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Hear from our Group CEO, Barry O’Dwyer, on the role pensions can play in the fight against climate change – and the steps our industry must­­­ take to make it easier for customers to invest responsibly.

Hello, my name is Chloe O'Neill. I'm a Business Manager here at Royal London and today I'm delighted to be joined by our group CEO, Barry O'Dwyer.

Hi, Barry.

Hi, Chloe.

So, Barry, you said recently that the need to fund our later lives and the climate crisis is putting our standard of living in jeopardy. Can you explain why that's the case?

We're now facing challenges that are unlike those that were faced by previous generations. Not only is society getting older, the responsibility for funding retirement has moved from government and employers onto us as individuals.

And not all individuals are well equipped to take on that responsibility. It coincides, as you say, with the climate crisis, which is going to define our generation and future generations to come. So now is not the time to be passive if we want to experience a good standard of living in retirement.

We need to take action now across all of society so government industry and broader society, including ourselves as individual investors, to affect the change that we want to see to make sure that we retire into a world worth living in.

So how does Royal London's view on protecting our standard of living compare to the FCA’s consumer duty proposal?

Well, we welcome the FCA’s proposals they’re raising the bar on the standard of care that firms need to provide to their customers, which is a good thing.

But we think there's an opportunity to go further, to think beyond just the financial outcomes that a customer is receiving and to think also about the world that they're living in. The reality is that the amount of money invested in pensions in the UK gives UK consumers considerable power over how and when we transition to a carbon neutral world.

 As an industry, we need to ensure that the money in our care is used to the maximum benefit of our customers. For us, that means protecting the standard of living of this and future generations.

So how will helping customers invest responsibly help tackle the climate crisis?

Customers in the UK have invested over two trillion pounds via their pension arrangements. That means that pension providers like Royal London are major shareholders in the world's leading companies, including the biggest carbon emitters, by helping customers to invest responsibly.

That means that we can effect real change. We can influence these companies and influence how quickly they reduce their carbon footprint. So why shouldn't pension providers just move all their customers money away from companies with a large carbon footprint?

We have to engage with the biggest carbon emitters in order to be able to impact climate change. We are major shareholders in these companies, and so we do have influence currently. We have to use that influence for good now.

If they don't respond to engagement, we always have the option to exercise our voting rights. Divesting is a poor option because then you lose the influence that you've got. And we may well be selling our shares to somebody that doesn't have the same priorities as we do.

We all know that in order to impact climate change, we're going to have to influence the behaviour of the world's biggest emitters. And we believe that engaging with those companies is the best way forward. We also need to be careful that we manage this in a careful and structured way.

We want to effect a just transition from where we are now to a net zero economy. And we all need to work together, including engaging with the biggest carbon emitters to make that happen.

You've spoken about the need for a just transition. Why is that so important? And what role does the pension industry play?

OK. In simple terms, a just transition means making sure that as we make the changes that are required to deliver a net zero, we don't leave behind sections of our society.

We can all think of examples from the past where we've moved from old industries to new industries, and perhaps we haven't been as good at bringing people with us and helping them transition from one to the other. Now, I don't think that's a viable option for the future, because the extent of changes that are required in our society and our economy to hit near-zero zero are so large that we need to retain the consensus that we have currently and around climate change, around the need for change. So that means that affecting a just transition needs to be just as important as hitting our net zero targets for us at Royal London.

That means putting a focus on building financial resilience among our customers.

So what solutions should providers offer to help customers invest responsibly?

I believe that investing responsibly is the right thing for customers and for our society. There has been the launch of a range of different investment solutions, which is welcome news, but they often involve customers switching from where they are now to these new solutions that sometimes comes at a cost. And customers aren't well equipped to do that on their own. I believe we need to make responsible investing easier for customers, and by that I mean integrating, for instance, responsible investing into the default solutions in workplace schemes.

Responsible investing should come a standard and at no extra cost.

And what should providers do to help advisers to adapt their business and talk to their clients about responsible investment?

I believe strongly in the value that independent financial advice can bring to customers, including those looking to invest responsibly.

And there's no doubt there's been an increase in demand among clients for responsible investment. But we need to tackle that in a way that isn't disruptive to existing advice processes. So for us, that means integrating responsible investment into everything that we do so that it becomes a standard and at no extra cost.

And advisers don't need to change the way that they give their advice. What does need to change, though, is that we need to scale up the advice provision in the UK so that we can get that high quality independent financial advice to as many people as possible.

So it's incumbent upon us not only to provide great responsible investment solutions, but also to provide the technology that allows advisors to get these solutions to as many clients as possible. And in the process, build more productive, more profitable advice businesses.

That's been really interesting. Barry, thanks so much for your time today.

Thank you.

 

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The Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The firm is on the Financial Services Register, registration number 117672. It provides life assurance and pensions. Registered in England and Wales number 99064. Registered office: 55 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0RL.