We believe that investing in well-managed companies with sustainable, growing businesses is the foundation for achieving good returns for shareholders as well as for a better future for the planet and its people. Our expectation of our managers is that they will consider all factors when seeking to maximise returns while taking proper account of the associated risks.
Witan is a signatory to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (‘PRI’) and is committed to incorporating the principles into our investment process. We seek to collaborate with other investors on environmental, social and governance (‘ESG’) issues, to engage with policymakers (primarily via the AIC) and are members of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.
Witan takes its fiduciary responsibilities seriously and our membership of these organisations complements our portfolio which is largely comprised of well-managed businesses with sustainable cash flows. In addition to the clear social and environmental benefits of good corporate behaviour, we believe that incorporation of sound ESG policies benefits Witan’s shareholders financially. The Company has a broad investment universe and aims to increase the potential for long-term success by minimising exposure to companies which are at risk of disruption, litigation, regulation, or loss of business as a result of poor ESG practices.
The Witan Executive team monitors the characteristics of Witan’s portfolio to identify, among other things, any ESG risks which may arise. The Executive team also scrutinises the ESG policies of our managers, reviews and assesses the implementation of these policies at annual ESG-focused meetings with investment managers and reports to the Board on its findings.
Witan does not preclude managers from owning specific companies or those in certain sectors, although some managers may choose not to invest in a sector for ESG and/or financial reasons. We believe these investment choices are best left to our managers, with our role being to ensure that they work within a proper ESG framework and have a clear rationale for owning any company. Typically, our portfolio will consist of high-quality companies with sustainable cash flows, those with underestimated growth prospects and some businesses which are more cyclical in nature. These companies tend to exhibit superior or improving ESG characteristics even though there is no guarantee that ESG incidents will be avoided entirely. Where negative ESG issues do occur, managers should engage with the company concerned, encourage positive change, and vote shares accordingly. Managers should not own companies if they conclude that management has failed to take ESG factors into consideration.
STEWARDSHIP AND THE EXERCISE OF VOTING POWERS
Under our multi-manager structure, the fiduciary duty for the maintenance of high standards of corporate governance falls, in the first instance, to the Company’s appointed investment managers. Furthermore, under Principle 2 of the PRI, Witan has committed to be an ‘active owner and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices’. The Board therefore expects its managers to engage with investee companies and to vote shares. Voting and engagement records are reported to the Board at regular intervals. Managers who fail to meet these high standards are unlikely to be appointed or retained to invest money on behalf of Witan shareholders.
Witan monitors the stewardship policies of its investment managers including specifically in respect of the UK Stewardship Code, where applicable. Whilst the Company’s investment managers are apprised of the Company’s approach to the stewardship of its assets and the importance of sound corporate governance, they use their discretion according to their knowledge of the relevant circumstances. The investment managers report their compliance with the UK Stewardship Code, or equivalent legislation, to the Witan Audit Committee each year.
The Company’s Executive management maintains regular contact with the management of the investment companies held in the Direct Holdings portfolio. Aside from regular updates, engagement has included, but is not limited to, specific issues with underlying portfolio companies, the manager’s ESG policy and its integration into the investment company’s ESG framework, discount or premium management, distribution/dividend policy and other balance sheet management issues. Witan will engage with management and boards where it identifies issues which it considers fall short of best practice and will vote according to the interests of Witan shareholders and considering all factors including ESG issues. Witan’s Executive management provides an annual report to the Audit Committee in compliance with the UK Stewardship Code.
Witan's approach to integration of the Principles of Responsible Investing