Opinion  

Turbulent weather could signal trouble for advisers

John Lappin

Investment advisers – certainly those in the South West and the Thames Valley – are probably in the middle of helping their clients deal with the financial clean-up after the floods.

But is it time to reconsider the broader implications of climate change on investment portfolios? It is unlikely that clients will immediately be clamouring for change just yet.

Indeed, the client demographic – particularly male clients – is among the most sceptical about what may be driving the strange weather, and whether or not it is man-made.

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I have heard at least two advisers recently profess their firm belief that there is no way climate change is driven by human activity, given the record of naturally occurring historical changes in temperatures.

Yet, even for those who hold such views, perhaps something needs to be factored into investment thinking.

First of all, if we really are entering a period of turbulent weather, in which events previously viewed as once-in-a-century now happen every few years, then the UK investment landscape must change – to some extent.

Utilities, transport and huge swathes of local business may have to adjust their approach to cope. It may hurt the valuations of some companies, but it may actually drive returns as well.

Second, sentiment in the country at large may change again. Indeed, recent polls show the beginning of such as shift. That may translate into more regulations, and even more British advocacy of carbon controls internationally.

Finally, it is not outside the realms of possibility that catastrophic climate change will alter some of the fundamentals of investment, or at least some of the fundamentals of very popular stocks.

Now, for IFAs who may regard this simply as Guardian-reading territory (for their two or three leftie clients), pause to consider the attitude among the big pension consultancies and the approach in the general insurance market, too.

General insurers and consultancies are making very real adjustments to their approach and their advice.

Some investment advisers may respond that clients don’t come into the office demanding ‘green’ funds or portfolios, and without demand from middle Britain – who may be sceptical anyway – why go the extra mile to suggest such a strategy?

We remain a long way from compulsory electric cars on the roads, or Shell being told to stop taking oil out of the ground.

But this issue isn’t primarily about headline returns. It may not even be a matter of selecting a green fund of whatever hue. It may be a matter of managing risk on a balance of probabilities.

Writing today, it feels like there is a risk of economic adjustment in some parts of the UK in terms of infrastructure, and certainly a risk of tighter regulation. Most scientists see a risk of catastrophic climate change. But even if you don’t believe that, the first two trends may require a shift in thinking.