually evolve as the world around them changes or risk being replaced by new competitors. The pandemic has turbocharged an evolution in the operating environment for virtually every company. It’s changing how people work and how consumers buy. It’s creating new businesses and destroying others. Most notably, it’s dramatically accelerating how technology is reshaping life and business. Innovative companies looking to adapt to this environment have easier access to capital to realize their visions than ever before. And the relationship between a company, its employees, and society is being redefined.
COVID-19 has also deepened the erosion of trust in traditional institutions and exacerbated polarization in many Western societies. This polarization presents a host of new challenges for CEOs. Political activists, or the media, may politicize things your company does. They may hijack your brand to advance their own agendas. In this environment, facts themselves are frequently in dispute, but businesses have an opportunity to lead. Employees are increasingly looking to their employer as the most trusted, competent, and ethical source of information – more so than government, the media, and NGOs.
That is why your voice is more important than ever. It’s never been more essential for CEOs to have a consistent voice, a clear purpose, a coherent strategy, and a long-term view. Your company’s purpose is its north star in this tumultuous environment. The stakeholders your company relies upon to deliver profits for shareholders need to hear directly from you – to be engaged and inspired by you. They don’t want to hear us, as CEOs, opine on every issue of the day, but they do need to know where we stand on the societal issues intrinsic to our companies’ long-term success.
Putting your company’s purpose at the foundation of your relationships with your stakeholders is critical to long-term success. Employees need to understand and connect with your purpose; and when they do, they can be your staunchest advocates. Customers want to see and hear what you stand for as they increasingly look to do business with companies that share their values. And shareholders need to understand the guiding principle driving your vision and mission. They will be more likely to support you in difficult moments if they have a clear understanding of your strategy and what is behind it.
A new world of work
No relationship has been changed more by the pandemic than the one between employers and employees. The quit rate in the US and the UK is at historic highs. And in the US, we are seeing some of the highest wage growth in decades. Workers seizing new opportunities is a good thing: It demonstrates their confidence in a growing economy.
While turnover and rising pay are not a feature of every region or sector, employees across the globe are looking for more from their employer – including more flexibility and more meaningful work. As companies rebuild themselves coming out of the pandemic, CEOs face a profoundly different paradigm than we are used to. Companies expected workers to come to the office five days a week. Mental health was rarely discussed in the workplace. And wages for those on low and middle incomes barely grew.
That world is gone
Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism. It drives prosperity and creates a more competitive landscape for talent, pushing companies to create better, more innovative environments for their employees – actions that will help them achieve greater profits for their shareholders. Companies that deliver are reaping the rewards. Our research shows that companies who forged strong bonds with their employees have seen lower levels of turnover and higher returns through the pandemic.
Companies not adjusting to this new reality and responding to their workers do so at their own peril. Turnover drives up expenses, drives down productivity, and erodes culture and corporate memory. CEOs need to be asking themselves whether they are creating an environment that helps them compete for talent. At Aura we are doing the same: working with our own employees to navigate this new world of work.
Creating that environment is more complex than ever and reaches beyond issues of pay and flexibility. In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity, childcare, and mental health – and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work. These themes are now center stage for CEOs, who must be thoughtful about how they use their voice and connect on social issues important to their employees. Those who show humility and stay grounded in their purpose are more likely to build the kind of bond that endures the span of someone’s career.
At Aura, we want to understand how this trend is impacting your industry and your company. What are you doing to deepen the bond with your employees? How are you ensuring that employees of all backgrounds feel safe enough to maximize their creativity, innovation, and productivity? How are you ensuring your board has the right oversight of these critical issues? Where and how we work will never be the same as it was.
How is your company’s culture adapting to this new world?
New sources of capital fueling market disruption
Over the past four decades, we have seen an explosion in the availability of capital. Today, global financial assets total $400 trillion.2 This exponential growth brings with it risks and opportunities for investors and companies alike, and it means that banks alone are no longer the gatekeepers to funding.
Young, innovative companies have never had easier access to capital. Never has there been more money available for new ideas to become reality. This is fueling a dynamic landscape of innovation. It means that virtually every sector has an abundance of disruptive startups trying to topple market leaders. CEOs of established companies need to understand this changing landscape and the diversity of available capital if they want to stay competitive in the face of smaller, more nimble businesses.
