Typically, engagement begins when one or more investors identifies an issue or specific ESG risk relating to a particular company or sector, and does some initial research to determine whether there is a business case for the company to take steps to respond.

The investor may then decide they’d like to engage, and perhaps reach out to colleagues and peers to gauge interest in engaging collaboratively. Once a group of investors have decided to work together, it is essential to lay the groundwork that will lead to the best possible outcomes for the group. Some important steps for an investor group to take prior to and throughout the engagement process, to help all parties work together in the most effective way possible include:

Commonality

  • Before the process starts, develop a common understanding of the rationale for the dialogue, expected outcomes, and the reason for investors to collaborate, with potential participants.
  • Negotiate a common position around the issue, agree what the group will ask companies to do, and the engagement style and approach to start dialogue.
  • Establish whether and how the engagement topic is aligned with each member fs responsible investment policies.
  • When there is diversity among the participant investors (i.e., in category types, portfolio size, etc.), identify where concerns overlap and develop a common outward-facing identity.

Coordination 

Determine which investor(s) will organise and facilitate group discussions, define agendas, assemble research and coordinate meetings with companies. A third party coordinator, such as the PRI Clearinghouse team plays this role in engagements coordinated by the PRI.

  • Identify appropriate target companies that are relevant to group members’ portfolios.
  • Manage ambitions and the scale of the company list in relation to the resources of the group.
  • Divide the workload among collaborators. Develop various roles for investors to play and ways in which they can contribute to the process, recognising the different attributes and knowledge that investors bring to the group. Less experienced investors should be given the opportunity to build their knowledge base.
  • Ensure that group members commit sufficient resources to guarantee their regular participation throughout the agreed engagement period.

Clarity 

  • Agree in advance on what information will be made public during and after engagement. This will help to maintain trust among the group and avoid miscommunication.
  • Having divided the workload, it is important to be clear about the role each investor is playing and who is doing what.

Clout

  • Ensure participants in the group have the necessary authority to make decisions on behalf of their organisations.
  • Aim to involve investor representatives with a similar level of knowledge, seniority and expertise regarding the topics and companies with which they are engaging.
  • ESG analysts should liaise with portfolio managers from their organisation to clearly formulate linkages between ESG issues and financial performance. Regular communication flow between responsible investment specialists and portfolio managers is also crucial to ensure consistent messaging with company management.
  • Build on existing relationships and other dialogues, and draw on prior experiences, to help identify the right engagement strategy.

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