Castlefield Symposium 2022: 20 Years of Thoughtful Investing

By India Harkishin

Castlefield's India Harkishin summarises the 2022 Castlefield Symposium - celebrating 20 years of thoughtful investing.

In October we hosted our annual Castlefield Symposium. This was delivered as an online event, given the success of the format at last year’s symposium along with the unpredictability of the ongoing disruption with the railways caused by industrial action. To celebrate our 20th birthday, we explored how responsible investment has changed over the past 20 years, before looking forward to what the next 20 years may look like.

Olivia Bowen (Partner, Financial Advice) of Castlefield introduced the event and our keynote speaker, Professor Atul Shah (visiting Lecturer at City, University of London) along with our panelists, Rebecca O’Connor (Founder of Good With Money), Sarah Webster (Director of Sustainable Business at Britvic) and Ita McMahon (Partner, Investment Management at Castlefield).

Our founder and Senior Partner John Eckersley opened the Symposium by providing a brief history of our business and exploring why we are known as the ‘Thoughtful Investor’. It was interesting to hear how originally, Castlefield was set-up to serve the needs of the charity sector, but has expanded to include private individuals and, more recently, we have begun looking after the investment needs of third-party advisers and wealth managers. John also explained Castlefield’s purpose – simply that we exist as a business to help clients and our team to achieve their personal goals. We do this in a way that respects the widest group of stakeholders impacted by our business, through investing in a sustainable and thoughtful way. We don’t believe that it’s possible to do this properly whilst neglecting wider issues in society and the environment.  John succinctly put it as: “Gathering assets to do good”.

Professor Atul Shah delivered an exceptional keynote presentation which opened by exploring and questioning the oxymoron of ‘sustainable finance’. One of the highlights of Professor Shah’s presentation was when he discussed his research which spans over three decades. He suggested the link between culture and values is central to achieving sustainability and proposed a more ‘organic’ approach to finance which increases trust and long-term return on investment. Through a series of well-researched case studies, Atul then presented some of the everyday examples of ethical finance he has encountered.

The panel discussion section was thought-provoking, and developed some of the themes outlined in Atul’s presentation - covering issues around changing consumer behaviour,  regulatory matters to protect investors and also how a firm’s culture impacts on leadership and governance.

Alongside being the founder of consumer finance website Good With Money, Rebecca O’Connor also chairs Castlefield’s Ethical Advisory Committee and has a history of working in finance and journalism. She addressed one of the initial questions posed about balancing the differing priorities around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. The last decade of her career has been dedicated to sustainable finance and she has recently written a book called ‘The ESG Handbook’, so she was especially well-versed in how to approach this topic.

Ita McMahon talked about Castlefield’s stewardship role and engaging with our portfolio of companies. She highlighted that a key workstream at the moment is the decarbonisation of our investment funds. We have an ambitious target of achieving Net Zero assets by 2040 and this will be an ongoing project.

Director of Sustainable Business at Britvic, Sarah Webster, Covered Britvic’s sustainability strategy (called Healthier People, Healthier Planet) with the company believing that you can’t have one without the other. Britvic is held within our sustainable funds, so it was fascinating to hear some key themes they are advocating for, such as new growth spaces (by this we mean investing in more sustainable areas of business such as non-dairy milk options) and reducing the need for packaging.

The Symposium ended with the usual Q&A session, facilitated by Olivia. Questions to the panel from her and from the online audience sparked some interesting discussions. The topics explored included whether sustainable finance was truly achievable and the issues surrounding ethics in the industry. An example of this came from one of our clients, who asked the panel if they believe investment strategies can help to move society away from fossil fuels to sustainable/renewable sources of energy? The panel was also asked on their thoughts on whether they believe the terminology of ‘Financial Services’ is misleading with a focus in practice not on the provision of service but rather on ‘products’ and their sale to ‘consumers’?

We would like to thank everyone who joined the event and to those who gave us their feedback.

Some of the comments received from attendees has been extremely positive:

“The timing was good - it restored my faith in what can be achieved outside the current grim political arena and provided a more optimistic outlook by focusing on possibilities and vision.”

“Keep it up - I really enjoyed hearing about the great work you're doing and it was very refreshing to hear your keynote speaker examine issues that so few people in our industry are prepared to confront. I felt very much at home!”

We encourage those who missed the symposium to watch it here.

Written by India Harkishin