Hello everyone and welcome to today’s ICMIF webinar “Responsible investing to drive action on climate change”. I’d like to introduce today’s speakers, which will focus on a case study of Folksam, our Swedish member, on their responsible investment strategy. And I’m delighted to be joined by Emilie Westholm who is head of responsible investing. Also, in this case study they will also share why they’ve become a family member of the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance; and we’re pleased to be joined by Jes Andrews, who is the senior project manager at the United Nations Environmental Program Finance Initiative, which convened the Net Zero Alliance along with the Principles for Responsible Investment.
So Emilie, I’m very pleased that you can join us today. Please, over to you.
Thank you, Ben. Thanks for having me today. It’s a pleasure to talk to you all. I’m also grateful that this is planned as a webinar and not a live event and couldn’t be affected by coronavirus.
So over to Folksam. For Folksam I usually start with our vision which is that our customers should feel secure in a sustainable world. Now this is something that runs through everything we do, I would say.
The Folksam Group goes back to the beginning of the 20th century a time in Sweden when Sweden was not a democracy. No women and only a few men had a right to vote. And at this time only a few had enough money to buy an insurance and the poor were left out.
At the time Folksam came to their rescue. Became their solution and brought the customers together in a mutual company. More than 100 years have passed and Folksam has grown to become one of Sweden’s largest insurance and pension companies with almost half the Swedish population as customers. So that means around four million people annual to have 4,000 each week in Sweden.
What do we offer? Well, we have general and life insurances as according to the slide. We have insurances like car, house, child impact insurances. And then on the life side we have life insurances, pensions, and long-time long-term savings. Folksam Group consists of different businesses and different companies. On the asset owner side the largest ones are Folksam Life and KPA Pension. We have a long history of working with sustainability.
The focus on the environment came first. Folksam started, for example, very early on to make demands on for example car mechanics to improve their environmental aspects of their workshops. Also, since the 70s we’ve had and in house independent road safety research. And as a mutual company we have both the opportunity and the obligation to work to reduce health losses and suffering for our customers.
So thanks to the research based on real world accidents and consumer tests we have a responsibility also to continuously evaluate new safety technologies used to guide our policy holders and other consumers. For 30 years we have been paying extensive knowledge on injuries occur, which of them that lead to long term consequences, and how they can be prevented. This knowledge is used a basis for insurance solutions such as “pay as you drive”. At Folksam we are also partly involved in the development of Vision Zero, which means, well, the vision is zero accidents for car accidents.
On the asset side, asset management side, we’ve had formal investment criteria since 2001. And that’s the part I will focus on today.
Last year, well end of last year, our managed assets looked like this. It’s EUR 42 billion. And almost half of it is in interest and around 34% in equity. And we also have large investments in green bonds, in different green bonds.
So it’s all about money? Well, for us it is about money. It’s our customers’ money, but sometimes when you talk about this kind of capital you talk about it as without responsibility. We’ll take care of responsibilities. We don’t want our customers money to be like that. They often say they want their money to live and do good through the investment time and also, of course, show a return, a good return.
If you see there’s a slide, you see the Swedish Bay on the left side. It’s a pretty bad picture I realize now when I see it, but I did actually take that picture. And on the right side you see the Swedish bills and coins and you can see on the 20 krona bill it’s the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren who’s known for Pippi Longstocking and you can see Pippi Longstocking on that bill.
And there’ve been some people who have tried to analyse and try to understand idealism and courage comes from and they’ve found that growing up with all these Astrid Lindgren stories that put the child into the center and encourage children to be brave and at the same time kind to others. I think they might be right in that analysis. And also I think it makes sense in that we all can have this in our mind and it’s an inspiration for us all.
When we talk about our approach to responsible investments I usually start by talking about the consumer prospective. It might be sometimes easier for the people who don’t work with asset management to understand and I think it’s also a useful perspective for us who do work with asset management.
If you have say three or four euros and you would like to spend them say a cup of coffee, you can decide whether to buy a cup of coffee where you don’t know where the beans come from or you can buy a cup of coffee made from beans from a farm where the workers good conditions, where there’ve been no harmful pesticides, where the transport has been made in the most sustainable way possible.
