ESG Policy

Policy as at:
31/12/2020

Overview

As an investment trust, we aim to make well-informed investment decisions which ensure that the pursuit of prosperity for our shareholders is not achieved at the expense of the environment or the wellbeing of society. We believe that companies which disregard this will fail to deliver sustainable returns to shareholders. Far from there being a conflict between good returns and responsible investment, managing assets in line with these principles is key to achieving these dual objectives.

Witan has developed a comprehensive yet highly targeted strategy which reflects where we feel we can have the biggest positive impact, namely the characteristics of our investment portfolio and our engagement with the companies in it. We believe that capital allocation and engagement have more long-term impact than an exclusionary approach. Our commitment to the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative (‘NZAM’), and to have a portfolio which consists entirely of sustainable businesses by 2030, are core to this approach.

Investments we favour

Our portfolio is largely comprised of well-managed businesses with sustainable cash flows. In addition to the clear social and environmental benefits of good corporate behaviour, we believe that incorporation of sound ESG policies benefits Witan’s shareholders financially. Witan has a broad investment universe and aims to increase the potential for long-term success by minimising exposure to companies which are at risk of disruption, litigation, regulation, or loss of business as a result of poor ESG practices.

Investment process

Our expectation of our managers is that they will consider all factors when seeking to maximise returns while taking proper account of the associated risks. The Witan Executive team monitors the characteristics of Witan’s portfolio to identify, among other things, any ESG risks which may arise. The Executive team also scrutinises the ESG policies of our managers, reviews and assesses the implementation of these policies at annual ESG-focused meetings with investment managers and reports to the Board on its findings.

Investments we avoid (exclusions)

Witan does not preclude managers from owning specific companies or those in certain sectors, although some managers may choose not to invest in a sector for ESG and/or financial reasons. We believe these investment choices are best left to our managers, with our role being to ensure that they work within
a proper ESG framework and have a clear rationale for owning any company. Typically, our portfolio will consist of high-quality companies with sustainable cash flows, those with underestimated growth prospects and some businesses which are more cyclical in nature. These companies tend to exhibit superior or
improving ESG characteristics even though there is no guarantee that ESG incidents will be avoided entirely. Where negative ESG issues do occur, managers should engage with the company concerned, encourage positive change, and vote shares accordingly. Managers should not own companies if they
conclude that management has failed to take ESG factors into consideration.

Stewardship

Under our multi-manager structure, the fiduciary duty for the maintenance of high standards of corporate governance falls, in the first instance, to our appointed investment managers. Furthermore, under Principle 2 of the PRI, Witan has committed to be an ‘active owner and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices’. We therefore expect our managers to engage with investee companies and to vote shares. Voting and engagement records are reported to the Board at regular intervals. Managers who fail to meet these high standards are unlikely to be appointed or retained to invest money on behalf of Witan shareholders.

Impact investing

Witan has the ability to invest with managers who have the potential to deliver superior growth through specialist expertise, including impact investing. One such strategy is the GMO Climate Change Fund which seeks to deliver high total returns by investing primarily in companies which are positioned to benefit from efforts to curb or mitigate the long-term effects of global climate change. Witan has also invested in a closed-end investment company which offers investors direct exposure to a diversified portfolio of energy infrastructure investments which are focussed on accelerating the energy transition. 

Further information

Further information on Witan's Responsible Investment Policy, including ESG cases studies and portfolio statistics can be found on the company's website and in the Annual Report. See links below  

How we measure success

Witan monitors financial key performance indicators ('KPIs') as significant measures of longer-term success - details are available in the Annual Report. These KPIs are designed to measure whether our Purpose (to achieve significant growth in our investors’ wealth by investing in global equity markets, using a multi-manager approach) and our Objective (to achieve an investment total return exceeding that of the Company’s benchmark over the long term, together with growth in the dividend ahead of inflation) have been achieved. We believe that the formalisation and deepening of our engagement on ESG issues will help us meet these goals by helping to reduce investment risks while providing opportunities to benefit from the accelerating evolution to a more sustainable world.

Disclaimer

Please note that past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise as a result of currency and market fluctuations and you may not get back the amount originally invested.