ABN AMRO - Oxford Fundamentals of Sustainable Investing Workshop

ABN AMRO provides retail, private banking, and corporate banking services across north west Europe. Its aim is to become the leader in sustainable and impact investing, providing banking services that benefit future generations. 

To build its expertise in Environmental Social Governance (ESG), Socially Responsible (SR), and Impact Investing, it has worked with Oxford Saïd to develop the Oxford Fundamentals of Sustainable Investing (OFSI) Workshop for its investment related staff. This is to help more customers engage successfully in socially responsible investing. Alongside the workshop, ABN AMRO has also partnered with Oxford Saïd on the first research examining sustainable investment behaviour amongst wealthy private investors. 

landscape of wind farm at sunset

ABN AMRO aims to become the market leader in sustainable and impact investing.

Contributing to a better future 

Headquartered in Amsterdam, ABN AMRO has nearly 18,000 employees. The bank’s focus is to offer products and services that contribute to a better future, accelerating the transition to an inclusive, circular, and sustainable society.  

Vincent Triesschijn, Director Sustainable Investment, ABN AMRO first attended the Oxford Impact Investing Programme. 'The Oxford open programme was a deep-dive into impact investing with experts in this field and looked at so many of the topics important to us at ABN AMRO. I felt we needed something similar for the wider bank. Sustainability really matters to our stakeholders and to be a leader in this space we needed our employees to have a better understanding of ESG and impact investment, how to source these opportunities, and most importantly feel confident to advise clients on this. We also wanted to partner on academic research. There is minimal data on sustainable investing amongst private investors, and it is important that we gather more insights for ourselves and our clients. With over 5 million retail clients, our bank is also an interesting partner for researchers.' 

ABN AMRO estimated that 80% of its sustainable investment portfolios were managed by just 20% of its investment teams. To grow internal knowledge and understanding it was decided that an executive education journey should be developed and delivered.

Right from the start, the team worked with us in a very collaborative way and everything was highly tailored to ABN AMRO’s desired deliverables.

Vincent Triesschijn

Director of Sustainable Investment at ABN AMRO

Oxford Saïd was successful in the competitive tender process. Vincent Triesschijn explains why: 'First of all, Oxford has long lasting experience in this area. It has got the heritage of specialist areas like the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the longest running programme on impact investing, and extensive research from Professors such as Peter Tufano, Dean of Saïd Business School, and Bob Eccles, Visiting Professor of Management Practice, commonly acknowledged as the world’s leading expert on ESG and sustainable investing. Second, we found the university’s approach was focussed on our needs. Right from the start, the team worked with us in a very collaborative way and everything was highly tailored to ABN AMRO’s desired deliverables.'

Designing the programme

People working at a table

The Oxford team was led by Programme Director Henry González, who was joined by Amir Amel-Zadeh, Associate Professor of Accounting, bringing a combination of academic and practical hands on banking experience. Working closely with the ABN AMRO team, the development of the workshop was guided by two major design aims. 

Henry Gonzalez explains: 'First we wanted to create a learning process that provided materials that covered the whole spectrum of sustainability investing. It was important that participants could quickly apply the lessons in the day to day operations. Second, was the need to cover the relevant teams across the bank’s European operations – some 1,000 individuals spread over nine locations. The programme design needed to be something that could be delivered consistently and quickly at multiple ABN AMRO offices.'

A pilot workshop was held in Brussels for senior management in December 2018. The feedback from the workshop was incorporated into the final design, before being rolled out across the bank’s European offices. 

Objectives of the programme

  • Provide participants with relevant theory and practice on sustainable investing aiming at levelling the playing field and providing academic and professional evidence on the topic.
  • Engage in interactive discussions on the state of affairs of ESG and Impact Investing with applied cases on issues, trends, challenges, and opportunities.
  • Apply technical and practical knowledge on sustainable investing building a solid narrative that bridges financial and non-financial returns with the goal of helping ABN AMRO’s clients meet their long-term investment decisions while making a valuable contribution to people and planet.
  • Partner with ABN AMRO on research investigating key responsible investing topics.

Workshop structure

Table with laptop and participants working

The final design of the workshop took a blended learning approach, utilising both face to face and digital approaches and comprised three stages. Underling the importance to ABN AMRO of increasing its expertise in sustainable investing, attendance at the workshop for selected participants was mandatory. The workshop was primarily delivered in English but was also adapted for parts of it to be carried out in French and German for ABN AMRO’s offices in Paris and Frankfurt am Main.

Stage zero

All participants took part in an e-learning course which provided an overview of the theories behind sustainable investing, based on the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

Stage one

Stage one built on the PRI course and began to look in detail at the topics that would be covered in the face to face workshop. Using the Canvas virtual learning environment, participants were able to access articles and short videos from the programme speakers, including Bob Eccles, that introduced different subjects. 

Stage two

A one-day workshop, each attended by 50 participants, combined plenaries in which participants heard the latest thinking on sustainable investing, and interactive sessions where they were able to work through real issues. These included dealing with dilemmas such as investments in genetically modified crops or analysing company information from a sustainability reporting perspective. The workshop ended with an Oxford style debate in which participants discussed a stance, to understand the different perspectives in favour or against it. 

Research

Alongside the Workshop, a collaborative joint research was conducted by Amir Amel-Zadeh from Oxford Saïd and Mary Pieterse-Bloem, Global Head Fixed Income at ABN AMRO, and Professor at the Erasmus School of Economics. Together with Mary’s Erasmus colleague Rik Lustermans, the team used anonymised data from ABN AMRO to look at how private investors use sustainability ratings to make investment decisions. In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, the research found that wealthy private investors are more likely to invest in companies with high sustainability ratings. Companies with a good sustainability rating received 15% more investment per month over the three-year period 2016-2019, compared to those with a low rating. Read the full press release.

Amir Amel-Zadeh comments: 'The research shows that sustainability matters to investors and the importance of making them aware of the social and environmental impact of the companies they invest in. It also demonstrates the increasing influence of sustainability ratings agencies in directing capital towards more sustainable companies.'
 

Impact

Vincent Triesschijn concludes: 'We value the partnership with Oxford and look forward to future cooperation. From the beginning, the Oxford team helped us deliver a very effective series of workshops, but also some important academic research that will contribute greatly to the understanding of sustainable investing behaviour amongst private investors. Fundamentally, the work with Oxford Saïd has helped us take a big step forward in our aim of becoming the world’s leading bank for ESG and sustainable investing. It is truly unique that over 1000 of my colleagues have participated in this "world-class" programme. Generally the participants were overwhelmed by the convincing facts, robustness of the evidence and the rigour of the team that has delivered the course and carried out the research. And that is exactly what we want to achieve.'

To date:

  • Over 1,000 ABN AMRO employees have completed the OFSI Workshop in nine locations
  • ABN AMRO and Oxford Saïd have completed extensive academic research study on wealthy private investors and sustainable investing
  • In 2019 ABN AMRO invested €20 billion in sustainable companies globally (Source: ABN AMRO Bank N.V., Annual Report 2019)
  • In 2019 ABN AMRO increased the number of sustainable contracts globally by 16% year on year

Henry Gonzalez says: 'The workshops have been a phenomenal experience. It’s been a pleasure working with ABN AMRO who took a very entrepreneurial approach and partnered with us to deliver a ground-breaking programme. We have recently agreed to further workshops and hope to continue to develop our close relationship for the foreseeable future.'