You could also be, as a consumer, you can be brave and speak up. You can ask where the coffee comes from. And if you’re not satisfied with the answer you can go somewhere else. You can also tell the world about it. When we work with our customers money we have all these kind of different approaches that you can have as a consumer.
So about some things we never invest in, for example, tobacco. It’s been excluded for so long that we have not even been able to find original documents where the decision was made to exclude tobacco. We also, of course, exclude controversial weapons and we exclude coal with a threshold on 30%. And the picture shows a coal power plant. I guess it’s not possible to see that. This is last year also. We have excluded all these plants.
Then we have the subsidiary KPA Pension who’s clients work in municipalities. In school work and healthcare they want their money to be invested only in some sectors and more specifically to not be invested in some specific sectors such as alcohol, all kind of weapons, tobacco, and commercial gaming.
We have engagement criteria we’ve formed, of course, around climate and environment, anti-corruption, and generalized. And as most of us understand working with responsible investment leads to having made up criteria on our own. We base them on citing documents and international norm declarations.
So I’ve told you a little bit about what we don’t buy and the basis of our engagement approach. For example, we had a huge program the last few years and we have invested. We had a goal in 2018 to invest EUR 2.5 billion in green and sustainable bonds and we reached that goal by then.
I think then we’re just keeping that set amount in investment level. So we invested in Swedish municipalities and regions where we invested in green bounds and infrastructures. And also that focus is on measures of different kinds. We also invested in world bank bonds and green bonds, ESG bonds, and that’s focused on the 4 ESGs that we have as a group focused have decided to focus on.
Last year we changed our foreign equity portfolio and we decided to decrease the number of holdings by half, from around 1,300 companies to around 500, 600 companies. The ones that we kept in the portfolio are the best ESG-level. We also cut the carbon footprint by 30% by making these changes.
We do have a strong belief in engagement. That’s what we’ve been working on the most. That’s what takes most of my time. And I think we’re with our new equity approach folder with fuel companies there a potential to keep track of even a larger part of the holdings than we could before.
What do we do to try to make a change to engage more folks? Of course, we meet with companies that we own. We meet with Swedish ones on a regular basis. The foreign ones mostly when incidents occur or if we see a high risk in some area.
We work with other investors in different initiatives. We have the Climate Action 100, for example, but also we work in something called the Nordic Engagement Cooperation together with a Finnish and Danish investor. As well as the work in a steel and cement initiative with a few other investors.
And sometimes also meet with NGOs where we think we get useful information. We don’t always agree with all the NGOs, but we find their input very important.
The picture on this slide is from Louisiana at the time when the BP accident just had happened. I think the oil was still leaking some and it was on the horizon at that time. So it’s me and my former boss in the picture and then two representatives from local groups who were guiding us around the area. And BP, they didn’t have time to meet up, which I guess you can understand. They were quite busy with other things. We did see crude oil on the beaches. I know it’s been discussed whether the oil did reach the beaches or not, but there was oil on the beach.
And in Sweden we have the annual general meeting season, which is about to start next week. It’s a very intense time of the year for us since in Sweden we need to be present in person at the AGM. And since we are already present at the AGM and a lot of people are, we decided more than 10 years ago to take the opportunity to ask a question concerning sustainability to the CEO or the Chairman of the board at every AGM since we were all right there.
We tweet live on Twitter from the AGMs as well. And we do publish a report with the questions we’ve asked and the answers as we have heard them. We publish it on our web page at the end of the Swedish AGM season.
So what kind of questions do we ask? Well last the last two years we have focused on TCFD and climate risk and opportunities, but during the years we have different themes. Some years we’ve asked different questions to different companies depending on what are the different companies biggest challenges and some years we’ll have the same question to all companies. One year we asked about sustainability as part of remuneration programs and one year we asked about children’s rights, about tax sustainability issues, and a lots of other questions.
We have also asked the Folksam customers I think one or two years what they think we should ask. So we let them decide. And sometimes we also vote against incentive programs if they don’t match our demand. It was quite often 10 years ago, but today they usually match our demands.
We believe in engagement and rarely exclude a company that we engage with, but there are times when we give up. This example is Lunden Petroleum. It’s a Swedish company, oil company, with activities in Sudan. There was a question years ago, almost 10 or 15 years ago, and it was unclear whether the company had been involved in the civil war or not and we wanted the company to take responsibility and to have their own investigation around it.
