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Largest asset owners are critical to aiding society's biggest issues

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Opalesque Industry Update - The Asset Owner 100 (AO100) - the world's 100 biggest asset owners - account for US$19 trillion, up 1.7% from last year, according to research from the Thinking Ahead Institute.

In its second study of the AO100, the Thinking Ahead Institute highlights the unique position that 'Universal Owners' have to direct capital in a sustainable way, making a significantly positive impact on issues including climate change.

Roger Urwin, global head of content at the Thinking Ahead Institute, said: "The major investment markets failed to make progress in 2018, but these funds in many cases were able to avoid losing ground against their longer term targets by sensible diversification, in particular into private markets.

"The 100 largest asset owners are responsible for over 35% of all global asset owner capital. Of these, there are a number of self-declared universal owners that are large-scale, long-term and leadership-minded funds that own a slice of the whole world economy. This makes them pursue an influential role in safeguarding the financial system and contributing positively to certain big societal issues such as climate change.

"During 2018 there were a number of sustainability initiatives by universal owner funds that involved 'doing good while doing well'. This marks the start of a movement in which funds support societally beneficial initiatives that are consistent with financially sound fiduciary principles. GPIF, the Japanese fund that is the largest asset owner in the world, is at the centre of a number of these initiatives".

Marisa Hall, director at the Thinking Ahead Institute, said: "Asset owners face lower expected returns in the future and the success with which they meet their targeted returns will be dependent on how well they adapt their investment model to integrate sustainability considerations such as ESG-related investment opportunities. Global best practice on sustainability for asset owners is on an upward trajectory, but it still has a long way to go."

The Thinking Ahead Institute's analysis found that 59.1% of AO100 assets are held by pension funds, decreasing by 1.7% in 2018. 33.5% are held by sovereign wealth funds (SWF), increasing by 1.5% during the year and 7.4% by outsourced chief investment officers and master trusts, increasing by 0.2%.

APAC remains the largest region in terms of AUM, accounting for 36.1% of assets in the ranking. EMEA and North American assets represent 32.3% and 31.6% respectively.

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