Life insurance and SRI: which labels to watch?


In the context of life insurance, the responsible investment offer is expanding photo credit: GettyImages

For investors, the search for performance can be associated with “extra-financial” objectives. So-called “responsible” Collective Investment Schemes (UCIs) take into account Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. In recent years, they have multiplied, but without always convincing with regard to the multiplication of labels. The law intends to support their growth and bring order. Insurers must in particular better inform investors throughout the duration of their contract.

Summary:

  • Summary

  • Life insurance: a mandatory offer of “responsible” funds

  • The SRI label, a general reference in terms of ESG criteria

  • Greenfin, a label for “green” finance

  • Finansol, a demanding solidarity label, since 1997

Summary

  • Life insurance: a mandatory offer of “responsible” funds

  • The SRI label, a general reference in terms of ESG criteria

  • Greenfin, a label for “green” finance

  • Finansol, a demanding solidarity label, since 1997

Life insurance: a mandatory offer of “responsible” funds

Life insurance, the “preferred investment of the French”, is gradually becoming more “responsible”. Since the adoption of the Pacte Law (Action plan for the growth and transformation of companies) in May 2019, life insurance contracts must include within their range of unit-linked products at least one investment for each type of sustainable fund.

The implementation of this obligation was initially set for January 1, 2020. However, a two-year period has been granted to professionals and insurers have been forced to expand their offer of non-guaranteed capital investments since January 1, 2022. Thus, all life insurance contracts must now offer a solidarity fund (mainly Finansol label), a responsible fund (SRI label – Socially Responsible Investment) and a fund specializing in energy transition (Greenfin label, ex-TEEC ).

Since the same date, the obligations of insurers have been reinforced. They must inform the subscriber of the units of account labeled responsible finance available within their life insurance contract. Contract signatories must be able to invest knowingly in responsible investments. This information must be detailed and an annual report must be made available to them.

So-called “responsible” finance is on the rise

According to France Assureurs (formerly Fédération Française de l’Assurance), life insurance had 1.858 billion euros in assets at the end of February 2022. The new obligation imposed on life insurance should further strengthen its weight. However, if “responsible” funds must be offered within each life insurance contract comprising units of account, the contract holder can invest in them without being obliged to do so.

The SRI label, a general reference in terms of ESG criteria

The SRI label (Socially Responsible Investment) was created in 2016 by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Its purpose is to enable savers to identify investment funds implementing a robust methodology in terms of SRI. That is to say, those that make it possible to reconcile economic performance and social and environmental impact (ESG).

The SRI label is awarded to a fund for a renewable period of three years. At the end of this period, several steps make it possible to verify that its eligibility is maintained and compliance with the labeling criteria (general objectives, analysis methodology, consideration of ESG criteria, ESG engagement policy with companies, transparency in fund management, etc.).

Since its creation, the label has been awarded to funds invested in shares and/or bonds. Alternative funds (AIF), and in particular real estate funds (SCPI or OPCI), have also been eligible since 2020. In the latter case, the label makes it possible in particular to distinguish funds financing the renovation of old buildings to achieve better standards of insulation and energy performance. As of March 29, 2022, 954 funds are SRI-labeled for total assets of 666 billion euros.

Greenfin, a label for “green” finance

This state label was created at the end of 2015 under the name of TEEC (Energy and Ecological Transition for the Climate). Greenfin was therefore born in Paris on the occasion of COP21 (Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). On March 31, 2022, the website of the Ministry of Ecological Transition listed 82 funds labeled Greenfin, for a total outstanding amount of 21 billion euros.

The Greenfin label criteria are identical to those of the SRI, but with a predominance given to environmental considerations. Thus, Greenfin funds exclude companies involved in the fossil fuel sector (coal, gas, oil) and all suppliers of manufacturers in these sectors if they generate at least 33% of their turnover there. This is also the case for companies involved in nuclear activities.

The exclusion of nuclear-related activities from the Greenfin label raises a few questions. Indeed, according to the work of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), when associated with the increased development of renewable energies, the use of nuclear energy is necessary to achieve a reduction in emissions of carbon and to limit global warming.

This scientific approach comes up against the historical taboo of most environmentalist parties concerning the rejection of the atom. We also wonder about the exclusion of certain modern financial techniques in the practice of managing Greenfin funds.

Finansol, a demanding solidarity label, since 1997

The Finansol label was created in 1997 by a private initiative. It is managed by the Fair association, created in 2021 from the merger of Finansol and Impact Invest Lab. Fair brings together more than 120 solidarity companies, banks, management companies, NGOs, major schools and committed personalities. Its aim is “to promote ethical, human and solidarity-based finance”. The Finansol label is based on three criteria:

  • Solidarity.

    All or part of the outstanding savings must be allocated to the financing of companies working in access to employment and housing, support for ecological activities and entrepreneurship in developing countries. Income from savings must support certain causes, in the form of donations.

  • Transparency.

    A solidarity savings correspondent is in charge of making available all the data concerning the labeled funds required by savers.

  • Information.

    Each year, savers are informed of their investments and the solidarity nature of these investments.

According to the Fair association, Finansol-labeled funds have assets of around 20 billion euros, of which only 2.3 billion are listed in the life insurance envelope. These funds are said to be “90/10”, i.e. 10% of the available sums invested in solidarity funds and 90% in non-solidarity, but socially responsible assets.

Performance of responsible funds: still a big unknown

According to many players in the sector, the remuneration of responsible finance is higher than other investments. To do this, they rely on performances that are strictly limited in time between a solidarity fund and a “classic” comparison of results. However, the CAC40 ESG posted a performance of +7.3% between March 2021 and March 2022, when the CAC40 rose by +10.5% during the same period.

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