So we were in a long dialogue with the company and we also filed a resolution to the AGM that was supported by 22% or 23% I think, but since the Lundin family owns a majority we didn’t get resolutions. So after the AGM we realized that we had done everything that we could and everything that was in our toolbox when it comes to engagement. So we gave up and we sold our shares.
And since then there has been a long and extensive investigation around the Lundin Petroleum’s responsibility in the area in Sudan during that time and we don’t know yet, but they might be prosecuted for crime against international law within the next year or so. It’s not clear yet. That’s one example when we gave up.
So focus on climate. We have a long tradition of working around the climate when it comes to with engagement and also in other ways. Before I started at Folksam in 2007, my former colleagues they published reports already in 2002 and the picture you see is from 2006 where they looked up the Swedish list of companies and their climates were.
We thought in 2008 that being so engaged and active with the climate that climate change being something that most people had actually heard about that maybe our work had been done and we could focus in other areas. That was obviously and clearly very naïve.
So during the years we’ve continued working with climate issue. We’ve been trying to find a new way. We’re thinking about what could be the next step for us working with climate change and climate risks and possibilities.
When we see most investors do take takes steps in some direction when it comes to climate. We have done it too by excluding some sectors, but our main focus is not on exclusion. We want to be involved in engagement and we believe in engagement. So for us, it was a very easy decision to join and to be part of forming the UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance which was launched in September in New York. And with that I’ll leave over to you, Jes, to tell us a little bit more about the Alliance.
Thank you, Emilie. What an incredible journey of responsibility and leadership on engagement. It’s no wonder that Folksam founded the Net-Zero Alliance together with the others you see on the slide here.
It’s my pleasure to be able to speak to you more about how the alliance itself functions, and what it’s there for, and what it does in an attempt to really answer any questions you might have on your own involvement of your own journey. You may have heard of the alliance. It was launched in September 2019 at the Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. And it’s really scaled up quickly and is working to become very active.
We have been recognized, I think, by several high profile individuals. Mark Carney recently referred to the alliance when he launched the COP 26 finance track. You can see also the Secretary General reference it at the Climate Action Summit as an important outcome of the summit.
Christiana Figueres of the UNFCCC oversaw the Paris Agreement is actually one of our advisors. Her Body Mission 2020 along with several other civil organizations sit together with the asset owners on the Alliance.
I like the quotes we have here, from Gunther and Tom Joy, CIOs of the Allianz and Church of England respectively, the most. It really demonstrates the real purpose of the Alliance and the asset owner leadership that it’s there to enhance.
Gunther says here that “We believe in achieving a much bigger impact by working together with the companies that we invest in.” And Tom joy focuses on achievement of the Paris Agreement. So the Alliance is really set in place to help address Article 2.1C of the Paris Agreement, which focuses on making financial flows consistent with two degrees or well below temperature wise.
So why net zero? Well, the Paris Agreement outlined this and multiple reports since including the one on October 2018 by BC special report on 1.5 highlighted that if we wanted a strong chance of reaching a 1.5 degree world we’d need to limit emissions to net zero by mid-century. And that’s exactly what the alliance plans to do using not just reallocation and exclusion principles, but focusing specifically on engagement and real world impacts.
Hopefully, it will display a little graphic here of what that means. So there is a portion of emissions that we can reduce through changing technologies or changing processes and there are some that need to be netted out through positive interventions otherwise known as net zero technologies.
Some companies can do this without relying on the technologies and others cannot, but at the portfolio level the ambition is to drive emissions reductions to the extent possible across all sectors including the hard to negate sectors using engagement that Emilie already outlined. And then, to at the portfolio level also make sure that we’re investing in net positive companies as well.
I should mention here that Emilie we’re very pleased her expertise as a lead on the engagement track with our corporates. She leads the corporate engagement for the Alliance and again is an example of how much this is really asset owner led and supported by the UN.
So what is the Net-Zero Alliance? Well, it starts with a commitment. The members of the alliance commit to achieving the goals of Paris, reducing their portfolios to net zero GHG by 2050. It also focuses on GHG emissions in the real economy. So as I said, this is isn’t a reallocation or divestment exercise but really an engagement exercise. It’s meant to also report on target entered at year increments along the lines the Paris Agreement has set out for countries and to engage with the portfolio companies and advocate for a sectoral change. And you can see there this is a picture of the idea that the commitment is the 2050 target, but the alliance is reinforcing its credibility by demonstrating to the world that this is possible and reporting that from that every five years.
