Julia Groves

Julia Groves

Julia is a former partner at Downing LLP (£1.4bn invested, 2021) where she built and managed its bond platform, drove strategy and led the transition to Responsible Investor. She was Head of Digital from 2016 for three years then Head of ESG until 2021. Previously director of the Trillion Fund, backing renewable energy projects worldwide, and Founding Chair in 2012 of the UK Crowdfunding Association which represents over 40 platforms. For 20 years she has been focused on building a more sustainable economy, whether funding renewable energy generation, making finance more democratic or creating sustainable investments.


Working lives will change. The financial services industry has a big responsibility to make it easier for people to get on the wealth ladder, and derive some income from their investing.

Sustainable investments: a path through the greenwash.

Julia says that in defining a sustainable investment, we need to go back to basics. “It means not taking out more than you're putting in, not exploiting resources, or in finance not doing things which are speculative. It's that concept of win-win.”

We have to drill down into corporate culture. “Sustainability with a big S has to look at the distribution of value and wealth in organisations so that does get into zero hours contracts, and the ratio between the highest and the lowest paid person, because I think we're going to see reactions socially to that unfairness as well. A sustainable business has got to be sustainable for society at the same time.”

Disclosure is vital, but not a foolproof indicator of better companies, Julia says. “You may find that some companies are better at disclosures, and actually not really as committed, and others are actually much more committed, but they haven't got around to disclosing. I do believe disclosure is the answer and in some way rewards companies for wanting to do it, because it can be a bit daunting, particularly for the smaller companies. But we are still in a slight sort of greenwash period.”

 

Corporates can be responsible by thinking local.

Julia asks how we can expect companies to think about SDGs when they are trying to get through to next month.  “I think that the solution is to think more locally. You speak to the CEO of a company, and they're just trying to get through COVID, just trying to keep people in employment, they've got problems with logistics, problems with X Y and Z. So they’re going to start at home. And I think you're talking about a pretty big company before they start to think about global poverty, but you might find that it's much more immediate for them to think about their communities, the local food banks, and whether they pay their interns.”

Some of the global concerns may be aligned with a company’s business. “If you are in food, then poverty and food banks might be super-relevant. If you're in the energy sector, you might be wanting to focus on a climate objective - because they can't do them all.”

 

Stranded assets need early action.

Although Julia is fully supportive of funding companies through a managed transition to a sustainable business model, she admits: “On the other hand I can't see that the market for secondhand diesel trucks for delivery in London is looking pretty hot. And this is where you get these sort of single inflection points where government policy or regulation, reputation-damaging incidents and controversies, can see values switch quite quickly. The reality is there could be changes whereby suddenly your assets significantly drop in value. I think that the earlier people get into this, the less of a threat there's going to be - but there is going to be money lost.”

 

The financial sector’s role includes helping younger people build wealth.

Fossil energy companies should be starved of funding unless they have a “super clear transition plan”, Julia says. And Shell or BP don’t. “If they are forced to measure and disclose truly the carbon stuff, then it's also the job of the investors to say, not in my name, I'm not giving you the money.”

The industry also has a big role in helping the younger generation fight its disadvantages. “I bought a house when I was 19. And I look at the kids coming out today with debt and without the ability to generate wealth in the property ladder. Then with machine automation they can't assume they're going to work five days a week for the rest of their lives. So a lot of their ability to generate wealth will be their ability to invest. That's why it's totally unacceptable for investments to be reserved for people who are already wealthy, and we all need to learn how to make investments, and understand about risk and return and fees in particular. So I think there's a big responsibility for the financial services industry to make it easier for people to get on that ladder, and derive some income from their investing.” 

 

2050: society needs to start prepping for the big changes ahead.

On whether we need contingency plans for climate change in the same way as for loss of operations or other emergencies, Julia goes straight to a warmer planet scenario.

“Hopefully, we'll have euthanasia sorted because using up taxpayers money sitting in a care home when I don't want to be is just mental. The population issue is first and foremost and the main thing we're looking at is immigration. There'll be a movement of people away from the problematic areas. As some environments get more extreme, they can move to more moderate - the temperatures or the weather in the UK might be akin to California in terms of heat or floods. The world is absolutely not a level playing field so the first thing we need to think about is the relocation of people to the spaces which are better able to sustain life and the quality of life that we want to have.”

She says that Individually we need to plan ahead too. “I say to mine, make sure your skills are creativity, and that you're super-comfortable with tech, and with as much innovation as possible. Learn how to live on less, because self sufficiency is going to be really important, grow your own - and then the rest is investments.”