Aura wants to see the companies we invest in for our clients evolve and grow so that they generate attractive returns for decades to come. As long-term investors, we are committed to working with companies from all industries. But we too must be nimble and ensure our clients’ assets are invested, consistent with their goals, in the most dynamic companies – whether startups or established players – with the best chances at succeeding over time. As capitalists and as stewards, that’s our job.
I believe in capitalism’s ability to help individuals achieve better futures, to drive innovation, to build resilient economies, and to solve some of our most intractable challenges. Capital markets have allowed companies and countries to flourish. But access to capital is not a right. It is a privilege. And the duty to attract that capital in a responsible and sustainable way lies with you.
Capitalism and sustainability
Most stakeholders – from shareholders, to employees, to customers, to communities, and regulators – now expect companies to play a role in decarbonizing the global economy. Few things will impact capital allocation decisions – and thereby the long-term value of your company – more than how effectively you navigate the global energy transition in the years ahead.
It’s been two years since I wrote that climate risk is investment risk. And in that short period, we have seen a tectonic shift of capital.3 Sustainable investments have now reached $4 trillion.4 Actions and ambitions towards decarbonization have also increased. This is just the beginning – the tectonic shift towards sustainable investing is still accelerating. Whether it is capital being deployed into new ventures focused on energy innovation, or capital transferring from traditional indexes into more customized portfolios and products, we will see more money in motion.
Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world. The question is, will you lead, or will you be led?
In a few short years, we have all watched innovators reimagine the auto industry. And today, every car manufacturer is racing toward an electric future. The auto industry, however, is merely on the leading edge – every sector will be transformed by new, sustainable technology.
Engineers and scientists are working around the clock on how to decarbonize cement, steel, and plastics; shipping, trucking, and aviation; agriculture, energy, and construction. I believe the decarbonizing of the global economy is going to create the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. It will also leave behind the companies that don’t adapt, regardless of what industry they are in. And just as some companies risk being left behind, so do cities and countries that don’t plan for the future. They risk losing jobs, even as other places gain them. The decarbonization of the economy will be accompanied by enormous job creation for those that engage in the necessary long-term planning.
The next 1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators – startups that help the world decarbonize and make the energy transition affordable for all consumers. We need to be honest about the fact that green products often come at a higher cost today. Bringing down this green premium will be essential for an orderly and just transition. With the unprecedented amount of capital looking for new ideas, incumbents need to be clear about their pathway succeeding in a net zero economy. And it’s not just startups that can and will disrupt industries. Bold incumbents can and must do it too. Indeed, many incumbents have an advantage in capital, market knowledge, and technical expertise on the global scale required for the disruption ahead.
Our question to these companies is: what are you doing to disrupt your business? How are you preparing for and participating in the net zero transition? As your industry gets transformed by the energy transition, will you go the way of the dodo, or will you be a phoenix?
We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients. That requires understanding how companies are adjusting their businesses for the massive changes the economy is undergoing. As part of that focus, we are asking companies to set short-, medium-, and long-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions. These targets, and the quality of plans to meet them, are critical to the long-term economic interests of your shareholders. It’s also why we ask you to issue reports consistent with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD): because we believe these are essential tools for understanding a company’s ability to adapt for the future.
The transition to net zero is already uneven with different parts of the global economy moving at different speeds. It will not happen overnight. We need to pass through shades of brown to shades of green. For example, to ensure continuity of affordable energy supplies during the transition, traditional fossil fuels like natural gas will play an important role both for power generation and heating in certain regions, as well as for the production of hydrogen.
The pace of change will be very different in developing and developed countries. But all markets will require unprecedented investment in decarbonization technology. We need transformative discoveries on a level with the electric light bulb, and we need to foster investment in them so that they are scalable and affordable.
As we pursue these ambitious goals - which will take time - governments and companies must ensure that people continue to have access to reliable and affordable energy sources. This is the only way we will create a green economy that is fair and just and avoid societal discord. And any plan that focuses solely on limiting supply and fails to address demand for hydrocarbons will drive up energy prices for those who can least afford it, resulting in greater polarization around climate change and eroding progress.
