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INSIGHT-Climate scientists swap fieldwork for finance

Thu, 15th Apr 2021 06:00

* Job ads for 'sustainable' roles double – eFinancialCareers

* Pay packages for the most senior posts top $1 million

* Citi, UBS, Lloyds among firms ramping up green hiring

* Some charities say 'greenwashing' is still rife though

By Iain Withers, Carolyn Cohn and Simon Jessop

LONDON, April 15 (Reuters) - Environmental scientist Laura
Garcia Velez cut her teeth on projects to help Ethiopian farmers
insure crops for drought and connect remote Colombian
communities to the electricity grid before working for
conservation campaigners WWF.

Now she's an analyst for Lombard Odier, charged with
improving the $350 billion Swiss bank's green credentials.

"It's really important that finance recruits from science,"
said Velez, one of a growing number of campaigners and
scientists who have switched to banking, which she hopes can
play a role in "greening the polluting industries".

Activism and finance may seem an unlikely pairing of two
implacable foes.

Yet banks, asset managers and private equity firms, faced
with tough regulations to decarbonise portfolios and loan books,
are competing to grab the people with the right green expertise,
according to jobs data and Reuters interviews with finance
firms, recruiters and universities.

"Working in sustainability, it used to feel like you were
trying to knock down walls," said NatWest's head of
climate change James Close, a former director of climate change
at the World Bank.

"Now they are pulling us in from the streets through the
front door."

Many environmentalists, for their part, say the only way to
save the planet is to force big businesses to radically reduce
their carbon emissions, and they see the finance world that
funds them as one of the best levers.

Some charities and campaigners argue, though, that
"greenwashing" is rife in the finance industry. Many new
recruits, they say, are used as a marketing tool and often lack
the power to drive real change.

DOUBLING PAY PACKETS

Nonetheless, the green rush is on.

The number of job ads for "sustainability" roles nearly
doubled to more than 1,000 during the year to February, versus
the previous 12 months, according to global finance recruitment
specialist eFinancialCareers. Positions range from junior-level
analysts to new director-level roles such as head of
sustainability or climate change. GRAPHIC: https://tmsnrt.rs/2PAFaLH

Green recruitment specialist Acre said its hires in finance
had increased by more than a quarter year-on-year every year
since 2017. The most senior posts now offer pay packages of well
over 750,000 pounds ($1 million), up around three-fold over the
period.

LinkedIn data shared with Reuters shows a steady increase in
the number of finance jobs listed as requiring at least one
"green skill", such as pollution prevention or ecosystem
management, particularly in the United States. GRAPHIC: https://tmsnrt.rs/2OtubTF

"There is a race for talent right now, there's no doubt
about it," said Elree Winnett Seelig, Citi's global head
of ESG for markets, adding that demand was particularly strong
in fixed income.

Indeed banks, asset managers and private equity firms have
been ramping up their climate teams in the past year, pushing
salaries up by 30-50%, said Jon Williams, partner in
sustainability and climate change at PwC UK.

One of his team recently doubled their salary by jumping
ship to an asset management firm, he added.

Environmental advocacy group workers who move to a bank are
typically able to at least double their pay packets once bonuses
are factored in, recruiters say.

'A DIFFERENT BREED'

Leading universities with specialist centres that combine
climate science and finance say they have seen companies beat a
path to their door to recruit graduates.

Charles Donovan, executive director of Imperial College
London's Centre for Climate Finance and Investment, which is
jointly run by climate science hub the Grantham Institute, said
there had been an "unbelievable" rise in interest in its
students from finance sector employers in the past 18 months.

Banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered
are seeking prospective hires through climate-research
partnerships, while some firms are offering scholarships, he
added.

While the London financial district may be pulling some
talent away from government and advocacy roles, Donovan was
unconcerned, saying many who targeted the financial sector were
"a different breed of students" who recognised the value of
expertise in areas like climate change to differentiate
themselves from other graduates looking for jobs in finance.

CHASING HURRICANES

Some of the more established environmental experts who have
moved across to finance say the rewards are not just financial.

Rob Bailey, director of climate resilience at consulting
firm Marsh & McLennan's research unit, previously worked
for Oxfam and international affairs think-tank Chatham House.

"I can deploy the knowledge in a different way and working
with different stakeholders is quite invigorating," he said.

Some specialists are also drawn by the challenging and often
highly technical nature of the work.

For example quantitative analyst Velez, who moved to Lombard
Odier last year, is building a tool that links assets to near
real-time environmental and geospatial data tracking hurricane
risk and pollution.

Swiss bank UBS, meanwhile, has recruited people for
its Evidence Lab analyst team with experience across a range of
disciplines including geomodelling and hydromodelling in recent
years.

"We had to adopt new recruitment strategies and methods to
find people with these skills who weren't looking for a job in
financial services," said Barry Hurewitz, global head of UBS
Evidence Lab Innovations.

Finance firms across the board told Reuters they were
expanding scientific and sustainability teams.

Asset manager Schroders said it has more than 10
staff with scientific backgrounds in its insurance-linked
securities team, including people with PhDs in climatology. Its
sustainable investing team has grown by four people to 22 in the
last year and is planning further expansion.

Britain's biggest domestic bank Lloyds has more
than doubled the number of staff with core sustainability roles
in a year, to over 40, while Zurich Insurance said it
had expanded its team researching the modelling of wind, flood,
cyber and climate risks, to seven from one in five years.

'PART OF THE MACHINE'

The demand for green expertise is partly being driven by
tightening climate regulation on financial services firms in
Britain, Europe and beyond.

Euro zone banks will be expected to take climate change into
account when making loans or investing, for instance. Funds in
the EU will have to disclose how sustainable their products are,
while UK lenders could face tougher capital requirements for
polluting assets held on their books.

Yet while companies say they are making progress, some
charities say they are still playing catch-up.

"In my experience finance firms don't have a great depth of
knowledge across the piste. Their skill sets are massively
tilted towards the past," said Charlie Kronick, senior climate
adviser at Greenpeace UK.

Better hiring must be matched by strategy changes at the
top, according to the charities. While many large financial
services firms have pledged to decarbonise their lending and
portfolios in the coming years, most remain exposed to fossil
fuels in some way, they say.

"If you just have a bunch of sustainability officers who are
kind of shoved off to the side and are effectively there to help
with greenwashing, that's not going to really change the results
very much," said Ben Cushing, campaign manager for financial
advocacy at U.S.-based environmental group Sierra Club.

And not everyone with an environmental background finds high
finance fulfilling.

Ian Povey-Hall, a director at green recruiter Acre, said
that while most had no regrets, some had become disillusioned.

"ESG becoming more of a commercial focus has changed things
for some people who say their work has become productised as
it's become more part of the machine," he said.

Lombard Odier's Velez says she's happy with her decision and
satisfied she's not part of a greenwashing problem.

"We are working a lot on how companies will decrease their
emissions," she adds. "Of course I want these changes to happen
faster - I am a bit more realistic than optimistic."

($1 = 0.7279 pounds)

(Reporting by Iain Withers, Carolyn Cohn and Simon Jessop
Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Pravin Char)

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