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Desjardins advisors champion responsible investing

By Rosemary McCracken | August 18 2014 09:00AM

With its five SRI mutual funds that currently account for more than $1.4 billion in assets under management, Desjardins Group is a leader in making responsible investing available to its clients. “Socially responsible investing has long been part of our corporate culture,” Rosalie Vendette, Montreal-based RI senior advisor at Desjardins Investments Inc., told the 2014 Canadian Responsible Investment Conference. “Desjardins is an association of 397 credit unions, which means it has always had a co-operative nature and a mission to enhance the social and economic well-being of its communities. And the Desjardins Group Pension Plan adopted a RI policy in 2009.”

In addition to its long-standing Desjardins Environment Fund, Desjardins offers four SocieTerra fund-of-fund portfolios (Secure Market, Balanced, Growth and Growth Plus) in partnership with NEI Investments. “We designed a product with four different risk levels to meet the needs of as many people as possible,” said Inka-Melissa Poulin, Desjardin’s Montreal-based product line manager. “Most unit holders began by adding a small percentage to their investment portfolios and many increased the amounts over time.”

Recognizing that its advisors are instrumental in moving its RI platform forward, Desjardins developed a strategy to educate and support its advisors. “Many advisors shy away from recommending RI products because they don’t think they have enough knowledge about them,” Poulin said. “We provide our more than 4,000 advisors with tools specifically for our RI products: fact sheets, monthly videos and questions they can discuss with investors. And it works – in 2013, 78% of our more than 4,000 advisors sold RI products. Our advisors are our most powerful allies.”

“And I encourage our advisors to discuss with clients how responsible investing mitigates investment risk,” Vendette added.

Desjardins also set out to reach and educate consumers about RI. “Investors need a knowledge of SRI basics,” Poulin said. “We’ve developed a number of educational tools for retail investors, including a quarterly newsletter and web vignettes.”

Marketing is focused on reaching mainstream investors through newspaper advertising, and by demystifying SRI for the media. “We often need to explain that we offer socially responsible products that have competitive returns,” Vendette said.

Desjardins plans to roll out more RI offerings in the near future, with theme funds high on its list of priorities. “Clients are asking about investing in water projects,” Poulin said. “And we’re looking into impact investments for clients who want to invest locally in their communities.”

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