So, why join forces? There are quite a number of reasons to do this. I’m sure as you all know this is a growing ecosystem in this climate financed space dealing with climate risks both transition and physical. And now with climate alignment is a tremendous undertaking and real credit to those who’ve been able to be leaders in this space thus far. There’s quite a lot to do, I’m sure we can all agree.
You can see here that we’ve outlined a few partner initiatives. The Alliance really is meant to connect asset owners but also to connect initiatives and by working together reduce the individual burdens implementing this objective. So the alliance under it’s monitoring, reporting, and verification track with work with science based targets initiative, PCAF, 2 Degrees, and others. TPI you may know is an asset owner led initiative.
Its engagement will work with Climate Action 100 and the WEF Mission Possible platform that’s set up to address hard to abate sectors and the corporates that lie is that. And to amplify asset owner requests to policy makers who during their policy work. This work is better informed and better advanced by all of the asset owners bringing their expertise to the table ensuring that we learn quickly and can act fast in addressing this growing and growing in urgency problem.
We are led by the seven institutions you see here. These are the founding members of the alliance and you can see Folksam was a part of that in 2019 and continues on its inaugural board today. At the moment we are USD 4.5 trillion in assets under management and it’s a growing alliance. By the end of the month we’ll be able to announce additional members and every new member brings additional expertise, different additional regional coverage, and contributes to this growing theory of change that by working together using the ownership that the investors have, the asset owners have, we can make a bigger change.
So how is it set up? There’s a steering group, as I mentioned, that’s the inaugural board that set up in 2019 with seven of the asset owners who were foundational to establishing the alliance. It’s mission and supported by UNEP-FI and PRI (the Principles for Responsible Investment) and it’s advised by Mission 2020 and WWF with a growing number of partners. We have six tracks below that help operationalize the work of the Alliance: methodology, reporting, verification, engagement, and policy are real substantial tracks at the moment looking at the technical questions and how to solve them together so that we can advance. This year being a particularly important year ahead of COP26.
The 2020 objectives of the track are here. We’re working to establish acceptable methodologies to enable the investors and asset owners to report. We’re working to harmonize our target setting systems with others. And we’re directly communicating progress to the UN Secretary General.
The engagement track, which Emilie leads, is well informed about and can answer some questions on later, develop strategies for engaging with sectors in corporates including common positions on high-emitting activities and collaborates with Climate Action 100, which I’m sure you all know very well.
The policy track works to harmonize and amplify requests across the investor networks to policy makers and is focusing on several key policy asps including the enhancements of NDCs, mandatory TCFD scope three carbon foot printing and carbon pricing. The Net Zero investments track is something that we will establish in the middle of this year.
So why join and what am I committing to? Well, in effect as I mentioned, you are committing to a net zero portfolio by 2050, but you’re committing to make real progress starting the day that you commit to working in the tracks to engage with companies, to engage in sectoral dialogues, to engage with policy makers, and to review and establish targets for your own portfolio every five years. This is no small undertaking. So those who are in the alliance really are the leaders in that group and we hope continue to see growth in that respect.
Finally, the Alliance has been featured pretty well across the globe including some of the initiatives you see here, but it give us all the more reason to work harder and to try and to get to the top answers to some of the questions that we have. And so, you can see a few that have highlighted us there and there’s many more events planned where the alliance intends to scale out both it’s mission and position but also to recruit additional members so that this can continue to be a growing alliance in order to make a bigger difference.
Finally, if you’re ready to join, you can get in touch with the colleagues here. The Alliance is led by Remco Fisher and Sagarika Chatterjee from UNEP- FI and PRI respectively. Myself and Elke Pfeiffer are project managers of the Alliance working day-to-day with colleagues like Emilie and others to advance the work of the Alliance.
And then, my last slide is just a brief overview of what’s really entailed, but happy to speak through that more in more detail. What’s important here is really the Commitment document as that outlines the real criteria for each asset owner in joining the alliance and committing to take part in these activities.
