Responsible Investing in Exchange-Traded Funds : An empirical analysis of information obstacles faced by retail investors
Abstract: In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, the European Union has devised a sustainable finance strategy that relies on the engagement of both institutional and private investors in responsible investing to deliver on those goals. Several studies have found high interest in responsible investing among retail investors, but a relatively low engagement therein. Research up to this point on the responsible investing experience of retails investors has not established a clear cause for the gap between interest and engagement and has particularly neglected the increasingly popular investment type of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). This thesis therefore aims to shed light on the obstacles that prevent retail investors from investing in responsible ETFs. The research is organized by a five-stage framework for the responsible ETF investing process that identifies potential obstacles in the first three process stages problem recognition, information search, and evaluation of alternatives. An empirical analysis was performed by means of an online survey of European retail ETF investors and non-ETF investors (n = 101). The results indicate that the majority of retail investors experience a gap between their interest and engagement in responsible ETF investing. The most difficult stage of the responsible ETF investing process appears to be the evaluation of alternatives. Incomparability of information on responsible ETFs and a lack of labels and standardization present obstacles that impair investors’ ability to evaluate different options for responsible ETFs. The incomparability of information can be ascribed to the divergence of environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings. The survey further found a high support among ETF investors for the planned standardizations and regulations by the EU and increased willingness to invest in responsible ETFs if these measures are implemented. These findings emphasize the role of regulations in facilitating responsible investing and pave the way for more comprehensive studies on the information needs and obstacles of European retail ETF investors.
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