Rathbones launches new report:

The Value of ESG: how mainstream is ESG investing within today’s adviser world?

  • 97% of advisers agree business and society are changing in favour of ESG
  • 96% of advisers favouring ESG reported ‘fast or steady business growth’ in past five years
  • 75% advisers state ESG investments can ‘enhance returns’

As changes to society driven by ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) continue to gather momentum, Rathbones commissioned specialist financial services research house, CoreData1, to investigate the adoption of ESG into advisers’ investment practices and to gauge what value adoption is bringing to advisers. It looked at the impacts on business growth, client engagement, retention, referrals and perceptions of performance, among other things.

The results have just been published in Rathbones’ new report The Value of ESG adoption within today’s adviser world.

The research divided adviser groups in to two entities; advisers with 20% or less in ESG investments (‘non-ESG adopters’), and those with 60% or more (‘ESG advisers’).

97% of advisers agreed business and society are changing, with statistically little difference between advisers who have or have not embraced ESG. Both groups confirmed increased client adoption of ESG investment. While five years ago 28% of the surveyed advisers’ clients had no ESG investments whatsoever, these days that figure has fallen to 4%. Strikingly, 40% of the non-ESG group’s clients had no ESG investment exposure five years ago, and today that figure is only 8%.

Impact on business growth

The research investigated adviser business growth over the past five years. The results showed that having a higher allocation to ESG investments had considerable impacts on an adviser’s business.

While both groups of advisers had seen increased business growth, the ESG adviser sample had seen considerably faster growth with 96% saying they had experienced ‘fast or steady growth’, contrasted with 80% of non-ESG adopters. At the opposite end of the growth spectrum, 20% of the non-ESG group defined recent growth as ‘stable, fluctuating or reducing’, while only 4% of the ESG group expressed growth at this low level.

Client tenure and referrals

Rathbones asked advisers to expand on the importance ESG investing played within client relationships.

Overall, ESG advisers reported longer client tenure and more referrals. Further analysis strongly suggests these deeper relationships were driven by the focus on ESG investments.

–        Both groups believed that clients were more engaged with the investment process when ESG was involved, with almost two-thirds (64%) of the non-ESG group, and three-quarters 76% of the ESG group, attesting to this.

–        When it came to retaining clients, a surprising 64% of the non-ESG group believed ESG investments ‘facilitated client retention’. A higher 80% of the ESG group felt the same way. Analysis of the two groups also showed that ESG advisers enjoyed far longer retention rates than their non-ESG colleagues with 82% of the former group claiming average client tenure in excess of 10 years, compared to 52% for non-ESG advisers. This gap widened further for client tenure of 15 years and more (56% versus 20%).

–        Both groups were then asked if, in their experience, ESG investing led to increased levels of new business referrals from clients. A high 72% of ESG advisers either ‘agreed or strongly agreed’ with this, compared with just half that number (36%) in the non-ESG group.


Advisers’ perceptions of ESG strategies’ performance appear to have been replaced by a new reality in 2020, even before the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which attitudes towards ESG investing have reportedly become more favourable2 and ESG strategies have outperformed3.

–        The results showed that advisers believe that ESG investments can ‘enhance investment returns’, with over two thirds (68%) of the non-ESG group confirming this belief, rising to 82%for ESG advisers; a 75% overall score.

–        84% of the non-ESG group ‘agree or strongly agree’ that they are satisfied with the performance of their clients’ investments. All the ESG group felt the same, meaning a strong 92% positive sentiment for the two groups overall.

Mike Webb, chief executive, Rathbone Unit Trust Management, said: “We undertook this project to help inform our thinking around this critical topic. Despite the research having been undertaken just prior to the pandemic, the results show that a sea-change in attitudes was already underway, with both adopters and non-adopters recognising ESG strategies’ ability to deliver for their clients.

“And from the advisers’ own business perspective, the report demonstrates ESG adoption’s value in areas including business growth, extended client tenure and client engagement.”

The Value of ESG adoption within today’s adviser world report can be downloaded here.