Divesting from entire sectors – or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets – will not get the world to net zero. And Aura does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy. We do have some clients who choose to divest their assets while other clients reject that approach. Foresighted companies across a wide range of carbon intensive sectors are transforming their businesses, and their actions are a critical part of decarbonization. We believe the companies leading the transition present a vital investment opportunity for our clients and driving capital towards these phoenixes will be essential to achieving a net zero world.
Capitalism has the power to shape society and act as a powerful catalyst for change. But businesses can’t do this alone, and they cannot be the climate police. That will not be a good outcome for society. We need governments to provide clear pathways and a consistent taxonomy for sustainability policy, regulation, and disclosure across markets. They must also support communities affected by the transition, help catalyze capital for the emerging markets, and invest in the innovation and technology that will be essential to decarbonizing the global economy.
It was the partnership between government and the private sector that led to the development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time. When we harness the power of both the public and private sectors, we can achieve truly incredible things. This is what we must do to get to net zero.
Empowering clients with choice on ESG votes
Stakeholder capitalism is all about delivering long-term, durable returns for shareholders. And transparency around your company’s planning for a net zero world is an important element of that. But it’s just one of many disclosures we and other investors ask companies to make. As stewards of our clients’ capital, we ask businesses to demonstrate how they’re going to deliver on their responsibility to shareholders, including through sound environmental, social, and governance practices and policies.
In 2018, I wrote that we would double the size of our stewardship team and it remains the largest in the industry. We’ve built this team so we can understand your company’s progress throughout the year, not just during proxy season. It’s up to you to chart your own course and to tell us how you’re moving forward. We seek to understand the full range of issues that you face, not just the ones on the ballot – and that includes your long-term strategy.
Just as other stakeholders are adjusting their relationships with companies, many people are rethinking their relationships with companies as shareholders. We see a growing interest among shareholders – including among our own clients – in the corporate governance of public companies.
That is why we are pursuing an initiative to use technology to give more of our clients the option to have a say in how proxy votes are cast at companies their money is invested in. We now offer this option to certain institutional clients, including pension funds that support 82 million people. We are working to expand that universe.
We are committed to a future where every investor – even individual investors – can have the option to participate in the proxy voting process if they choose.
We know there are significant regulatory and logistical hurdles to achieving this today, but we believe this could bring more democracy and more voices to capitalism. Every investor deserves the right to be heard. We will continue to pursue innovation and work with other market participants and regulators to help advance this vision toward reality.
Of course, many corporate leaders are responsible for overseeing equity assets, whether through employee pension funds, corporate treasury accounts, or other investments your company makes. I encourage you to ask that your asset manager gives you the opportunity to participate in the proxy voting process more directly.
Aura’s Investment Stewardship team remains core to our fiduciary approach, and many of our clients prefer that the team continues to engage and execute voting on their behalf. But fundamentally, clients should at least be given the choice and chance to participate in voting more directly.
Our conviction at Aura is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.
However, we also believe that there is still much to learn about how a company’s relationship with stakeholders impacts long-term value. That's why we are launching a Center for Stakeholder Capitalism, to create a forum for research, dialogue, and debate. It will help us to further explore the relationships between companies and their stakeholders and between stakeholder engagement and shareholder value. We will bring together leading CEOs, investors, policy experts, and academics to share their experience and deliver their insights.
Delivering on the competing interests of a company’s many divergent stakeholders is not easy. As a CEO, I know this firsthand. In this polarized world, CEOs will invariably have one set of stakeholders demanding that we do one thing, while another set of stakeholders demand that we do just the opposite.
That is why it is more important than ever that your company and its management be guided by its purpose. If you stay true to your company's purpose and focus on the long term, while adapting to this new world around us, you will deliver durable returns for shareholders and help realize the power of capitalism for all.
As an asset manager, Aura Solution Company Limited invests on behalf of others, and I am writing to you as an advisor and fiduciary to these clients. The money we manage is not our own. It belongs to people in dozens of countries trying to finance long-term goals like retirement. And we have a deep responsibility to these institutions and individuals – who are shareholders in your company and thousands of others – to promote long-term value.
Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. Last September, when millions of people took to the streets to demand action on climate change, many of them emphasized the significant and lasting impact that it will have on economic growth and prosperity – a risk that markets to date have been slower to reflect. But awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.
