Release date
18 July 2023
Author
By Constantinos A Constantinou, Senior Manager, PwC Investment Services (Cyprus) Ltd
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Integrating ESG Risk Factors in Asset Valuations: Empowering Fund Managers for Sustainable Investing

Integrating ESG Risk Factors in Asset Valuations: Empowering Fund Managers for Sustainable Investing

In the realm of fund management, the integration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) risk factors in asset valuations has been gaining significant traction. Effectively, as fund managers acknowledge the importance of sustainability and responsible business practices, incorporating ESG consideration in their valuation models has become essential. This article explores the significance of integrating ESG risk factors in asset valuations, pertaining to the evolving necessity for fund managers to navigate towards sustainable investing.

Traditional Valuation Modeling

Traditionally, asset valuations have focused primarily on financial metrics, neglecting broader sustainability considerations. Income producing assets are typically valued using the discounted cash flow (DCF) approach. According to the DCF model, the value of an asset or business is the sum of the present values of all future risk-weighted cash flows. A typical DCF model would require, but is not limited to, inputs relevant to revenue growth rates, operating expenses, capital expenditures and working capital requirements. However, the changing dynamics of the investment landscape have necessitated an evolution towards a more holistic approach that looks beyond corporate and industrial growth rates.

Understanding ESG Risk Factors in Fund Management

ESG risk factors in fund management refer to the analysis of an underlying investment’s environmental  social responsibility and corporate governance impacts when making investment decisions. Environmental risks may include, where relevant, the impact of climate change e.g. natural disasters, resource scarcity and pollution. Social risks can encompass labour practices, diversity & inclusion and employee wellbeing. Governance risks involve issues such as board independence, link of executive compensation to (perceived) conflicts of interest and (susceptibility to) corruption. Amongst others, these factors assess the sustainability and long-term viability of an investment, thus enabling fund managers to better evaluate risks and opportunities.

The Benefits for Fund Managers

By utilizing ESG driven valuation models, fund managers benefit in the following ways:

  1. Enhanced risk management - integrating ESG risk factors into asset valuations allows fund managers to assess the potential risks associated with an investment more comprehensively. By considering a business' environmental impact, social practices and governance structures, fund managers gain a broader perspective of the inherent risks, reducing the likelihood of detrimental market perception and potential financial loss. This holistic approach strengthens risk management capabilities within fund management strategies.
  2. Improved long-term performance - companies that prioritize sustainability and responsible practices often generate better long-term performance. By integrating ESG risk factors into asset valuations, fund managers can identify companies with sustainable business models that are more likely to thrive over the long run. By avoiding companies with weak ESG profiles and allocating capital to those with strong sustainability track records, fund managers can potentially outperform their peers.
  3. Meeting investor demand - increasingly, (especially younger generation) investors are seeking opportunities that align with their values and principles. By integrating ESG risk factors into asset valuations, fund managers can cater to this demand and attract a wider range of investors. This approach aligns with the evolving investor landscape by demonstrating a commitment to sustainable investing principles.
  4. Strengthened due diligence - incorporating ESG risk factors into asset valuations adds a layer of thoroughness to the due diligence process. Fund managers can identify potential red flags related to sustainability practices, allowing for more informed investment decisions. This integration also supports the identification of companies with strong ESG profiles that may deliver superior financial performance.

Failure to incorporate ESG risk Factors in Valuation Models

Failure to integrate ESG related inputs and outputs in valuation models may result in the following unfortunate situations:

  1. Disqualification of promising investments - the omission of ESG inputs in the valuation may result in forecasting undervalued long-term yields that fail to reflect the true financial potential of the investment. Reduced yields may be perceived as unattractive and therefore unqualified during the investment decision-making process. Such ESG inputs may include governmental subsidies, attractive industry discount factors or reduction of expenses due to the introduction of efficient practices.
  2. Paying a premium on the acquisition price - the valuation driven acquisition price of the asset or business may incorporate a premium that is eventually not recovered at investment maturity. The premium is generated due to the omission of cash outflows that may include ESG transition costs, environmental taxes, investment in human capital, etc.
  3. Poor cost management - during the operation, development or renovation phase, failure to properly budget for environmental or social events that materialize may result in monetary inefficiencies or even risk the viability of the business or project.
  4. Selling at a discount - at the disposal phase, the valuation performed to determine the sale price may produce a discounted value due to failure in incorporating future net outputs, resulting in a reduction of profitability or even a loss for Investors.

Challenges in Integrating ESG Risk Factors in Valuation Models

Integrating ESG risk factors into asset valuations presents unique challenges specific to fund managers. Some of the challenges include:

  1. Limited availability and reliability of ESG data - caused by the existence of impractical frameworks that are often inconsistent with one another and lack of streamlined technologies and platforms specifically designed for data collection and analysis processes (depending on asset classes and geographies).
  2. Absence of standardized methodologies - as of today, there are no internationally accepted practical appliances for ESG integration. The development of frameworks undertaken by international organizations of the status of the International Valuation Standards Council (IVSC) and Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) is still considered work in progress.
  3. Inaccurate monetization - quantifying the financial impact of ESG risks has proven to be a difficult task due to unprecedented practices as well as inadequate or unverified financial reporting.
  4. Lack of awareness and practical expertise - integration and understanding of ESG risk factors in valuation models requires a multidimensional mixture of skills that may be hard to harness. This inefficiency leads to the need for relevant training and upskilling of the participants in the investment ecosystem, such as decision makers, portfolio managers, risk officers and valuers.

Conclusion

Integrating ESG risk factors into asset valuations has become crucial for fund managers seeking to incorporate sustainability and responsible practices into their investment strategies. By evaluating environmental impact, social practices and corporate governance, fund managers can make informed investment decisions that align with investors' preferences and values as these evolve over time. As the demand for sustainable investing grows, fund managers must embrace the integration of ESG risk factors, overcoming challenges and seizing the opportunity to foster positive change in the financial industry. By doing so, fund managers can play a vital role in advancing sustainable investing principles and cultivating a more responsible investment ecosystem.

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