Belgium: Sustainable investing reaches record level
The Belgian market for sustainable saving and investing has never been this large. In 2014, sustainably invested assets increased with almost 4 billion euros, while the offer of sustainable products has lowered. Likewise, sustainable saving is improving, as reveals the new Forum ETHIBEL report commissioned by MIRA (Environmental reporting Flanders, Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij).
According to the new data, sustainable saving and investing are back on track after two lean years. The market of sustainable investment in Belgium has expanded with 11,4 billion euros by the end of 2014, which signifies a rise of as much as 48,8% compared to 2013. Sustainable investing – or socially responsible investment (SRI) – has thus come to its highest level in history.
An investment is sustainable if it only invests in companies that meet social and environmental criteria, and are not involved in highly controversial activities.
Sustainable investing still flourishes in Belgium and that is mainly due to an organic growth on the retail market (accounting for a rise of 28,8%). The new inclusion of private bankers’ data has had an influence (of 20%) as well. The Ethibel SRI Market Index has increased again, from 6,53% in 2013 to 8,06% in 2014. This index measures the relative evolution of sustainable investments compared to the entire investment market.
Less products, more invested volume
Notwithstanding the notable growth in invested capital, the number of sustainable investment products offered has decreased. If the offer in 2011 still amounted to 359 sustainable products, it has lowered to 302 by end 2014. Apparently, funds that had reached final maturity have not been proportionally replaced by new products. Only for notes (or structured bonds), the offer has increased.
As for the market shares, KBC AM, BNP Paribas IP and Candriam remain the dominant players. Together they represent more than 50% of the market, in number of investment products as well as in invested capital . Van Lanschot is included for the first time and enters the top 4, immediately with a share of 12%. Triodos leaps ahead (to 10%), and becomes even more important if we take its partner, Puilaetco Dewaay (2%) into account; this results in a total market share of 12% for the “Triodos methodology”. Petercam doubles its importance as well, up to 5%. Equally, AG Insurance, Crelan, Argenta and Axa show an impressive relative growth of their share compared to 2013. In absolute numbers, however, their market share remains limited.
In the margins of the report, new phenomena such as the Volkslening (‘people’s bond’), crowdfunding, impact investing and the divestment movement are outlined. These kinds of initiatives illustrate how groups and individuals actively engage in a sustainable reorientation of money flows. They are interesting qualitative indicators, but with still only minor influence on the key MIRA indicators discussed.
Sustainable saving: continuous growth for niche product
Those who consider investing too risky, but still want to ensure that their money serves society, can opt for sustainable saving.
A sustainable savings product (1) avoid controversial activities, (2) reinvests in economic activities with an added value for man, society, environment and/or (3) supports sustainable or solidarity project by means of a commission or a profit transfer.
In 2014, the sustainable saving market displayed an organic growth of 21,2% compared to 2013, with a limited market share of 3,7 billion euros as a result. This is because market conditions were not favouring the entrance of new actors, and the major banks are not interested in a sustainable profiling of savings for now.
However, a sustainable savings capital of 3,7 billion euros still means a record level in Belgium. The increase is manifested primarily at Van Lanschot Bankiers, accounting for a rise of almost 46% in their sustainable savings capital compared to 2013. This can probably be related to the registration of the bank’s saving accounts as “sustainable saving product” at the Belgian bank federation Febelfin, in October 2014. Speaking in volume, the funds entrusted in sustainable saving merely account for a third of what is entrusted in sustainable investing.
Only one player, VDK Spaarbank, still effectuates solidary payments to partner organisations.
Demonstrating strong engagements concerning their credit and investment policies, together with social-ethical balance checks, could progressively provide more banks with a sustainable profile.
The complete set of numbers and research data are available on demand: firstname.lastname@example.org
 MIRA, Milieurapport Vlaanderen, ensures the scientific support of the environmental policy planning. The coordination of MIRA belongs to the tasks of the Flemish Environment Agency (‘Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij’, VMM). Certain areas of expertise are analysed externally and the results are made public through the MIRA research reports. The annual update of the report ‘Sustainable Saving and Investing’ has been entrusted to Forum ETHIBEL since 2001.
 This index is created by calculating the total invested capital in the registered sustainable products for the Belgian market versus the total invested capital in CII’s (Collective Investment Institutions) (BEAMA data). The index deviates however from the actual market share for sustainable investments since the total invested volume in sustainable products also contains data for other product categories such as notes and insurance products.