IFM taps Scottish Widows for head of sustainable investment

Maria Nazarova-Doyle will report to Luba Nikulina, the private markets firm's chief strategy officer.

Maria Nazarova-Doyle profile pictureMaria Nazarova-Doyle, former head of responsible investments and stewardship at UK asset owner giant Scottish Widows, has been appointed head of sustainable investment at IFM Investors.

Nazarova-Doyle’s new role at the A$211 billion ($136 billion; €126 billion) private markets manager is a return to the start of her career.

She worked for two years as an investment analyst at Russian private equity firm Promsvyaz Capital, starting in 2007, before taking on a number of roles at consultancies and finally joining Scottish Widows as head of pension investments and responsible investments in 2020.

While at Scottish Widows, Nazarova-Doyle was an outspoken figure on asset owner stewardship and expectations of asset managers. She sat on the government-established Taskforce on Pension Scheme Voting Implementation, and under her tenure Scottish Widows warned its asset managers to sign up to the UK stewardship code or lose its business.

Nazarova-Doyle told affiliate title Responsible Investor that IFM provided a “fantastic opportunity” to drive change on the ground.

“You can’t get more direct influence and more direct outcomes than private markets when you actually invest in the real economy,” she continued. “Investors like IFM invest in critical infrastructure around the world so they are actually on the front line decarbonising ports, roads, pipelines and airports.”

IFM is also more aligned with asset owner interests than many managers, given its ownership by a collective of 17 Australian pension funds.

“It’s on the cusp between asset owner and asset manager, so they’re very much aligned on systemic risks and long-term issues,” said Nazarova-Doyle. “To me it’s a fantastic place to roll up my sleeves and get cracking in the real economy.”

IFM has already made a number of hires from the UK pensions world. In September 2022, it hired Willis Towers Watson’s global head of research Luba Nikulina as its chief strategy officer, while Barnett Waddingham policy and strategy lead Amanda Latham joined as a director of sustainable investment in May this year.

Nazarova-Doyle will report to Nikulina and will be in charge of the central sustainable investment team responsible for overall strategy. She said the fact that her role sits within the strategy division was an encouraging sign.

“It shows the commitment of the business to sustainability and the fact they understand that sustainability has to be part of strategy rather than marketing or something like that.”

Nazarova-Doyle will remain as a board member of UKSIF and retain her seats on a number of government working groups, but will leave her pensions-related positions, including giving up her seat on the Occupational Pensions Stewardship Council.

Scottish Widows has yet to announce her replacement.