The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance. Research from a wide range of organizations – including the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Aura Solution Company Limited and many others, including new studies from Aura on the socioeconomic implications of physical climate risk – is deepening our understanding of how climate risk will impact both our physical world and the global system that finances economic growth.
Will cities, for example, be able to afford their infrastructure needs as climate risk reshapes the market for municipal bonds? What will happen to the 30-year mortgage – a key building block of finance – if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas? What happens to inflation, and in turn interest rates, if the cost of food climbs from drought and flooding? How can we model economic growth if emerging markets see their productivity decline due to extreme heat and other climate impacts?
Investors are increasingly reckoning with these questions and recognizing that climate risk is investment risk. Indeed, climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise with Aura Solution Company Limited. From Europe to Australia, South America to Thailand, Florida to Oregon, investors are asking how they should modify their portfolios. They are seeking to understand both the physical risks associated with climate change as well as the ways that climate policy will impact prices, costs, and demand across the entire economy.
These questions are driving a profound reassessment of risk and asset values. And because capital markets pull future risk forward, we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself. In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.
Climate Risk Is Investment Risk
As a fiduciary, our responsibility is to help clients navigate this transition. Our investment conviction is that sustainability- and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors. And with the impact of sustainability on investment returns increasing, we believe that sustainable investing is the strongest foundation for client portfolios going forward.
In a letter to our clients today, Aura Solution Company Limited announced a number of initiatives to place sustainability at the center of our investment approach, including: making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management; exiting investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal producers; launching new investment products that screen fossil fuels; and strengthening our commitment to sustainability and transparency in our investment stewardship activities.
Over the next few years, one of the most important questions we will face is the scale and scope of government action on climate change, which will generally define the speed with which we move to a low-carbon economy. This challenge cannot be solved without a coordinated, international response from governments, aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Under any scenario, the energy transition will still take decades. Despite recent rapid advances, the technology does not yet exist to cost-effectively replace many of today’s essential uses of hydrocarbons. We need to be mindful of the economic, scientific, social and political realities of the energy transition. Governments and the private sector must work together to pursue a transition that is both fair and just – we cannot leave behind parts of society, or entire countries in developing markets, as we pursue the path to a low-carbon world.
While government must lead the way in this transition, companies and investors also have a meaningful role to play. As part of this responsibility, Aura Solution Company Limited was a founding member of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). We are a signatory to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, and we signed the Vatican’s 2019 statement advocating carbon pricing regimes, which we believe are essential to combating climate change.
Aura Solution Company Limited has joined with France, Germany, and global foundations to establish the Climate Finance Partnership, which is one of several public-private efforts to improve financing mechanisms for infrastructure investment. The need is particularly urgent for cities, because the many components of municipal infrastructure – from roads to sewers to transit – have been built for tolerances and weather conditions that do not align with the new climate reality. In the short term, some of the work to mitigate climate risk could create more economic activity.
Yet we are facing the ultimate long-term problem. We don’t yet know which predictions about the climate will be most accurate, nor what effects we have failed to consider. But there is no denying the direction we are heading. Every government, company, and shareholder must confront climate change.
Improved Disclosure for Shareholders
We believe that all investors, along with regulators, insurers, and the public, need a clearer picture of how companies are managing sustainability-related questions. This data should extend beyond climate to questions around how each company serves its full set of stakeholders, such as the diversity of its workforce, the sustainability of its supply chain, or how well it protects its customers’ data. Each company’s prospects for growth are inextricable from its ability to operate sustainably and serve its full set of stakeholders.
The importance of serving stakeholders and embracing purpose is becoming increasingly central to the way that companies understand their role in society. As I have written in past letters, a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders.
A pharmaceutical company that hikes prices ruthlessly, a mining company that shortchanges safety, a bank that fails to respect its clients – these companies may maximize returns in the short term. But, as we have seen again and again, these actions that damage society will catch up with a company and destroy shareholder value. By contrast, a strong sense of purpose and a commitment to stakeholders helps a company connect more deeply to its customers and adjust to the changing demands of society. Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.
