The global pandemic transposed many of us into the virtual world: charity investment reviews were suddenly conducted via Zoom, Teams and LoopUp (amongst others) and our conferences were delivered and attended from the comfort of our homes.
In September, to complement the feedback we receive directly from clients, we thought it would be helpful to work with an independent consultant to check in with our charity clients to ensure you were receiving all you needed from us. A big thank you to the 297 charity clients who responded, it has been incredibly helpful to see how we are doing and where you’d like us to focus in future.
69% of respondents had been invested with us for more than five years, of which 26% of clients had been with us for longer than 10 years. When asked how respondents first heard of Sarasin, we were delighted to learn that 70% were through referrals or word-of-mouth. We have set out below the key findings from our client survey together with some initiatives that are already underway to help us improve our charity offering.
Over the years we had started to see the rise of virtual events but the pandemic certainly accelerated that growth this year. Whilst we have all missed meeting our clients face-to-face we have continued to review how to achieve the most from the digital world we were now living in. We did not rest on our laurels! Our calendar remained ‘eventful’ with 72 virtual gatherings carried out compared to the 95 physical events we put on in 2019.
In November we welcomed 180 of you who joined us online for our Sarasin Charity Funds Annual Review, where we discussed the performance of your charities’ investment portfolios, how our digitalisation theme continues to impact the companies we invest in and the alternatives that have proved successful investments, diversifying and enhancing returns in 2020. Sadly, we were not able to host our regional or physical trustee trainings in person. Instead we partnered with several charity networks such as ACEVO and CFG to run online workshops and seminars with a high level of attendance and some thought-provoking questions from the participants. Many of you attended The Brilliant Breakfast we hosted one morning, again online. This was in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to raise money for the Women Supporting Women initiative with guest speaker Holly Tucker MBE, co-founder of Not On The High Street. A huge success and a worthy cause.
In a post-pandemic world, we are, of course, looking forward to seeing our clients again in-person; however the option to attend events virtually will likely stay in the mix for those of you who enjoy the advantages they offer. As I write this article, we are busy in the process of planning the 2021 Spring Seminar. We intend to put to good use the lessons we have learned over the past nine months to make this a rewarding event, designed expressly for a virtual audience.
This is a much-debated topic and we continue to feel our way in a world of instant news and social networking. Our survey highlighted that, historically, our clients hadn’t been aware of our presence across the various platforms, but that there was support for more market, charity-specific, stewardship-related and podcast material from us.
Early into the first lockdown, our CIO Guy Monson released a six-minute market strategy video each week, which was available across multiple platforms. Not only has he persevered in delivering this every week since on the back of excellent feedback from you, but it has also had the unexpected bonus of landing Sarasin & Partners on YouTube’s Top 10 chart for our industry!
Our Marketing team has worked hard this year to launch a rebranded website and kept our LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube pages up-to-date with market updates, stewardship engagements and thought leadership. We are pleased that you continue to enjoy them and always welcome new ideas for articles.
We have plenty in the pipeline and encourage you to connect with us on our platforms to receive our timely content. We have plenty in the pipeline and encourage you to connect with us on our platforms to receive our timely content.
OUR INVESTMENT OFFERING
We are very pleased to hear that three quarters of respondents felt well-informed on stewardship activities and how Environmental, Social and Governance factors impacted their portfolios. 70% felt that Sarasin & Partners were market leaders in this area. We noted that a portion of you would be interested in co-filing shareholder resolutions and as a result, playing a more active part with our engagements, so we will be sharing these opportunities with you more actively going forward.
We understand that some of you would like to understand our thematic investment process and stock selection a little better. This will therefore be a focus of our Spring Seminar, which will be complemented this year by daily Breakfast Briefings. These 15-20 minute sessions will be a slightly deeper than usual review of each of our five core themes.
It has not been an easy year for managing investments, with extreme levels of volatility back in March, followed by stark outperformance of global equities versus UK-listed equities. Having thought that government bond yields could drop no further, fixed interest produced some of the best returns in 2020 together with some of the alternative investments, helped by the rally in gold. As we write, Sarasin’s core Endowment Fund has been on the right side of these trends and performed well. We have been able to maintain our income distribution at the same level as 2019 and enter 2021 with a still robust reserve that amounts to c.25% of a full year’s distribution. Whilst recognising that the real economy is some way off full recovery, we are delighted that our thematic investment process has kept us out of some of the hardest hit parts of the investment universe and that our charity offering has provided clients with strong absolute and relative returns as we head into 2021.
Over the last two decades we have seen the rise of sustainable investing grip the investment industry to the extent that for every £5 invested in the UK, £2 of those are managed with environmental, social and governance (ESG) integration1. 13 years ago2, the term ‘impact investing’ was coined to represent a new paradigm evolving from ESG investing.
Impact investing is designed to help finance solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges; essentially, your investments achieve more than just an attractive financial return. Impact investments can be used to deliver affordable and accessible housing, healthcare, education as well as initiatives such as renewable energy, conservation and microfinance. This is different from philanthropy as an attractive financial return can be expected alongside measurable social and environmental benefits.
Our client survey showed us that half of the respondents believed that their charity should invest part of its assets in social impact investments that are aligned with their charity mission. As a result, we have put together a working group to ensure we better explain the positive social impact our current investment portfolios are generating, together with seeking out additional social impact investments where that is appropriate. If this is of interest to you please do get in touch with your Sarasin contact.
We were delighted to see an overall high ranking for the quality of our client service and strength of the relationships we have built up with you over the years. It was reassuring to see that 70% of respondents gave us a 5 out of 5 for the relationship with their Sarasin team and we received positive feedback on the quality and clarity of our presentations and written reporting. For those who access reporting via our online portal, the majority of users found our platform to be user-friendly with good functionality. That aside, we have a live project to improve this further so please watch this space for a much-enhanced experience in 2021!
The subject of investment management fees always causes considerable comment and our survey did not disappoint! Whilst most clients rated us highly for value and competitiveness, we must acknowledge that they are still not easily understood. Whilst MiFID II was meant to improve the client’s experience with transparency enhanced, we know that the whole industry must improve and we intend to be at the forefront in terms of transparency, full levels of disclosure and ease of explanation. We are currently undertaking a firm-wide project which looks at our fees, the overall costs our clients bear and the best way we can report on them.
Although we have mentioned events already, much of the literature that accompanies these seminars and educational programmes such as the Compendium of Investment, the quarterly House Report and other written market updates were well-received with a 4.5/5 rating from our respondents. Again, these have continued to be distributed online and we always welcome your ongoing feedback.
We have learned so much from our client survey. The need to stay connected and up-to-date against a backdrop of everchanging newsflow has been more important than ever. Thank you for your ongoing support and as ever, if you missed the survey or have had further thoughts and ideas since you completed it, please do get in touch and tell us how we can improve your experience as a client with us.