An investment fund is required to disclose, in its prospectus, the principal investment strategies that the fund intends to use in achieving its investment objectives and the process by which the fund’s portfolio adviser selects securities for the fund’s portfolio, including any investment approach, philosophy, practices and techniques used. [FN 23] In addition, as mentioned above, a prospectus must provide full, true and plain disclosure of all material facts.
Investment strategies disclosure provides clarity to investors about how the fund will achieve its investment objectives, including the nature and extent of the strategies employed by the fund, the investment universe from which the fund will select its investments, and which countries, industries, sectors or companies the fund may invest in. Full, true and plain ESG-related investment strategies disclosure enables investors to understand the ways in which the fund will meet its ESG-related investment objectives (if the fund is an ESG Fund) and the types of investments that the fund may make.
A fund that uses one or more ESG strategies, either as principal investment strategies or as part of its investment selection process, is required to provide disclosure about the ESG-related aspects of its investment selection process and strategies.
For both funds that use one or more ESG strategies as part of their principal investment strategies and those that use one or more ESG strategies as part of their investment selection process, the description of these ESG strategies must be written using plain language in order to ensure that investors are able to understand the fund’s investment strategies, in accordance with the requirement that the prospectus provide full, true and plain disclosure of all material facts.
In addition, in staff’s view, the investment strategies disclosure should include identifying any ESG factors used and explaining the meaning of each ESG factor and how the ESG factors are evaluated and monitored. This may include an explanation of whether the evaluation of the ESG factor is quantitative or qualitative and whether the evaluation is conducted using third-party data. Some ESG factors may be more complicated for investors to understand and may require further explanation, such as “involvement in severe controversial events” and “clean air”, which are examples of some of the factors that were identified but not explained in the regulatory disclosure documents reviewed as part of the ESG CD Reviews.
If a fund’s use of one or more ESG strategies includes the use of targets for specific ESG-related metrics, such as carbon emissions, staff encourage such funds to disclose those targets as part of their investment strategies and identify if those targets may evolve or change over time in response to changing circumstances.
Staff note that funds that reference ESG in their names or investment objectives may invest in companies that appear to be inconsistent with ESG values. For example, some investors may expect funds that reference ESG in their names or investment objectives to exclude investments in companies involved in thermal coal and weapons. However, a fund’s disclosed ESG-related investment objectives and strategies may permit such holdings. For example, some of these funds may be permitted to invest in such companies up to a certain percentage of their portfolios or in order to use shareholder engagement to improve the ESG practices of those companies. Alternatively, a fund’s ESG-related investment objectives and strategies may be focused only on a particular aspect of ESG that would not preclude investments in such companies. [FN 24] To provide greater clarity to investors and in line with the principle of full, true and plain disclosure of all material facts, staff’s view is that an ESG Fund should disclose whether it may, at any point in time, hold such investments, what those holdings would include (including examples), and how such holdings meet the fund’s investment objectives. If an ESG Fund is not permitted to hold such investments at any point in time, this should be disclosed in its investment strategies along with information about the monitoring process used by the fund to screen out such investments, and the fund should ensure that its portfolio does not include any such investments.
Staff have observed that the prospectuses of some funds state that the fund “may” exclude certain types of investments from their portfolios. If a fund has discretion over whether a type of investment is excluded from its portfolio, this should be clearly disclosed.
Staff note that the above guidance relating to investment strategies disclosure applies to all investment funds, including index-tracking funds. The following guidance applies specifically to funds that use any of the following: (a) proxy voting or shareholder engagement as an ESG strategy; (b) multiple ESG strategies; and (c) ESG ratings, scores, indices or benchmarks.
FN 23 Item 5(1)(a) and (b) of Part B of Form 81-101F1; Item 6.1(1)(a) and (c) of Form 41-101F2.
FN 24 However, staff’s view is that such a focus should be clearly disclosed in the investment objectives and strategies disclosure; also see the discussion below under G. VI. Suitability.