‘ESG gives financial services a key role in UK’s green recovery’ says Katherine Garrett-Cox

Interview

Katherine Garrett-Cox CBE
CEO of GIB Asset Management

Katherine Garrett-Cox CBE, CEO of GIB Asset Management, has long championed environmental, societal and governance (ESG) initiatives in financial services. As chair of both the Clean Air Fund and the CDP Worldwide Board, she believes the sector can play a crucial role in making sustainability part of the UK’s recovery.

“Maintaining a focus on ESG is critical in part because of the current economic environment, but also in light of the environmental crisis we face. We have great evidence that you have better performance in companies that score higher on ESG metrics,” says Katherine, speaking to PwC for our 24th Annual UK CEO Survey.

She says the pandemic has caused businesses to put greater focus on the social aspect of ESG. This includes the care and support firms offer to their people, but also their wider network and supply chain. "That so many business leaders have spoken about the 's' factor being so critical over the pandemic, that really gives me hope it will remain embedded as part of the corporate psyche and culture," she says.

"And I think customers will soon determine what kind of businesses and business models they want to support. That will hopefully help keep us going in the right direction."

Competition for talent

For Katherine, getting the right skills, culture and tone from the top are vital to creating a successful ESG strategy. GIB regularly communicates with employees to ensure they have access to the right information and understand the firm's focus on sustainability.

"We see our role in financial services as supporting this mobilisation of capital, or allocating capital to parts of the economy where it will matter most," she says.

"It makes people proud to work here and helps us to attract great people."

Competition for talent is a key challenge for the sector, and particularly in ensuring it attracts people from diverse backgrounds. "As leaders we have a real duty to ensure we don’t just recruit in our own likeness," says Katherine. “‘Group think’ has got the industry to some bad places over the past 10 to 15 years and we have got to think about how you bring strong elements of inclusivity to make sure you really stand out.

“The benefits I’ve seen and experienced working in gender-balanced teams and in gender-balanced boards is profound.”

"People joining an organisation will typically look up [to leadership] and try to identify if there are people that look like them there. And that will help them identify if they can be successful in that environment."

GIB has taken steps to improve diversity in its recruitment, for example focusing less on standard interview assessments and creating an intern programme for school leavers. But Katherine accepts financial services needs to do more to create greater equality of opportunity. "If everyone in the sector did their part and did it more purposefully I think we will make progress," she says. "The benefits I’ve seen and experienced working in gender-balanced teams and in gender-balanced boards is profound."

Transformation in financial services

The focus on diverse talent and ESG reflects a broader transformation taking place across financial services. Organisations are rapidly adapting their business models and ways of working in response to new technologies and customer needs.

Katherine says agility is a critical capability for financial services organisations as they try to act on new opportunities. "Firms need to be more prepared to pivot away from things they thought were always going to work. I really do believe the more successful entities are those that will be fleet of foot and ready to move fast in a different direction."

In the asset management sector, Katherine expects to see increased automation along the value chain, as well as businesses becoming more specialised within the financial services ecosystem. "Gone are the days when everyone did everything," she says. "Certainly we are thinking a lot more about who we can partner with to build a successful boutique asset management firm, rather than necessarily doing everything in-house."

The sector's ability to drive genuine change, both in its use of digital technology and its focus on ESG, are vital if it is to support the UK's recovery. "It is obviously going to be a pretty extended transition back to growth, and I think finance plays an important role in helping consumers and business weather the shock," says Katherine. "The key is that it all needs to point towards long-term sustainability.

"This point around being a trusted organisation, thinking how you drive purpose through your culture, how you both measure and track your inclusive approach to all stakeholders and shareholders, is really vital."

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Marco Amitrano

Marco Amitrano

Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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