ITALY- Italian “ethical and ecological” bank Banca Etica has opened its three socially responsible investment funds to institutional investors - entering a market so far dominated by big names.

The three funds, one focusing on global equities, the other two on both bonds and equities, are worth a total €160m and were launched in 2003.

They are invested in products offered by companies recommended by Ethibel, a Belgian independent SRI research and consultancy organisation.

Luca Mattiazzi, Etica’s chief executive, said the bank had become “the third largest player in the Italian SRI market”.

But up to now the SRI funds have only been available to Italian retail investors, said Ethibel CEO Marc Bontemps.

He said Ethibel had recently renamed its “label” - a seal granted to a product after an international team of analysts has vetted it - “Ethibel Pioneer”.

The team’s assessments also include the application of 106 criteria and testing the products against the accounts of labour unions, environmental and human rights organisations.

Bontemps explained there was potential for SRI growth among institutional investors, both in Italy and Belgium.

He said that in both countries pension funds were facing for the first time the requirement to disclose their SRI policies, which has made the asset class a topic of discussion and attention.

“It is clear pension funds are interested, but these things take time. The point now is how to make things happen,” Bontemps said.

Players like San Paolo and Unicredito are already present in the Italian SRI market - but Bontemps stressed that SRI products recommended by Ethibel Pioneer could still win a share of the market thanks to their “strict, rigorous and independent” approach.

“The Ethibel Pioneer label is a guarantee for us that we are investing in companies that are actually pioneering the sustainability sector,” Mattiazzi said.