Universal Owners are institutional asset owners (pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds) that own such a representative slice of the economy as to find it impossible to diversify away from large system wide risks. 

Neil Mitchell.“Universal Ownership recognises the role played by highly diversified asset owners (like pension schemes and insurers) in tackling global externalities such as climate change.  This reading guide provides an introduction for actuaries wishing to contribute to this evolving debate.”

Neil Mitchell

Actuary and Postgraduate Researcher in Development Policy and Management at The University of Manchester


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The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative 2011 Universal Ownership Why environmental externalities matter to institutional investors paper.

Externalities created in one part of the portfolio will be paid for in other parts through clean-up costs, higher insurance premiums, taxes and input price costs.  It is in the interests of a Universal Owner to internalise these externalities across its entire portfolio, sacrificing profits in some sectors to benefit the whole. Universal Owners take a systems thinking view of financial returns, and recognise that, over the long term, financial returns are boosted by acting in a pro-social and pro-environmental way. 

Universal Ownership offers a ‘lens’ through which to view finance and investment.  By treating portfolio beta as endogenous, it offers an alternative to Modern Portfolio Theory.  An early paper by, Jim Hawley, one of the main proponents of Universal Ownership Theory – The Long and Short of It:  Are we Asking the Right Questions? Modern Portfolio theory and Time Horizons and is especially relevant to actuaries working in finance and investment.   

The concept of Universal Owners came to the fore in 2010/11 with a United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative 2011 paper.  A comprehensive guide and definition of Universal Owners can be found in Roger Urwin’s 2011 paper Pension Funds as Universal Owners: Opportunity Beckons and Leadership Calls  The Thinking Ahead Institute produces regular reports on the world’s largest asset owners, including the top 5 universal owners.  The world’s largest pension scheme, the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) of Japan, and Hiro Mizuno, its former Chief Investment officer frequently talks on the subject - see this video interview Leading in extraordinary times with Hiro Mizuno 

Universal Owners are well placed to help with the profound societal challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and other sustainability issues. For a more recent summary of the issues involved, see Ellen Quigley’s two recent papers:

The challenge for the pensions industry is for other pension schemes to acknowledge their role as Universal Owners.  With more funds investing in passive indexed funds, systems beta becomes an issue for small funds too, but the costs of them taking action directly outweigh the thinly spread benefits – there is a temptation to free ride.  The theory has been described in academic circles as ‘premature’ (see Benjamin J. Richardson's paper from 2015 - Universal Investors and Socially Responsible Finance: A Critique of a Premature Theory).

However, there is a growing weight of evidence to suggest that portfolios that promote Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues may perform better than those that don’t (see study Uncovering the Relationship by Aggregating Evidence from 1,000 Plus Studies Published between 2015 – 2020  by Tensie Whelan, Ulrich Atz and Casey Clark, CFA).  As pressure mounts for pension schemes and other institutional investors to act in a more pro-social way, both from their own members and wider society, more will self-acknowledge their status as Universal Owners, and will likely benefit from higher returns whilst contributing to a more sustainable future.


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  • Spaces available

    This session will focus on the transformation roadmap of the healthcare sector in KSA and the role of actuarial capabilities in enhancing its evolution to the desired end stage as per the objectives of the Vision 2030. The discussion will focus how the system has evolved so far and shed light on  the expected future changes. Through examining  the transformation, we will highlight how the sector is and can use actuarial  expertise to not only assist with this transformation but also use basic actuarial principles to identify the key risks and their respective mitigation strategies.

  • Spaces available

    The purpose of this research paper is to explore enterprise risk management lessons which can be learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic in preparation for potential future pandemics as well as other “gray rhino” or “black swan” events. This paper is not intended to be an all-encompassing solution to the issues presented by Covid-19; rather, the content has been provided to help drive discussions regarding how risk management processes may need to evolve in line with the dynamic nature of the underlying risks that they sometimes need to capture.