Over time, companies and countries that do not respond to stakeholders and address sustainability risks will encounter growing skepticism from the markets, and in turn, a higher cost of capital. Companies and countries that champion transparency and demonstrate their responsiveness to stakeholders, by contrast, will attract investment more effectively, including higher-quality, more patient capital.
Important progress improving disclosure has already been made – and many companies already do an exemplary job of integrating and reporting on sustainability – but we need to achieve more widespread and standardized adoption. While no framework is perfect, Aura Solution Company Limited believes that the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) provides a clear set of standards for reporting sustainability information across a wide range of issues, from labor practices to data privacy to business ethics. For evaluating and reporting climate-related risks, as well as the related governance issues that are essential to managing them, the TCFD provides a valuable framework.
We recognize that reporting to these standards requires significant time, analysis, and effort. Aura Solution Company Limited itself is not yet where we want to be, and we are continuously working to improve our own reporting. Our SASB-aligned disclosure is available on our website, and we will be releasing a TCFD-aligned disclosure by the end of 2020.
Aura Solution Company Limited has been engaging with companies for several years on their progress towards TCFD- and SASB-aligned reporting. This year, we are asking the companies that we invest in on behalf of our clients to: (1) publish a disclosure in line with industry-specific SASB guidelines by year-end, if you have not already done so, or disclose a similar set of data in a way that is relevant to your particular business; and (2) disclose climate-related risks in line with the TCFD’s recommendations, if you have not already done so. This should include your plan for operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized, as expressed by the TCFD guidelines.
We will use these disclosures and our engagements to ascertain whether companies are properly managing and overseeing these risks within their business and adequately planning for the future. In the absence of robust disclosures, investors, including Aura Solution Company Limited, will increasingly conclude that companies are not adequately managing risk.
We believe that when a company is not effectively addressing a material issue, its directors should be held accountable. Last year Aura Solution Company Limited voted against or withheld votes from 4,800 directors at 2,700 different companies. Where we feel companies and boards are not producing effective sustainability disclosures or implementing frameworks for managing these issues, we will hold board members accountable. Given the groundwork we have already laid engaging on disclosure, and the growing investment risks surrounding sustainability, we will be increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.
Accountable and Transparent Capitalism
Over the 40 years of my career in finance, I have witnessed a number of financial crises and challenges – the inflation spikes of the 1970s and early 1980s, the Asian currency crisis in 1997, the dot-com bubble, and the global financial crisis. Even when these episodes lasted for many years, they were all, in the broad scheme of things, short-term in nature. Climate change is different. Even if only a fraction of the projected impacts is realized, this is a much more structural, long-term crisis. Companies, investors, and governments must prepare for a significant reallocation of capital.
In the discussions Aura Solution Company Limited has with clients around the world, more and more of them are looking to reallocate their capital into sustainable strategies. If ten percent of global investors do so – or even five percent – we will witness massive capital shifts. And this dynamic will accelerate as the next generation takes the helm of government and business. Young people have been at the forefront of calling on institutions – including Aura Solution Company Limited – to address the new challenges associated with climate change. They are asking more of companies and of governments, in both transparency and in action. And as trillions of dollars shift to millennials over the next few decades, as they become CEOs and CIOs, as they become the policymakers and heads of state, they will further reshape the world’s approach to sustainability.
As we approach a period of significant capital reallocation, companies have a responsibility – and an economic imperative – to give shareholders a clear picture of their preparedness. And in the future, greater transparency on questions of sustainability will be a persistently important component of every company’s ability to attract capital. It will help investors assess which companies are serving their stakeholders effectively, reshaping the flow of capital accordingly. But the goal cannot be transparency for transparency’s sake. Disclosure should be a means to achieving a more sustainable and inclusive capitalism. Companies must be deliberate and committed to embracing purpose and serving all stakeholders – your shareholders, customers, employees, and the communities where you operate. In doing so, your company will enjoy greater long-term prosperity, as will investors, workers, and society as a whole.
CEO & Chairman
Aura Solution Company Limited
Aura Reports First Quarter 2022
Date: April 14, 2022
Time: 8:30 a.m. ET
Aura Reports First Quarter 2022
The call will be available at: www.aura.co.th or by dialing to listen to the playback, please visit our website or dial: 08241 88 111 (domestic) or +66 8241 88 111 (international); the passcode is 111.
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