What ordinary people think about responsible investing

(We don’t get into the nitty gritty of responsible investing versus ESG versus sustainable investing versus impact investing here. So, feel free to mentally find and replace [responsible investing] with [your preferred approach].)

People really care about what their money’s doing to the world around them. In fact, they care so much that responsible investing might just be the ‘member engagement’ silver bullet everyone’s been looking for. Here’s proof in a 4-minute video. And you can scroll down to read about what we learnt while making this video, plus the best definition of responsible investment we ever heard.

One sunny-ish Tuesday at Kings Cross Station, we asked 10 ordinary people questions like this:

What if your pension could change the world? Do you know your pension money’s invested? Would you take more interest in your pension scheme if you thought it was doing good?

Here are 6 things we learnt, along with quotes of what people actually said.

1. People don’t know their money’s invested.

Most thought their pension was just sitting around somewhere.

‘It’s something you squirrel away for when you’re older. But I don’t know what’s happening with the money, no.’

2. Once they find out their money’s invested in things like companies, people do one of three things:

  • assume their money’s invested in good stuff that they feel comfortable with.

‘Mine’s a company-run pension, so I assume they made ethical choices in what they invest in. Yes I’m sure they did. But I don’t actually know.’

  • just hope their money’s doing good.

‘I’d like it to be well looked after. It would be nice if it was growing.’

‘I’d like to think it’s being used for the right purposes, to benefit people and the world – with schools, education and medical research.’

‘I just signed up to the company pension scheme and hoped for the best.’

  • demand a breakdown of where their money’s going.

‘What’s it being used for? Who are these companies? What are they selling? Are they helping people?’

‘Is my money funding bad stuff?’

‘Damn, am I involved in that?’

They said they knew where all the rest of their money was going – all the money they spent day-to-day. It felt alien to them that they had no clue where their pension money was going. 

3. People really care about where their money’s going – they want it to do good.

We asked our interviewees what global problems they’d fix if they could. Some wanted to ban plastic bottles, others to eradicate poverty, some to equal out wealth disparity, and some just to make people happier.

When they found out that their pension could help them do some of these things, they were pretty shappy (which is a word I’ve just made up to mean shocked and happy all at the same time).

‘It would be great if the things that are important to me are reflected in the way my money’s invested.’

‘I want to contribute to a better world with my pension. I don’t want it to just be sitting there for years and years.’

 4. In fact, they said they’d save more if they knew their money was doing good.

It was the perfect way to do good without even trying.

‘If I knew my pension was going towards good things, I’d probably put more money into it.’

‘I don’t even have to leave my house, and I’m doing good regardless.’

5. So if you want to get people excited about pensions, tell them where their money’s going. The demand for this information is there – and people are going to start asking questions.

At the beginning of our conversations, 9 out of 10 interviewees thought they had no say in where their money was going.

‘Unless I’ve been missing some calls or something?’

‘I feel I should have a say, but I don’t think I do.’

 But by the end, they wanted to find out where their money was, and whether they could do anything about it.

‘I’m really concerned it’s going to things I wouldn’t be aligned with. I’m going to go away and ask the question.’

‘I have to know now where it’s being invested.’

6. Ordinary people can give an amazing definition of responsible investing.

This bit didn’t make the video, but several of our interviewees gave excellent definitions just off the cuff. Here’s the best one, from someone who 10 minutes earlier didn’t even know her pension was invested.

‘Responsible investing means to me that I’ll be investing in companies and organisations that are going to try and build a better future for us, our countries, our families, our future generations and the entire world.’

This video, like all our others, is free for anyone to use and share.

You can put it on your site, intranet, LinkedIn feed – whatever you want. If you know a trustee who’s thinking about responsible investing (or should be), please share this with them. If you know someone who doesn’t believe the public demand for responsible investing exists, please share this with them. Or if you think your colleagues, friends, families and pets have 4 minutes to spare to give this a watch, please share this with them, too. 

We’d love to know what you think about the video. Please get in touch.

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