With that, I guess, I can hand back over to Ben. Thanks very much.
Thank you, Jes, and thank you, Emilie, for your case study presentation on Folksam sustainability and responsible investment strategy; and Jess, for the introduction to the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance. As I said before, we do have time for some questions.
Immediately a first question to you, Emilie, and it could be quite an obvious one. But why did Folksam join the Alliance as a founding member and how have you seen that this has created value for your business already?
Thanks. This question is both obvious and great question. So as I said before, I think we’ve been struggling a bit to find our own way when it comes to working with climate change in the investment and also to set up a long-term target. So we decide where are we going and how and all these questions we’ve been asking and not really found a great answer to internally.
But then working with others, as always, it’s something we’ve done in so many occasions with other investors. And so this is one of the main things, that we’re not alone in this. We’re with other great asset owners. And they’re becoming even more within this Alliance.
But also the clear commitment to 2050 that we have. Also intermediary targets and that it’s all inline with Paris Agreement has also been very important for us and also that the commitment is focused on the real economy. So it’s not only focused on making our portfolios net zero now because we could do that today. We could make them fossil free or net zero or whatever you might call it, but our focus is like our vision states. It’s to make our customers feel secure in a sustainable world. And the focus in on the sustainable world, not only on the sustainable portfolios. So by working with engagement we can also make sure, hopefully, that the world is also becoming more sustainable.
Thank you. Jes, have you got anything to add about how being a member of the Alliance creates values for the members that you have so far?
I think I would just add that the exchange between the members I assume and hope is very valuable for them because there is quite a lot of learning to do and that exchange in expertise is house in different parts and different asset owners. And so, hopefully, we can facilitate more of that to move things a little bit more swiftly and more coherently.
Excellent point. ICMIF is an association that looks at the exchange of best-practice. We can definitely agree that something like that would be beneficial.
Another question for you Emilie. Do you have any other initiatives that are part of Folksam sustainability strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change away from the investment side?
Yes, we’re part a Swedish initiative called Haga Initiative were we have also it’s a target for our carbon emissions, internal carbon emissions, and that target is net zero by 2030, I think.
Were there any other initiatives that were not in investments? I think the questions looking at, any other initiatives and strategies that are part of your overall sustainability approach?
Yeah, sorry. It’s this initiative for internal carbon footprint.
I’ve got another question about your green bond investments and it’s simply, what attracts Folksam to invest in green bonds?
Okay. Definitely the kind of green bonds that where the money goes to something that would not have been financed without the green aspect so to speak. Now, I know that most of the green bonds would probably be a reality. I mean, the investments would probably be there anyway.
So I would say what’s been attractive also, of course, is the green bonds from the Swedish municipalities where we can see that. I mean, our customers who live in Sweden and in different parts of Sweden. And if we can make an investment with their pensions they’re saving in their regions, which goes to a green project or climate, something that makes their reality, their world, better when it comes to climate change as well. That’s something we’re definitely focused on.
Thank you, Emilie. Another question that I think I will pose to both of you. I’ll go to you, Jes, first on this one. Do you think there’s an underlying perception that you cannot make money out of green investments? And how would you change that?
I don’t think so anymore. Quite opposite. I would just add that I think that we see the energy transition is underway, perhaps more visible to some global economies than others. We see also a lot of scaling up of the countries own commitments to reduced or low carbon future. I think I read recently that something like 50%, 46%, of the global GDP has either a net zero law in place or has one proposed. And so, I think that we will see this field grow more and more and I think that that perception will change more and more as that becomes a reality.
I think Sweden is one of those countries with an even earlier than 2050 target, if I’m not wrong. Is that right, Emilie?
Yeah, that’s correct. 2040.
Thanks. And thank you, Jes. That was an excellent response. Another question, this is probably to you again, Jes, about the Alliance. Why do you think that insurers make great partners in the alliance and specifically why would mutual incorps of insurers be of interest?
Sure. Well, I’m happy to venture my perspective, but I’m sure Emilie would add great value to that too. I think from my reading we do have a number of insurers in the alliance and I think that that’s because they’ve seen for a long time the physical impacts of climate change growing and having more weight in their analysis and forward looking expectations.
