Sustainable Investments in Switzerland An Empirical Analysis of Asset Owners and Asset Managers on the Current Acceptance, Perceptions and Barriers

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1 Sustainable Investments in Switzerland An Empirical Analysis of Asset Owners and Asset Managers on the Current Acceptance, Perceptions and Barriers MBA Project Report By Shinobu Ishibashi and Tuuli-Maija Laakso The University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, August 14, 2012 Supervised by Professor Dr. oec. Claude Siegenthaler In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MBA-HSG The original academic study has been modified to this version for its public distribution. The original chapter with the recommendations provided to Contrast Capital AG as well as the list of interview participants and the interview guidance have been removed from this document. Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Mr. Pierin Menzli, Founding Partner of c o n t r a s t CAPITAL and Prof. Claude Siegenthaler for their whole-hearted support and assistance throughout the MBA project. We also thank Dr. Timo Busch at ETH Zürich and Mr. Falko Paetzold at Bank Vontobel for their additional support and insights throughout the process. Finally but not least, we appreciate the support from our own families and their understanding.

2 Table of Content 1. Executive Summary 2. Introduction 2.1 Objectives 2.2 Scope 2.3 Research Methodology 2.4 Interview Guidance 2.5 Framing Research Questions: Challenges and Learning 3. Sustainable Investments and Relevance in Switzerland 3.1 Definition(s) 3.2 Sustainable Investment Landscape in Switzerland 3.3 ESG Investment Approaches 3.4 NEST Case Study 4. Empirical Interview Analysis 4.1 Family Offices/Asset Managers Characteristics of Interview Group Investment Approach and Current Challenges ESG Investing Barriers to ESG Investing 4.2 Pension Funds Characteristics of Interview Group Investment Approach and Current Challenges ESG Investing Barriers to ESG Investing 5. Conclusions and Recommendations 5.1 Common Conclusions 5.2 Family Offices 5.3 Pension Funds 6. Appendix 6.1 About Contrast Capital 6.2 Glossary 2

3 Part I: Executive Summary This report provides an empirical analysis of sustainable investments by asset owners and asset managers in Switzerland. Through in-person interviews of 28 pension funds, asset managers and family offices, we aim to analyse and understand the sustainable investment market in Switzerland. The report is structured as follows: In the introductory chapter (part II) the project scope, its objectives and applied research methods are described. It also covers the framing of the interview guidance and the description of the key challenges and takeaways from developing the interview questions. In part III, we define sustainable investing, the current landscape and its relevance in Switzerland. We also describe sustainable investments compared to other investment approaches with overlapping objectives. As a best practice case study we highlight NEST public pension fund. In part IV, we present the results of the in-person interviews separately for asset managers/family offices and pension funds. We analyse their investment philosophies, identify the most pressing investment challenges the firms face, and discuss motivation for sustainable investments as well as barriers and difficulties. Furthermore, we include relevant quotes from our interview partners. Part V discusses conclusions, some of which, are summarized below: Although asset managers and family offices are aware of ESG investments or have previously been involved in the area of such investments, strong scepticism is associated with ESG investments. Lack of proper information and education about ESG investments appears to be a key driver behind the scepticism of asset managers. Asset managers and family offices wait for a client trigger to develop and implement ESG investment strategies. Uncertainty and doubts with respect to the companies or funds real ESG performance rating and how to measure the actual ESG impact cause aversion to adopt such investment strategies. In family offices the younger generations, who have inherited a significant amount of wealth from their parents, are increasingly asking about ESG and impact investments. Pension funds are long-term investors and they face the need to re-allocate their portfolio in the face of economic challenges and critically review new investment approaches. Large public pension funds could trigger wider acceptance of sustainable investments and influence other asset owners and asset managers in Switzerland. There is no stakeholder pressure as of yet in Switzerland for pension funds to adopt ESG investment approaches. Regulation is not considered an effective driver for ESG investments for pension funds. 3

