Interview with Wim Van Hyfte PhD, Global Head of ESG Investments and Research
Q: Candriam Academy is funded by Candriam Institute for International Development. Why does Candriam supports education?
The financial sector plays a key role in allocating capital to those companies and governments meeting the challenges of a transition to a sustainable and inclusive society. By investing in education, we would like to foster a wider understanding of sustainable finance among the investment professionals and financial advisors of today and tomorrow.
Q: Over the 5 years since it was founded in 2017, Candriam Academy has already attracted 10,000 users. Why do you think it has been so successful?
I think it is mainly for two reasons. First, it was one of the first online training portals about sustainable investments. Second, Candriam Academy with all of its learning resources is free to access. In fact, at the time of its launch, it was the world’s first free-to-access accredited training platform for sustainable and responsible investing. Accreditation means high quality resources for learning but in many countries it also allows our users to gain professional learning and development credits in addition to Candriam Academy certificates. In France, Candriam Academy has recently been accredited by the European Financial Professional Association - France (EFPA), a professional standards-setting body for financial advisors and planners.
Q: How did the idea to create the Academy emerge?
Many years ago now, we conducted a survey of financial intermediaries, in which we asked them about ESG products. The answers came back and they were not very encouraging! Many investment advisers felt that they did not know enough about ESG funds. Clearly, if an adviser lacks understanding about a product then they are unlikely to recommend it to their clients.
As a pioneering European ESG asset manager, Candriam had a case for concern. So, after some brainstorming, there was this suggestion about building an online training portal about sustainable and responsible investing. Having an academic background and having taught asset pricing, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. We knew that it will of course help intermediaries learn more about ESG but we were also convinced that it would also serve a bigger purpose – to be a source of knowledge and inspiration for investors in general, as global markets will inevitably focus more and more on building a sustainable economy.
Q: How challenging was it to do?
From the outset, we decided that Candriam Academy should be independent operationally from the asset management business of Candriam and that it should have its own website. So we launched a new website with the first four modules introducing our users to some key definitions and aspects of sustainable and responsible investing, including examples of corporate analysis from a sustainability perspective. The first edition of the Academy was available in English, the language of international business, and Italian. At the time, Italian investors expressed a really strong interest in an idea of an ESG educational platform. While we do not use Candriam Academy’s user data for our marketing campaigns, we wanted to help our clients in that market first.
Q: But today the Academy speaks English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. And today’s learning content far exceeds four modules. How did the project evolve?
Indeed, the Candriam Academy’s portal grew and evolved quite fast, adding new learning texts and graphs, videos, a news section and even regular webinars “ESG Talks”, each focusing on a topical subject of sustainable investment. Having started as something fairly simple, the website’s architecture has become increasingly complex. For example, today it includes a mechanism to follow the learning path of every Candriam Academy user, which links to our automated email system.
Today, our training materials comprise eight modules for the main course “Introduction to sustainable and responsible investing” and also three long separate modules on particular themes of interest: Circular Economy, Climate Change & Corporate ESG Analysis.
That said, we have been supported by partners, some of whom helped us to create content, and some offered certification of our courses in different countries.
Q: What are your plans for the future of Candriam Academy?
And, of course, we are not stopping there. We are getting ready to strengthen further and upgrade our Candriam Academy website later this year and soon there will be a new topical module. True to its main theme, the new website will be carbon neutral.
 ESG Talks are only available in English.