Most Powerful Women in Finance: No. 25, DWS Group's Roelfien Kuijpers

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Head of Responsible Investments and Strategic Relationships, DWS Group

When she was named the first head of responsible investments and strategic relationships at DWS Group in 2017, Roelfien Kuijpers did not want to see her work trapped in a silo.

“It was, at that point, my vision that this needed to be embedded in everything we do,” said Kuijpers, who has worked at DWS along with its forerunner, Deutsche Asset Management, and parent company, Deutsche Bank, since 1995.

That extends far beyond investment strategies, to things like dealing with food waste in the company’s offices and being conscious of carbon emissions related to corporate travel, Kuijpers said.

Under her leadership, DWS has seen double-digit growth in assets managed according to principles known as ESG — for environmental, social and governance investing. And it has been creating innovative ESG products for clients, such as a private equity fund that is helping the tech giant Apple create an environmentally cleaner supply chain in China.

But Kuijpers also has worked to embed ESG in the work of asset managers across all classes. It does so through what it calls ESG-integrated investments, which DWS has been making in Europe for about a decade, but which came to the United States about 18 months ago, Kuijpers said. This approach takes ESG factors into account but does not draw firm lines around specific industries, such as coal. While pure ESG investors would steer clear of an electric utility that burns coal, for example, an ESG-integrated manager would give the utility a look, but also consider its strategy for weaning itself off coal.

DWS, which overall had about $792 billion in assets under management as of June 30, is currently having outside auditors measure the extent of ESG-integrated investments, Kuijpers said. Because there are no industry standards for ESG, the company is looking to earn an independent seal of approval.

Internally, Kuijpers has recruited about 100 volunteers from across the asset management company’s various departments who help develop new policies to make DWS itself more sustainable.

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This ESG-related initiative appeals to employees looking for a sense of purpose. “If people said, ‘I really would like to help out,’ we could find something for them to do,” Kuijpers said. “The millennial generation feels very strongly about inclusive capitalism and ESG.”

The efforts build on work Kuijpers herself began in the early 2000s as part of a Deutsche Bank team that tried to understand how climate change would affect the economy and companies. They eventually built a tool called the ESG Engine, which grades thousands of companies on measures related to environmental sustainability, corporate governance and social policies like gender and racial diversity.

Kuijpers traces her environmental consciousness to her childhood in the Netherlands, a low-lying nation that is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

“It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I was brought up,” she said.

Kuijpers said she also has been committed throughout her career to attracting more women and minorities to the finance sector. She has been a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University and spearheaded internal initiatives at her company focused on creating opportunities for women. She led Deutsche Bank’s Women on Wall Street network for more than a decade and is co-creator of its Women in European Business Network, which was eventually extended to Asia.

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