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Lotti Hawkins

How to move into an ESG focused role with little to no ESG experience

Lotti Hawkins discusses how Investment Management & Wealth professionals can move into the ESG space

The global ESG hype is not a fad, every role (except for one) I have supported for our clients this year has been a brand-new hire, simply meaning, not replacement hires! So, with that in mind, teams ARE expanding, ESG strategies are becoming and continuing to be a, if not, the core focus for investment management firms, and 2020 looks to be another year of firms going on a hiring spree!

As a specialist ESG/Impact investing recruiter, the mandates I support our clients on are for ESG/RI/Impact specialists, with predominantly 3 plus years of core ESG experience, and so the competition can be fierce to get the best talent. However, with that in mind it can be quite refreshing when investment management clients to be open on a candidates career background e.g. consultancies, NGOs, rating agencies, investment banks and so on, but the key theme is that candidates have to have a mix of sustainability experience (e.g. climate change/risk policy, CSR, environmental research), engagement and communication skills (being able to speak with senior internal and external stakeholders), and, unsurprisingly, the wide world of investing.

So, with this all being said I often get contacted from professionals within investment management who want to move into an ESG focused role for their next career move. Whether they have had a key interest in sustainable finance for a long time, or because more recently, due to the mountain of jaw-dropping facts being unearthed every day. Moving into ESG can be difficult if you don’t have any direct ESG experience, so hopefully this article will give you some advice into how to get a (green) foot in the door!

  1. With ESG strategies becoming a core part of the main overall strategy plan for many IM firms, as you are probably aware various firms are divesting from unethical funds, investing in ESG investments, engagement and stewardship with their clients on ESG issues and topics, and even starting up completely new funds/portfolios such as ‘Impact funds’. With this happening, the need for current employees to now focus part of their role on ESG can mean that slowly but surely, people are able to have a ESG/RI as a percentage of their current role, if they desire to get involved with RI space. For example, some firms have growing ‘ESG Committees’ where the people are not part of a set ESG team, but they have a percentage of their role dedicated to ESG.
  2. Following on from this point, the good news is that, generally speaking, whatever your role may be within investment management, there can be a potential to have an ESG side to it. Within the IM world, professionals who didn’t start out within the ESG space have now become leaders in this space, for example:
  • Ex IM lawyers moved internally to the corporate governance team, then with time this team has progressed and developed into the core ESG team
  • Risk professionals have been able to have a focus on risk within ESG investing, and now can support the wider ESG team
  • Marketing professionals with an interest in ESG, have moved into the internal ESG team to market their ESG products
  1. The new ESG CFA certificate! It has launched this year (December), and will be a focused on what ESG is and its importance across different departments. A vital certificate in understanding ESG, and I am sure this will be on the ‘desired’ list on a hiring mandate from our clients for the future.

Finally, for more tips, I spoke with the talented Olivia Albrecht, Head of ESG Business Strategy at PIMCO based in sunny California, who gave some tips to professionals looking to move into this space. She has been in this role for coming up to a year and has excellent insights into how she secured this role, given her background is not the ‘generic’ ESG background.

How did you manage to move into an ESG/Impact focused role?

My interest in sustainable investing started at Columbia Business School with the Bernstein Center for Leadership and Ethics. However, I didn’t professionally pursue the space until 5 years out of graduate school. After many successful years in a more traditional role building my credibility in a premium fixed income house, I was ready to “lean in” to a new opportunity internally. As I thought ahead to the next 5-10 years professionally, I realized I wanted to be in the field of sustainability. The business of sustainability aligned to my personal values and it was clear to me that this is the wave of the future. I raised my hand and leaned in.

What advice would you give to people wanting to make an internal move into an ESG/Impact focused role?

No one is an expert in sustainable business; we are all learning and evolving together. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have specific credentials. This space is evolving so quickly; every skill set is needed. The more involved you get within your organization, the greater expertise you build. Read books; listen to podcasts; go to lectures; and ask lots of questions. And lastly, be willing to add to your workload by incorporating sustainability workstreams. Don’t think of an ESG/impact focused role as either/or. Most of us started by having 2 jobs until the efforts really took off!

Thank you for reading, all the best in your journey into the ESG sphere!

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