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Can Switzerland lead today’s sustainable investment agenda?

Detlef Glow
Detlef Glow
Head of Lipper EMEA Research, Refinitiv

The nation’s role for driving industry best practices in sustainable investment was highlighted at the 2020 Refinitiv Lipper Fund Awards for Switzerland. Many winning firms are leveraging data and new technologies, as well as the knowledge and expertise of skilled fund managers, to create high performing portfolios.

  1. Managing more than one-quarter of the world’s cross-border wealth, Switzerland can play a leading role in establishing industry metrics, reporting and transparency.
  2. Key to setting global standards is access to novel technologies and new sources of data, combined with tried and tested investment processes deployed by Swiss investment managers.
  3. The increased presence of passive funds among this year’s winners marks a move away from active investing, a trend that will likely continue for years to come.

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The awards are unique, and unlike any other program globally they are based solely on non-biased, quantitative data. “Recipients of Refinitiv Lipper Fund Awards (#LipperFundAwards) are funds that have provided relatively superior consistency and risk-adjusted returns compared to a group of similar funds,” explained Otto Christian Kober, Global Head of Methodology, Lipper.

Watch: Refinitiv Perspectives LIVE – ESG Investment, a cure all for Asset Management?

Pioneering sustainable investment

The ceremony is an opportunity to hear the views and experiences of best-in-class fund managers. The role of sustainable investing, including ESG, exclusionary and other investment approaches, featured prominently during the event’s proceedings.

“Switzerland is well-placed to be a leader in sustainable investments, given it is one of the world’s leading financial centers, managing 27 percent of the world’s cross-border wealth,” declared David Perez, Portfolio Manager at Lombard Odier Investment Managers. This standing, Perez added, enables the nation’s fund industry to play a leading role in setting the international agenda across several areas, including the ongoing evolution of industry best practices, and sustainability related metrics, transparency and reporting.

To date, the majority of sustainable investments held by the Swiss fund industry involve equities. However, this is changing with fixed income increasing its presence within sustainable portfolios. Adaptability, agility and the ability to spot emerging trends are key to managing a high performing fund, attested Pamela Zell, Director at IFP Investment Management, during an interview with Fundplat at the awards ceremony.

Hagen-Holger Apel, Country Head Switzerland and Senior Client Portfolio Manager at DNB Asset Management, echoed this viewpoint, where he explained how his firm’s fund, DNB Fund Renewable Energy A EUR C, winner of the Best Fund over 10 Years for the Equity Theme—Alternative Energy, not only comprises renewable energy stocks from renowned companies, but also includes equities from energy storage companies that are lesser known yet equally as important in helping to lower the Earth’s carbon footprint.

Gaining a competitive advantage

Much has been written of late about the ability of data and analytics to drive more informed investment decisions, as well as obtain greater transparency regarding portfolio construction and asset pricing. Use of algorithmic trading systems to capitalize on tactical opportunities as they arise is further transforming the investment process.

However, with these technologies readily available to market participants, such tools are no longer giving Swiss managers a competitive advantage. This is prompting firms to create niche investment strategies using alternative datasets, noted Dr Sandro Merino, Chief Investment Officer at Basler Kantonalbank.

Bernhard Wenger, Country Manager for Switzerland at State Street Global Advisors explained how his firm leverages data, technology and talent when assessing investment opportunities: The firm first conducts a systematic assessment of financial and extra-financial data, supported by its in-house quant platform; following this, a qualitative assessment is then conducted by credit research specialists with the aim of mitigate risks and identify opportunities.

Driving opportunities

Refinitiv Lipper data enables investors to objectively compare funds that exert like-for-like qualities. Its granular metrics can offer in-depth analysis of fund data for unearthing trends that would otherwise be overlooked. The industry’s preference for passive funds is noteworthy, with 2019 being the first year where active funds experienced inferior sales. This trend will likely continue during the next year and beyond, driven by the high costs associated with active funds, and the inconsistent results that were delivered by the market during the past 12 months.

A noteworthy addition during the ensuing year will be the EU’s ‘Green’ Taxonomy, noted Leon Saunders Calvert, Head of Sustainable Investing and Lipper Fund Analytics at Refinitiv. The taxonomy will provide a classification system for European investors, including those domiciled in Switzerland, which stipulates the assets that can be labelled as ‘sustainable investments’. This will lead to greater market integrity and open up these investments to new markets.

Environmental metrics and associated information are key to realizing the potential of the taxonomy. “Data plays a critical role in establishing opportunities for where capital can be deployed, and it can be utilized to create a sustainable future,” added Saunders Calvert.

Download the Report: Dawn of a new age: data and sustainability in fund management

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