Letter from our CEO

By 3 minute read

It has now been over three months since we in Europe and North America were plunged into lockdown mode to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. In that time, we have all learned to adapt to the many and varied restrictions imposed upon us by our local governments, the biggest of which as a business was the move to home working.

I will admit we had a slight advantage on this by having the early WFH experience of our China business which contributed to our diligent approach in Europe and the Americas. But we still went from having a relatively small number of our staff working from home in our Asian offices in January and February, to everyone in a matter of a couple of weeks. I know many other businesses have done the same, but I still find it remarkable how quickly we at AAM, as well as society at large, adapted to this 'new normal.'

Events such as these provide a real test of a business' resolve and its systems and processes, but most of all its employees, and I am very proud of the way we have conducted ourselves.

I also think during these times it is very important that we continue to maintain a clear, open, proactive and honest dialogue with you our clients, not only about the good things but also where things may not have gone how you would want or expect. I believe we have done this, but I am always open to any feedback.

In many of our locations we have now seemingly passed the peak of this pandemic and our thoughts turn to the easing of the lockdown and our potential return to the normal office environment. We are currently in the process of planning our return, but within these plans the overriding concern is the safety and wellbeing of our employees, clients and vendors, as well as respecting public health and other essential workers' rights to have unhindered access to public transport. We have proven our ability to successfully WFH, so we will not be rushing our employees back, instead we aim to have a gradual phased return, which may differ slightly in terms of timings in each of our various locations.

From an investment perspective, if there is any good to come from this pandemic, it's the fact it has created greater ESG-awareness.

In terms of markets and the economy, I do believe the current crisis is a catalyst for change. From an investment perspective, if there is any good to come from this episode, it is the fact it has created greater awareness about Environmental, Social and Governance issues.

In respect to the environment, I think many of us have enjoyed that during lockdown there has been less pollution and consequently fresher air, while nature has seemingly started to reclaim some of our urban environment. There is also some preliminary scientific research pointing to links between air pollution and Covid-19 mortality. These, as well as other factors mean environmental standards will come under increasing scrutiny post pandemic.

Social issues have also come to the fore. The importance of employees' health and safety in terms of both mental and physical wellbeing has risen in prominence during the lockdown and is at the forefront of our emergence from it. We are all aware of how all businesses are required to adapt practices and working environments to ensure employee wellbeing. The way as investors we look at the role of businesses in the community is also changing. Here within Aegon we encourage our employees to volunteer in their communities and we also donated Personal Protection Equipment to frontline healthcare workers and made charity donations in excess of $500,000 across our various business units.

Historically the social element of ESG has always been more challenging to evaluate as it typically relies on qualitative measures with limited means to assess actual performance. We have usually relied on discussions with executive boards, while assessing policies on areas such as diversity & inclusion, childcare and flexible working among others, while using sites such as Glassdoor to get a feel for corporate culture. Key events sometimes highlight poor performance on social issues and provide us with an opportunity to engage with the worst performers, but coverage is limited to what is reported publicly.

However, the lockdown has allowed a crystallisation of the real performance on social issues versus mere policies and positioning. We can now look at how companies have behaved during this crisis. For example, are they providing employees sufficient equipment and appropriate facilities to do their jobs, have they shared the burden of the crisis when it comes future board remuneration, and have they abandoned their employees or customers in these difficult times?

And for us, as an employer, it is important we set an example to ensure the health and safety of our employees, as well as that of our customers and communities we live in and serve.

We have also witnessed a move to the friendlier face of capitalism where society has been placed before profit. This has been evidenced by companies turning their business models to help with services, logistics and equipment to fight Covid-19. We have seen some manufacturers turning their production efforts to producing ventilators and the retail industry moving quickly to prioritize essentials for vulnerable customers and care staff. We have also seen public and private collaboration as universities and pharmaceutical companies work together to find a vaccine and medication to fight the disease.

Going forward we will also be keeping a close eye on how companies implement new rules and regulations around employees' safety and wellbeing, and on the executive and shareholder remuneration of those companies accepting public bailout funds.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the current events in the US, which have rightfully put racism and discrimination back on the agenda. At AAM, inclusion and diversity are fundamental principles of our company. We do not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination in our business. We are an open, global and diverse organisation which values the benefits that inclusion and diversity bring. Different backgrounds, viewpoints and personal experiences are what give us a unique position in the marketplace. I can assure you, as a leadership team we remain firmly committed to building a more inclusive and diverse business.

As a business our aim continues to be to keep our investors and clients updated on our developments and views, while delivering the service and investment performance they would expect during these difficult times.

Bas

Bas NieuweWeme

About Bas NieuweWeme

CEO Aegon Asset Management

As the global Coronavirus pandemic continues to quickly evolve, we aim to continuously update you on the approach we are taking to mitigate its impact for our clients and our business.

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