Is ESG compatible with emerging market investing? We believe it can be…..

Companies that focus on corporate governance structure tend to be more disciplined and have the ability to improve investment performance

by the emerging markets team 16 Jan 2020

At UBS-AM, we also recognize the importance of engaging with companies. We engaged with the management of this case study several times in 2019.

Background

This Shenzhen-based insurer is a core holding of our Emerging Markets portfolio as the company is well-placed to ride on the structural growth in investment, and retirement needs of the ageing Chinese population. Premium penetration remains low at 2% of GDP compared to 8-10% across other Asian economies. In addition, sales force productivity of the company is significantly higher than its peers.

As part of our investment process, we pay close attention to ESG factors for companies within our investment universe.

In terms of governance and board composition, we noted that the company is placed just within the rules of the Hong Kong Corporate Governance Code. For example, it has no Senior nor Lead Independent Director on the board. Lastly, the founder is both the Chair and the CEO and has been so for over 30 years.

The company stated that it has benefited from having a stable team given the continuous and steady growth the company has experienced under the existing leadership. Moreover, the company stated that the founder does not have any special powers that are different from other directors in the decision making process. The company has robust management systems and established processes to ensure decision making is subject to complete and stringent procedures.

Engagement matters

As investors, we firmly believe assessing governance is worthwhile and is a factor that can support performance.

As part of our engagement in 2019, we encouraged the company to consider improving the Board composition and improve disclosure on the compensation structure.

Overall, we believe the Chairman is very important to the success of the company and while the board structure does not meet international standards, the company has better corporate governance than its peers.

Furthermore, discussions included comprehensive key performance indicators used and how many of these are long-term indicators with regular touch points. 

Apart from our interaction with the company, there are also other positive developments regarding the company's overall commitment to sustainability and governance. The company released its first sustainability report in March 2019 demonstrating its willingness to act on shareholder concerns.

It is also working with rating agencies to communicate its progress on material ESG issues and in September 2019 the company was selected to the Dow Jones Sustainability Emerging Markets Index (DJSI) for the first time.

Our integrated ESG approach means that our analysts can balance ESG risks against what is being priced in by the market and therefore it can produce an opportunity.


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