5 minute read 31 Mar. 2021
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The rise of ESG investing

By Jean-François Gagnon

EY Canada Financial Services Sustainable Finance Leader

Dedicated sustainable finance and investment strategist. Entrepreneur. Father of 2 and avid mountain biker.

5 minute read 31 Mar. 2021

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Contributors: Martin Leroux, Alain Deschênes and Aida Chakri

Insights from Canadian asset managers into the environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies in the investment management industry.  

2020 was nothing short of a watershed year. Amid what was already a year of change across all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a further accelerator of transformation. This was the case in capital markets with investments on an environmental, social and governance (ESG) basis, fuelled by some of these highlights of the year:

  • Record flow of ESG funds
    2019 saw a record inflow into ESG-branded mutual funds, capturing 4x the level experienced in 2018, which was a record year itself. Not to be undone, 2020 came in at 2x the 2019 level of ESG fund inflows.
  • Governments driving ESG investing
    Governments globally started to invest massively in sustainable and innovative infrastructure – from clean airplanes to affordable housing.
  • The World Economic Forum (WEF)
    Global leaders brought to light the “tectonic shift in capital markets,” investments taking place and a program that referred to ESG buzzwords such as “…sustainable, resilient economic systems,” “…responsible industry transformation…” and “enhancing stewardship…” programs.
  • Regulators accelerating change
    UK and Japan stewardship codes adopted in 2020 have redefined stewardship for asset owners: “The responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society.”
  • CEOs committing to change
    The World Economic Forum’s International Business Council (WEF-IBC) – a group of 120 global CEOs – has proposed a set of common metrics for measuring important ESG metrics, with the goal of driving global standards convergence to provide asset managers and investors with better data for investment decision-making.

Given the growing spotlight on ESG factors and long-term value creation, EY conducted a survey of Canadian asset managers to better understand what their clients were asking them, how they are approaching ESG now and beyond, and how they are evolving their operating model as a result.

The survey results confirm the current diversity of strategy and value propositions, as well as the strong drivers of adoption and evolution.

Our key findings include:

  • Most asset managers have been reactive to the market.
  • The integration of ESG into investment decision-making is taking place at two levels:
    • Across all products – only 50% indicated being fully integrated
    • From the point of view of the sophistication and robustness of integration
  • The majority of respondents anticipate developing more outcome-based products in the future, but their immediate focus is on integration.
  • Institutional clients continue to drive the demand for modern ESG investing — that is, not using the traditional exclusionary approach — while ultra-high-net-worth clients are demanding the expansion of ESG propositions to include outcome-based products, and some are even hinting at philanthropic products.
  • Discussions on future perspectives and challenges reinforced the fundamental need for quality and standardization of data and taxonomies

ESG Integration


of asset managers surveyed have fully integrated ESG into their investment processes.

Based on the survey results and discussions, the conclusion section proposes three tenets for senior leadership: articulating the ambition, adapting the investment and operating model, and executing. We believe these are necessary to build competitive advantage.

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  • Download the full Canadian Asset Manager ESG survey report


As illustrated by our survey, ESG is clearly a key strategic consideration for asset managers across Canada – both for those that have been using it for years and those that are just ramping up.

Far more than a fad, ESG represents a fundamental change in investment, and we are still in the early stages of understanding its full impact on capital markets. We believe that the client demand for ESG will continue unabated and that asset managers that are able to jump ahead with appropriate offerings and capabilities will gain a considerable competitive advantage.

About this article

By Jean-François Gagnon

EY Canada Financial Services Sustainable Finance Leader

Dedicated sustainable finance and investment strategist. Entrepreneur. Father of 2 and avid mountain biker.