Can Index Funds Be a Force for Sustainable Capitalism?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The investment industry is changing. Among other things, there is growing demand from both retail and institutional investors to align their capital with better environmental and social outcomes, and more resources going into index fund or quasi-indexing products. These two trends may seem separate—or, some people believe, incompatible—but together I believe they have the power to improve finance’s role in the world. Index funds can be a force for sustainable capitalism.

Socially conscious investing is exploding as a practice and at some point I expect it to be indistinguishable as a product or service or category. All investment practices will consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics because some of those metrics are financially material, meaning decision-useful pieces of information. Just look at Uber to understand the importance of diversity and product safety or at car manufacturers scrambling to develop a competitive advantage in electric cars as countries seek to decarbonize their economics and fight pollution. In both cases, social and environmental metrics matter for the business’s financial success.

This is not just case-by-case evidence. Research by my co-authors and myself has found that firms improving their performance on industry-specific, material ESG issues outperform their competitors, and firms disclosing more information on industry-specific material ESG issues exhibit more informative stock prices and as a result more efficient pricing of risks and opportunities.

Photo courtesy of reynermedia.

Source: Harvard Business Review (link opens in a new window)

ESG, impact investing