  • Spaces available

    This session is for new candidates and existing candidates where we will be discussing the practical steps you need to take leading up your exam and on the day. We will be discussing how to testing the online exam platform, downloading and uploading your paper and key information from the Exam Handbook.

    The exam webinar is for candidates, new to IFoA exams and returning candidates, sitting in the September 2022 exam session.

  • Spaces available

    The role of Non-Executive Directors has become increasingly challenging and critical over the past few years.

    Big picture thinking, Governance knowledge, Independent mindset, Ambassador potential and Energy and commitment: these are the essential skills sought in a successful NED, according to the Chartered Governance Institute (UK & Ireland).

    In parallel, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are increasingly key and used by investors to measure the sustainability and ethical impact of investing in an organisation.

  • Spaces available

    This webinar will cover:

    • Some background on the risks of misselling in an ESG context, including the DWS case

    • Achieving positive impact is a strong antidote to the risks of greenwashing or ESG misselling, however this risks having a tension with fiduciary responsibilities

    • This tension can be resolved with a concept called Universal Ownership

    • Under Universal ownership, investors have an appetite to make a loss in order to achieve positive impact, and yet still have no compromise on their fiduciary responsibilities

  • Spaces available

    In the UK, the idea of collective defined contribution (CDC) pension schemes is gaining more attention with the launch of the Royal Mail CDC scheme, the first of its kind in the UK. Our recent research on CDC plans investigates the sources of the putative benefits of CDC schemes: the smoothing of pensions for members.  Using an attribution analysis to burrow into the scheme design, the reason for the smoothing of members' pensions is explained and understood.

  • Spaces available

    The IFoA's Infrastructure Working Party, led by Chris Lewin, will present its new introductory guide to infrastructure investment, which will be published on the IFoA web-site prior to the webinar.   Those readers whose institutions have already taken the plunge into infrastructure will know that it is a highly complex and diverse field of activity.   This guide does not explore all the matters which investors take into account, but it does discuss many of the more important points, including the risks and past returns, benchmarking, and ESG and SDG considerations.    Attendees will be invi

  • Social Care Agenda

    11 October 2022

    Spaces available

    Social care reform has long been on the to-do list for successive governments over the last two decades. In February, the government’s proposed reforms to adult social care [including cap on care costs] was published. Against this backdrop of funding promise and rising National Insurance taxation, in this session we will debate the resilience of these new proposals, the impact of future demand for care services and what role for the insurance industry and the important role it has played in long-term care funding in other countries where public-private partnership works.

  • Spaces available

    Health contributes to happiness at the personal, family, community and societal level.  Health, importantly underpins all our economic security. This talk will explore the drivers of our health, the measurement of health and the steps we can take to improve health – most of which lie outside the NHS.

  • GIRO Conference 2022

    ACC Liverpool  
    21 November 2022 - 23 November 2022
    Spaces available

    We are delighted to announce the return of GIRO as an in-person conference, giving you an opportunity to connect with actuaries in your practice area. Join leading experts to discuss key issues, emerging ideas, and new research across the General Insurance sector.

  • Life Conference 2022

    ACC Liverpool Kings Dock Liverpool Waterfront Liverpool Merseyside L3 4FP
    23 November 2022 - 25 November 2022
    Spaces available

    Life Conference returns as an in-person conference in 2022, giving you an opportunity to connect with your peers and fellow actuaries in your sector, in person. You will also hear leading experts discuss key issues, emerging ideas, and new research across the Life insurance sector.

  • Spaces available

    Mortality and morbidity risk varies by variables such as age, sex and smoking. In traditional actuarial experience analysis, these variables, and certain combinations thereof can be explored. However, with the wealth of data now available it is becoming increasingly challenging to identify the key drivers of experience and account for the interaction between different variables. A univariate approach often compares apples and pears, for example males are more likely to smoke and have larger policies than females. Likewise, variable interactions are missed unless specifically included.