Demand for Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) investment professionals is “skyrocketing” with head of research positions commanding up to $300,000 a year, according to non-bank financial sector recruiter Kaizen.

Kaizen Recruitment’s salary guide for ESG analysts with up to three years’ experience is between $100,000 and $120,000 while the real challenge is finding those with 10 to 15 years’ experience in fund management, says Kaizen principal recruitment consultant Simon Gvalda.

“Salaries have been picking up at most levels across the board but have skyrocketed since Covid started,’’ Gvalda says.

“Where we see people coming from is not only super fund managers and banks but Big Four consultants, miners, energy … and real estate firms.”

He says demand is driven not just from top-down net zero pledges out of the COP-26 UN Climate Change Conference in 2021 but an “appetite from society” to see changes made in social and climate-driven factors.

“Since borders have opened back up we are seeing people come from the UK, US, Hong Kong and Singapore to Australian wanting to move particularly to Australia but a lot of those younger (Australian-based) candidates want to travel,’’ he says.

While ESG professionals with investment knowledge are in strongest demand, those who have worked across non-government organisations (NGOs), in auditing, engineering or politics may fit the ESG checklist, he says.

He suggests a tertiary qualification such as a Masters of Responsible Investment or sustainable investment courses within a Masters of Applied Finance degree may satisfy the vacuum being created by demand for people with multi-year ESG investment experience.

“(Funds) are having to pay a premium for talent and I do see this continuing at least for 12 months as long as the economy is strong.”

Demand for professionals across industries remains 

The demand coincides with an upswing in demand for professionals across various industries as unemployment remains low, slipping to at 48-year low of 3.95 per cent in April, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data.

Conexus Financial chief executive Fiona Reynolds says the current shortage shows a lack of investment in ESG teams over the past decade in the Australian investment industry.

Reynolds was previously a nine-year chief executive of the Principles for Responsible Investment, a UN-supported network of investors that has grown to more than 4000 signatories, representing $US121 trillion in assets under management.

“Unfortunately the investment industry in Australia, in the main, did not invest in enough ESG staff within their teams over the last decade and are now paying the price, with a lack of ESG experience and everyone competing for the same pool of talent,’’ Reynolds says.

“Some organisations are bringing in experienced international staff with the right experience to help fill this gap.

“To fill the gap in skills, we need to look further afield, to professionals who have experience in sustainability in other fields, whether that is corporates, academics, or NGOs, we also have to train up existing investment staff on ESG issues, but ensure that they are people who are really committed to sustainability and not just view it as the next investment fad.”

Reynolds says senior ESG staff are now commanding competitive salaries, but can still lag behind other investment professionals.

“That will continue to change as ESG is mainstream(ed) and understood to be a fundamental part of investing,’’ she says.

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