I also think that with the long-term time horizons and liabilities that insurers and pension funds have we see their interest in, again, in line with the energy transition and sort of ensuring that they remain on the pulse of some of these long-term developments that we see kicking off today but not yet transpiring for several years to come. But maybe Emilie would have even greater insight there.
I agree with what you’re saying. I think, like I mentioned before, what we see when it comes to our Swedish, with our customers here in Sweden. We both have customers on the general insurance side that are effected. Maybe their houses might be in an area that gets flooded all the time because of climate change or will be within the next few years. And at the same time they have their savings involved some.
So we take responsibility for their savings and to make them part of the great transition to a climate neutral world. It also helps, of course, our insurance business, if you look at it that way.
Yes, it does go hand-in-hand. Emilie, another question’s just come in asking, are you seeing any sacrifice in term of the investment returns that you’re getting from investing in the green bond versus a non-green bond from the same issuer?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s about the same or sometimes even better. It’s been a huge interest in the green bonds. But yeah, I think it’s about the same.
I could also mention that the new foreign equity portfolio has performed better than the relevant index that we compare it to. So if you’re interested to hear about whether ESG might be good or bad for returns, at least we can see that it’s good.
Well, it’s great to have evidence to that to back that up. Another question, Emilie, looks at impact investing and asking how much of folks portfolio is in impact investments and how would you see that increasing?
Well, it’s a good question. I think sometimes impact investing is … I have trouble with the definition. I don’t know what you mean with that? We don’t do small investments. If we do that, we do it through either bonds or in funds in different ways. But then, I think, an investment in big companies can also have those impacts. So it depends on what the companies do and how it takes responsibility for their own business and so on. So depending on what is meant by the question I have different answers.
Yes. I’m sure there’s lot of different definitions about what an impact investment is. I think we’ve got time for just one final question and it will be to both of Emilie and to Jes. How would you encourage other ICMIF members, other mutual / cooperative insurers, to get involved with the Net-Zero Alliance? What would you say to them and how would you approach that?
I’ll just start. So as I mentioned before I think being in a group of like-minded asset owners it’s been great so far. I mean, we do share experience. We do have the same commitment. It’s a tough commitment. It was one of the most important things that came out of the Climate Action meeting in New York in September.
So what we’ve agreed on is something we need to do. And even though sometime we here that 2050 is so far away, you might not even be around in Folksam anymore. You’re liable to retire. But maybe that’s even a greater responsibility to them because we need to take it seriously now to make sure that things will be as we want them to be in 2050.
But then also I’d like to add what’s also been great with the Net-Zero Alliance is that we do have not only great asset owners we have great secretariat that Jes is representing here today. And I think it makes things so much easier to have great people working for a group of asset owners. It’s really improved how and organized how we work together. And also, we have WWF and Mission 2020 as strategic partners. So we get their perspective when we talk about how to move forward.
Thank you. And Jes, how would you encourage other mutual insurers to get involved?
Yeah. Well, I think, it’s always best coming from an asset owner or mutual insurer themselves speaking to peers. We see that a lot that there’s a real credibility there when, as Emilie outlined, they can identify the value in this alliance and in working together. So I would just echo everything that she said.
And then, I would also add that as this ESG climate finance space is growing there is just so much to track and follow and partnership and initiatives to be involved in. And the alliance took a really clear decision early on that for asset owners we wanted to be a connective tissue or a mechanism to link all these things up and to really try to just drive a synchronized value and objective of Net Zero 2050 throughout all of them.
And so, we at the secretariat together with some of our strategic partners try very hard to ensure that, that knowledge management learning from the asset owners themselves and also from all the other initiatives can really then just be shared back out to our alliance and the community within it so that we’re all moving forward together. And I think that that’s kind of the value that the alliance itself and the secretariat can provide to this group of asset owners who are really leading and working together on this topic.
Thank you, Jes. And thank you both for joining today. Emilie it was excellent to hear your overview of the responsible investment strategy folks and how being a family member of the alliance fits in with your own roles in sustainability strategy and your own core values as a mutual insurance company. Very interesting to learn. And I’m sure both of you will be available for any follow-ups, if people want to get in touch to learn more about Folksam strategy or know more about the work at the Alliance.
Thank you to everybody for joining and thank you to Emilie and Jes for today’s presentations and discussions. Enjoy the rest of your day. Goodbye.
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