Five questions with Nathalie van Toren on responsible investment
1. What kind of work do you do, and what does a typical day look like?
"As Manager of Responsible Investment, I co-lead the Responsible Investment (RI) team at NN Group, which drives the integration of sustainability and RI principles across the company's investment activities. Our objective is to align our investments with NN Group’s values and RI criteria, by taking into account environmental (E), social (S) and governance (G) factors in the investment process and engaging with companies to promote sustainable practices.
On a typical day, you will find me working on policy and strategy development, reporting on progress, and collaborating with internal departments such as the Investment Office, Finance, and Risk. I also spend time engaging with external stakeholders like asset managers and participating in industry initiatives."
2. Why did you pursue a career in RI, and what makes this work so interesting?
"I pursued a career in RI after working as an equity analyst and investor relations professional. Through these experiences, I became acquainted with Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) portfolio managers who raised long-term, strategic questions about topics such as environmental issues, human rights, and health. This led me to the field of RI, which I have been involved in for the past decade.
What makes RI so interesting to me, is its focus on connecting finance with the real economy to drive positive change. This includes addressing global issues such as climate change and growing inequality. I’m particularly driven by implementing and monitoring a net-zero strategy for our investment portfolios across different asset classes."
3. Where do you see opportunities to grow?
"One of the initiatives we have been working on is expanding the capacity of our RI team and active ownership function. We are building a team of 10 dedicated professionals, and I am excited about becoming a leading and innovative RI team in the industry.
However, growth is not just about adding more people. It is about constantly learning, evolving, and finding new ways to make a positive impact. We recognise that we have to address complex environmental and social issues, but with the right team and approach, we are confident that we can make a difference."
4. What issues are you facing?
"As responsible investors, we need reliable and comprehensive ESG data to make informed decisions. While new regulations such as CSRD have been introduced to ensure corporations provide this data, the compliance factor can be complex and time-consuming, and it is important to constantly evaluate whether these efforts truly contribute to promoting RI.
Another challenge is how to bring about actions with real-world impact. For instance, in setting net-zero goals, there is a risk that investors may achieve decarbonisation through divestment rather than supporting real-world emission reduction. This is particularly challenging for carbon-intensive sectors like cement and steel, which are essential to the low-carbon world but hard to decarbonise. Emerging markets are another example, since they may have different priorities or less progress in meeting climate targets. Divesting may not be the best solution as it does not support these sectors and markets to transition to more sustainable practices and we may miss an opportunity to engage with them to stimulate change."
5. What’s next for you?
"Looking towards the future of RI at NN Group, I am excited about several initiatives, such as integrating biodiversity considerations into our investment processes and strategies. We are also putting more emphasis on human rights due diligence and living wages, as we believe that these topics are important to promoting sustainability and RI.
Another focus area is the use of technology to drive efficiency and innovation. Our company is exploring the use of ChatGPT AI, which I find particularly interesting. Through this technology, we could make tasks related to ratings, benchmarks and reporting more efficient, freeing up time for more impactful activities like strategy and policy development and active ownership.
Finally, my recent nomination as one of the top 50 women in finance by WIFS is an honour. I see this as an opportunity to be an ambassador and inspire more people to work in sustainable finance."