Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks have the potential to negatively impact financial returns, yet few superannuation funds integrate these considerations into their investment selection. The Cooper Review (2010) identified a lack of member demand as a key impediment to ESG investing by superannuation funds. Given this problem, the aim of this study is to explore superannuation fund members’ perceptions of ESG investing by their funds in order to identify reasons for the lack of demand.
An on-line survey was developed and distributed to assess possible reasons why members do not select ESG investment options. In total, 549 Australian superannuation fund members responded to the survey.
Results indicate that the majority of superannuation fund members are interested in ESG investing. Members lack awareness of their fund’s approach to ESG investing, and they do not perceive there to be a financial penalty from ESG investing. Finally, members show a preference for consideration of governance issues over both social and environmental issues.
Respondents are well educated and the majority did not choose their superannuation fund. There was no measure of financial literacy included in the research instrument. There is also a general limitation in surveying superannuation fund members when they lack knowledge about superannuation.
The results indicate that superannuation members are interested in both superannuation and ESG investing. Given the low take-up of ESG investment options, this finding raises the question of how effectively funds are engaging their members.
The results should be of interest to superannuation funds and may lead to renewed interest in promoting ESG products.
This is the first study to examine superannuation members’ attitudes and behaviours towards ESG investing in the context of superannuation. The study also adds to our understanding of member decision-making in the $1.8 trillion superannuation industry.
The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers.
de Zwaan, L., Brimble, M. and Stewart, J. (2015), "Member perceptions of ESG investing through superannuation", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 79-102. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-03-2014-0017
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