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This is the age of ... financial responsibility

Angel_cherub_410If, like me, you are concerned that the UK chancellor, George Osborne, bears more than a passing resemblance to the angel of death, you will be interested (and perhaps relieved) to learn that Britain is no longer fertile territory for Attila-the-Stockbroker type financial services providers.

According to new research from opinion pollster YouGov, released as part of this week’s National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) 2010, over half of all British adults with investments are uninterested in the rabid pursuit of profit for profit’s sake and instead want “to make money and make a difference”.

Concern about a sustainable future is more prevalent among people aged 35 and over than among younger adults, according to the research. When it comes to savings and investments, more than half (58%) of over 55s and (54%) of those aged 35-54 want to make money and a positive difference to the world with their investments, compared to just one in three (33%) 18-24 year olds.

Drawing on the YouGov research, Penny Shepherd, chief executive of UKSIF, the sustainable investment and finance association which coordinates NEIW, claims the 2010s will be the decade of financial responsibility. “Recent environmental and economic crises have made people think more carefully about the long term impacts of their financial decisions,” she says. “After a decade that almost ended in global financial meltdown, attitudes are changing from greed is good to green is good – less Gekko more Eco.”

But how much have attitudes really changed? The research shows that, like seamless cross-border fund distribution, ethical investment is more often discussed than achieved. At the moment, British investors’ commitment to sustainable investments sits mainly on their lips; only 8% of savers and investors actually hold green and ethical investments – although a further 37% say they will consider doing so in the future.

Lack of information may be partly to blame for the discrepancy between mouth and trousers; four in 10 (43%) of all British adults remain unaware that they have green and ethical options on a wide range of financial products from funds to mortgages and pensions.

NEIW, which is coordinated by UKSIF and sponsored by The Co-operative Financial Services and Ecclesiastical Investment Management, is part of a campaign to raise the public’s awareness of green and ethical options in the UK. The organisers say the financial services industry also needs to work harder towards this goal in a climate where investment in ethical products in the UK, though still low in overall terms, is definitely growing.

Barry Clavin, ethical policies manager at The Co-operative, reports an increase in total ethical savings and investments of over 30% in the last year and fourfold growth in the number of ethical investors over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, Sue Round, head of investments at Ecclesiastical Investment Management, says ethical products are no longer a niche market.

“The reality is that ethical funds can perform very highly and compete for the top spots in fund ranking tables overall,” she claims. “We have seen the sector undergo a real transformation towards being seen as ‘mainstream’ over recent years and expect this trend to continue.”

Fiona Rintoul, editorial director
©2010 funds europe