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Asset manager-owner alignment and transparency are key to unlocking effective stewardship: In conversation with Samantha Chew, Aegon UK's Stewardship Lead

Asset manager-owner alignment and transparency are key to unlocking effective stewardship: In conversation with Samantha Chew, Aegon UK's Stewardship Lead

We spoke with Samantha Chew, Stewardship Lead at the asset owner Aegon UK, delving into her career journey and gaining insights into the many challenges asset owners are grappling with, as well as the opportunities for more effective stewardship oversight by working more connectedly with asset managers.

Impactive Team
September 12, 2023
Hi Samantha, tell us a little about your professional career

My career journey has been colourful and full of exciting twists. From Kuala Lumpur to London, and from lawyer to auditor turned ESG professional.

I joined Baker McKenzie on a legal training contract after being called to the Bar of England and Wales. While working in M&A and corporate law was a great way to learn first-hand about investment, I wanted to explore roles that harnessed my skills working with numbers, financial and accounting knowledge. I initially obtained a role as an auditor at EY, where I became a chartered accountant, thereafter was fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to become a consultant specialising in corporate governance and responsible investment.

After several years in EY, I moved to Aegon UK as Stewardship Lead, as the role which is to help develop stewardship strategy and a team from the ground up sounded so challenging and exciting to me. The company is one of the largest asset owners in the UK looking to accelerate its journey in embedding sustainability into its investment practices, and I wanted to be a part of that. I love what I do because of my blended interests in finance, legal and ESG.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

My seven years at EY was a great foundation and I have made life-long friends. I had a pinch-me moment when in 2020, I was nominated and won EY London’s Rising Star award, dedicated to a female rising talent in early career stage.

But, if I had to single one, it would be playing a leading role in ensuring Aegon UK’s inaugural Financial Reporting Council Stewardship Code application was successful at the first attempt. It’s been an incredible learning curve to understand a new organisation and its people, as well as leading and managing the stewardship team. I can see myself staying here for a long time, with a supportive boss and great team culture, as well as so many personal and professional opportunities.

What is your typical day as a stewardship lead?

There’s no typical day for me. The nature of my work varies a lot, but I would see an example of a great day as one where I would have contact with trustees or investment committees in governance meetings; engagement with colleagues beyond the responsible investment team such as those from investment proposition in which we sit; coaching and supporting the development of our analysts; as well as interactions with wider people outside of Aegon to expand my knowledge and exchange ideas, particularly about the pensions industry and sustainability. Best practice in stewardship and sustainability is evolving rapidly so I’m excited by the many opportunities in this role to continue learning from others as to how to make sustained tangible progress in this vital topic.

What are the most pressing issues on asset owners' minds at the moment?

‘Everything, everywhere, all at once’ can sum up the scale of different challenges for asset owners on responsible investment. Embedding new governance and disclosure requirements, navigating the needs of different distribution channels (e.g., workplace vs retail financial advisers), and ESG polarization between Europe and the US are some examples of the most pressing issues faced by asset owners. There is more focus on alignment between asset owners and the long-term interests of pension savers, and as part of this, the increased imperative for the integration of climate-related considerations into investing. This links with one of the key responsibility areas in my role to help ensure Aegon UK’s new and existing asset managers are aligned with our responsible investment approach to support better member outcomes.

If you could give asset managers one big tip for making stewardship work more effective, what would it be?

Better provide opportunities for asset owners to have a voice and enable effective oversight. For example, on voting, asset owners in pooled funds are increasingly interested in having a say on and visibility of what action is taken within their own portfolios, but it is not always clear what influence the asset managers’ voting and related engagement practices have on actual portfolio companies’ practices. In addition to better connecting with asset owners, asset managers could further enhance their own processes, including technological capabilities, to be more transparent of their progress, outcomes and potential trade-offs. The industry is developing in the direction to push for more transparency and accountability, such as the consultation by the Financial Conduct Authority’s Vote Reporting Group and the Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR) development, but there is still more to do.

Describe your perfect holiday

Somewhere in Asia, where I grew up, with friends and family. I love spicy foods, reading and being one with nature through yoga, swimming and hiking.

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