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Active Management

RBC Fund Manager Says Screening Stocks for ESG Is a ‘Slippery Slope’

Sarah Riopelle, who oversees $107 billion at RBC Global Asset Management, isn’t broadly screening on ESG criteria because that’s not what clients want.

Toronto's Financial District As Stock Market Bloodbath Kept At Bay In Canada With Gold Rally
Photographer: Stephanie Foden/Bloomberg

If you are a Canadian reading this, there is a good chance Sarah Riopelle is looking after your money or the money of someone you know. Riopelle, 46, oversees about $107 billion as senior portfolio manager at RBC Global Asset Management. More than 1 million Canadians are invested in funds she’s responsible for at the asset-management arm of Royal Bank of Canada, North America’s fifth-largest lender by assets. There she manages multiple funds under the RBC Select banner, including the RBC Select Balanced Portfolio—the biggest investment fund in Canada, with about $30 billion in assets. The fund’s 13.9% return in 2019 beat 82% of its peers.

Born on a Canadian Air Force base in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s eastern-most province, Riopelle had the typical life of a military kid, moving from place to place, including a stint in Germany. Her family eventually settled in Ottawa. It was there Riopelle first got hooked on numbers, working as a teenage accountant at her high school’s store. Later, she graduated from the University of Ottawa with a bachelor’s degree in commerce, majoring in finance and international management before her career in banking took off. In an interview at the end of January, Riopelle talked about her outlook for 2020, how active management can outshine passive strategies, and what she’d tell today’s students who want to follow her career path.