Research agenda 2023

The Thinking Ahead Institute’s purpose is to mobilise capital for a more sustainable tomorrow. And it is our mission to achieve systemic change across the investment industry through innovation that creates long-term value for all our stakeholders. This is particularly true for our members, and we believe joining a study or research working group is one of the best ways to both derive value and contribute to change. It is also one of the best ways to engage with other Institute members.

In 2022, we are running five working groups, with attached research projects. There are also a collection of TAI tools from past project work that our members may wish to engage with and use within their own organisations. We hope that early sight of this agenda gives you time to think about how your organisation would like to be involved with the research programme. In addition to the working groups, we are hoping to find a way to enable member engagement in the research projects. One idea in this regard is an advisory group which could meet periodically to review and challenge research progress. If you or your organisation would be interested in exploring this further please let us know. 

If you or a colleague are interested in joining, please email paul.deane-williams@wtwco.com.

1. Investment organisation of tomorrow, phase 3 – working group

In the past two years, this working group has built the case for transformational change within the organisation and worked on how best to implement the required changes to deliver a sustainable investment organisation. In 2023, we would like to further explore the following topics with our working group members: 

  • How to build coalition resources, skills and strategies in order to address systemic risks that are too large for single organisations to tackle; this will include the topic of public policy engagement 
  • How to evolve effective measurement, particularly using balanced scorecards, in order to better track progress against goals and allocate the organisation’s finite resources 
  • The refinement of multi-stakeholder management and balancing multiple interests 
  • Evolving hybrid work arrangements, and how to capture the best of talent  
Time commitment, cadence and starting date:
  • 5 calls (total of 7.5 hours, plus some pre-reading and reviewing) 
  • Monthly on the first Wednesday of the month, from July to Dec 2023 

The working group is aimed at C-suite individuals and has a heavy bias toward asset owners. We therefore cannot promise that space will be available, but please do let us know if your organisation would like to be involved. 

2. The future of defined benefit pension schemes – working group

Globally, defined benefit (DB) pension schemes have been in decline relative to defined contribution (DC) schemes for a number of decades. However, the experience between different countries has differed markedly. Arguably, the source of the difference is whether risk sharing with beneficiaries is possible. We have recently witnessed a liquidity crisis within UK DB schemes, which has made asset owners in other countries also feel uneasy. The core element for DB success is a fair process for sharing risk and return over time. In this working group, we intend to share our research findings and discuss the following topics with our working group members: 

  • What happened in the UK, and what can we learn from it? 
  • Does LDI increase systemic risk and what might LDI 2.0 look like? 
  • Does the future of DB involve consolidation (eg master trusts) and, if so, to what extent? 
  • Will there be enough insurance capacity for future buyouts? 
  • What might the growth portfolio of a DB scheme look like? 
Time commitment, cadence and starting date: 
  • 3 calls (total of 4.5 hours, plus some pre-reading and reviewing) 
  • Bi-monthly working group calls starting from February 2023 

The working group is open to all members.  


3. Resourcing stewardship – working group in partnership with PRI 

Robust and well-resourced stewardship practices are vital in ensuring that investors are able to maximise the overall long-term value – including the value of common economic, social and environmental assets – on which returns and clients’ and beneficiaries’ interests depend. Working in partnership with the PRI, we are excited about this project that aims to: 

  • Conduct an institutional benchmarking study on stewardship practices to understand the current stewardship landscape in the investment industry 
  • Devise a methodological approach to estimate an appropriate level of resources that different investors should be prepared to dedicate to both direct stewardship and policy engagement activities (whether relating to internally or externally managed assets), such that they can have real-world impact 
Time commitment, cadence and starting date:
  • Three working group calls during January to June 

This working group will be jointly facilitated by PRI and TAI, with PRI as its Chair and TAI as Lead consultant. We therefore cannot promise that space will be available, but please do let us know if your organisation would like to be involved. 

4. Investing for tomorrow, macro view – working group

In 2022 TAI published our Pay now or pay later? paper. The paper worked with two scenarios; in one, the global temperature rise was limited to 1.8C, and in the other, a global temperature rise of around 3C was expected. We propose to push the research a little further in this direction.  

  • Is a low-temperature outcome possible under the current “rules of the game”? If not, what rules would need to change? How likely would this be? And, what would investing look like under those new rules? 
  • If our current path is taking us towards 3C of warming, are our current portfolios fit for purpose or might they need to change? 
  • How do we assess the relative likelihood of these different scenarios? And, is our current approach to dealing with barbelled outcomes adequate? 
  • Will our current mechanisms for risk transfer still be effective in future, or could they be overwhelmed? For example, might the insurance industry shrink as it withdraws from providing cover for extreme weather events, and what impact would this have on other portfolio companies? 
Time commitment, cadence and starting date: 
  • 4-5 calls (about 7 hours in total, plus some pre-reading and reviewing) 
  • Bi-monthly working group calls on the fourth Wednesday of the month, starting from March 

The working group is open to all members.
You can explore further papers by the IFT working group on our sustainability hub.

5. The future of environmental, social and governance (ESG) – working group 

It has been almost two decades since the term ‘ESG’ was first coined in the 2004 report “Who Cares Wins” and the size of today’s global ESG investing market is measured in trillions. While the direction of travel has been clear, the road ahead for ESG is not without challenges. In this research project, we propose to explore the following topics: 

  • How are reactions to ESG changing, and how might institutions navigate the shift? (Think standardisation, regulation, and greenwashing) 
  • Is the ‘ESG’ label a practical help or a distraction? 
  • Is ESG exclusively a win-win strategy, or can it include spend-to-win strategies? Alternatively, what is the relationship between ESG, impact investing, and sustainability? 
  • Are different regional models of ESG emerging, and is this helpful? 
  • How can the industry shape the political dialogue and regulatory agenda on sustainable finance?
Time commitment, cadence and starting date: 
  • 5 calls (total of 7.5 hours, plus some pre-reading and reviewing) 
  • Bi-monthly working group calls on the first Wednesday of the month, starting from February 

The working group is aimed at members who are strategic thinkers and sustainability focussed. 

6. TAI tools members may wish to use  

TAI has worked on a variety of subjects and created a rich content library. Below is a list of project works that your organisation may benefit from. Please get in touch with us if you are interested: 

  • Future of work
  • Diversity study
  • The Power of Teams
  • The Power of Culture 
  • Purpose and beliefs
  • Sustainability beliefs
  • Fundamental return attribution

To get involved with shaping the 2023 research agenda, please send us your thoughts. We’ll follow up in due course, but feel free to socialise these new research proposals with your colleagues in the meantime. 

To register interest or join a working group, email paul.deane-williams@wtwco.com

2022 research agenda
How to make the most of your membership – strategic member engagement sessions