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Career-defining phone call led financial analyst to help create Denmark's first ESG wave

Career path: After spending almost 20 years in sustainable investments, Susanne Røge Lund from ATP's ESG team tells AMWatch how one phone call during maternity leave spurred her ESG career, prompting her withdrawal from financial analysis – but she admits sometimes missing the spreadsheets.

"Many young people have a very clear plan for their career, and they tend to see their careers as very linear. I tell them that in the long run, it's important be curious, to keep an open mind and to grasp the opportunities that comes your way. Maybe something pops up that you did not know existed. I, for one, did not know that ESG existed when I was a student," says Susanne Røge Lund. | Photo: PR/ ATP

Which career path did you imagine for yourself when you were younger?

"I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I grew up in the Northern part of Jutland in Denmark and it wasn’t exactly in the cards that I would be studying at business school. But I was good at math and numbers and a girl I knew wanted to move to Aarhus (the second largest city in Denmark, -ed.), so I followed along and started studying economics at Aarhus Business School. I moved to Copenhagen and finished my master’s in finance and accounting in 2002.

I was fortunate to have a good student assistant position at the pension fund PKA, and they decided to hire me afterwards. I continued in a position as Financial Analyst and ended up working at PKA for more than 13 years."

Which part of your education have you used the most in your career?

"When you work with ESG, it is important to have an understanding of investments and how the investment world works. It has been a huge advantage for me that I have a financial education. I do not think I can single out one thing but you often need to be able to understand and have an opinion about new areas which you have never heard about before and that ability is also something you learn when you study – how to approach new areas and issues.

It’s also an advantage internally when you speak to colleagues about responsible investments. I used to the be a financial analyst, so I understand how they think and what their focus areas are."

Which part of your CV represent the biggest changes to your career?

"That was the new area I took in a completely new area, when I returned to PKA after my first maternity leave in 2007. While I was on maternity leave, my manager Claus Jørgensen (now CIO at Pensam, -ed) called me and asked me if I wanted to work with ethical investments, as we called it back then, when I returned.

I accepted the challenge, and that choice has been defining for how my career looks now.

At first, I was only supposed to spend 20 percent of my time on responsible investments but it quickly expanded. Another big change in my career was when I changed jobs in 2012 and became Head of SRI at Pensiondanmark. It determined that I was going to work 100 percent with ESG and leaving the financial analyst role behind.

I still miss my spreadsheets, but I find more purpose in ESG. The continued development of data access in ESG will make it easier to combine the two in the future."

Which leader in the business has inspired your career the most?

"Maybe it is a cliché, but my current boss is an inspiration to me. He has been in the business as long as me and he has always had his own way to work with ESG.

He has now built a team of nine people and we have a lot of interesting things going on. He inspires me in the sense that he is very different from me. That is really fascinating and inspirational when you are developing new areas and exchanging thoughts.

I would also like to mention the team of responsible investment specialists that I was part of when I moved into this area. Responsible Investments have been developing a lot over the last 10+ years and different people have made their mark on different developments in this area.

In Denmark, we were a group of people who started to work with responsible investments around the same time. We all had our “lonely island” and we have built the industry and now have a significant voice in the investment community. So, it has been joint leadership from all of us."

What occupies you the most right now?

"Data. The increased amount of data in the ESG area has been the most exciting development for me since I started working with ESG/responsible investments.

I have always been occupied with what is going on at the companies and their role in the bigger picture. My first responsible investing arguments towards the portfolio managers was that whenever they bought a share in a company, we would be supporting what the company was doing – both the product and how they made it.

That is a big decision you should treat carefully. The developments in data gives us much more concrete evidence on how companies are managing their responsibilities and how they create value. I really appreciate the concrete element. We can have much more valuable conversations on ESG for the benefit of us and companies.

I have also made the shift to illiquid assets and I am very happy with that. You might not have as much data, but you are closer to the investments and you can influence on another level than for listed assets.

One of the areas that I will be focusing more on in the coming years is biodiversity. We have historically had a lot of focus on inside-out for the companies, but this is an area that is much more outside-in. And it can potentially have a substantial effect on a number of our investments in different ways."

Students approach ATP's ESG veteran for career advice as battle for talent intensifies  

ATP establishes ESG database for illiquid portfolio  

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