4 Part II: Introduction The World Economic Forum Report Accelerating the Transition towards Sustainable Investing 1 mentions that sustainability is gaining importance in the field of investing. It also states that there is empirical evidence of better risk-adjusted returns of ESG investments, 2 which take into account environmental, social and governance factors compared to traditional investments. However, in practice, the level of sustainable investments still remains low and its adoption seems to be sluggish. In order to explain the inertia and the reluctance of acceptance among most investors, we aim to analyse the barriers of sustainable investing at various levels (such as individual vs. organizational). The report builds on current knowledge on sustainable investing trends and developments. The project research is primarily based on qualitative interviews, mainly in-person and some telephone interviews, with 28 asset owners and asset managers mainly located in German-speaking Switzerland. 2.1 Objectives The project intends to explore the current acceptance level of sustainable investments by asset owners and asset managers, and to assess the barriers to further adoption, e.g. individual reluctance, organizational framework, client acceptance, appropriate investment vehicles, education, knowledge etc. Based on interview insights, we identify potential avenues for wider adoption of sustainable investment among the mentioned asset owners and managers. The following questions were asked to achieve our objectives: 1) What are the main issues that asset owners and managers are currently facing and how is it impacting their company s business? 2) What is the current level of acceptance of ESG investments? 3) What are the perceptions, views and opinions about ESG investments? 4) What are the hampering factors for adoption of sustainable investments? 5) How can those factors be mitigated in order to increase adoption of ESG investments 2.2 Scope The project, over a total time period of nine weeks, consists of several tasks: 1) Development of interview guidance (overview in the following chapter) 2) Further developing and maintaining Contrast Capital database 3) Contacting potential interview partners via invitation letters and follow-up phone calls 4) Conducting interviews, which also includes transcribing each interview with the key ideas discussed in the interviews 5) Summarizing findings and developing recommendations Initially, the project was to consist of two separate streams, with the first stream to focus on inperson interviews with 20 family offices, pension funds and independent asset manager and the second stream for an online survey of 100 target group subjects with quantitative analysis. However, after realizing the time constrains, the scope of the project was narrowed down to focus all efforts on qualitative interviews with asset owners (i.e. public and corporate pension funds and single family offices) and asset managers (i.e. multi-family offices, independent asset managers) with a geographic focus on German-speaking Switzerland. The respondents were selected based on the type of company (pension fund, independent asset manager, or family office) and the amount of assets under management, which was to be over 300 million CHF. There was no pre-requisite of knowledge about sustainable investments. 1 World Economic Forum, Accelerating the Transition towards Sustainable Investing 2011 Geneva pp There are four key communalities that describe the concept of ESG investing: 1) Long-term investment perspective (+5 years) 2) Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are potential drivers of return and risk 3) The impact of an investment (i.e. external effects) is taken into account 4) Investment style that can be applied across existing asset classes (no new asset class, e.g. alternatives) 4

5 The first challenge was to find appropriate interview partners. Especially with family offices, which tend to be very secretive in the way they conduct business, this was a challenge. A key challenge with pension fund was their reluctance to participate in yet another interview/survey. Additionally, both investor types were afraid of another provider of financial products using interviews/surveys as a marketing tool. 2.3 Research Methodology Since we are trying to gain a level of understanding about the interviewees perception on sustainable investments, the research method of a qualitative face-to-face interview was deemed the most appropriate. This would allow us to assess the respondents answers on a more interactive level, and to ask follow up questions depending on the response. Furthermore, we aimed to see what respondents spontaneously associated with the topic, without giving them preparation and reflection time. 2.4 Interview Guidance The interview guidance for our qualitative interviews, which was used to help us navigate through each interview, follows the research questions above and is split in five sections: a) In the first section, our goal was to get some basic facts about interviewees and their represented institutions, e.g. function and role of respondents, years of investment experience, and size of institution (measured in Asset under Management or AuM). b) The second section focuses on the firm s investment process and investment strategies. We were interested in understanding the differentiating elements of their investment philosophy and learn about their strengths and strategic focus. Understanding what the company s investment philosophy is might shed some light on why they make certain types of investments, and the strategy behind asset allocation. We also tried to understand how the respondent feels about overall portfolio performance in certain time periods. A question about approximate asset allocation within various common asset classes was included in order to better judge how the asset allocation fits in with the company s investment philosophy. The last part in this section dealt with current events (e.g. the Euro crisis, growth of the emerging markets, increased regulation) in the market place, which may or may not have a direct impact on how the company operates and how those issues shape the investment decision process. The main purpose of this question was to understand where, if at all, ESG investments fall in the importance of issues. c) The purpose of the third section, which dealt with ESG investments, is to begin digging deeper into what the interviewee thinks about ESG investments, and what are his or her previous experiences with them, if any. It also went more into detail about factors such as uncertainties, risk factors and performance of ESG investments, to gauge whether the interviewee had some pre-existing notions about ESG investments. Furthermore, we asked questions to try to assess whether the interviewee has the correct understanding of what ESG investments are, since ESG investments are different from impact investments, although the two are often confused. In the second part of this section, the questions were mainly towards those who already have ESG criteria taken into account in investment decisions, to try to better assess how the companies are trying to emphasize the institution s ESG investment approach. d) In the fourth section, we asked the interviewee to discuss the barriers that he or she sees with ESG investments. From these answers we tried to assess the most critical of our research questions, which is to understand why investors are not using ESG investments. We also tried to understand whether prior experiences are a contributing factor to negative perception of ESG investments, and what would be required for the investor to enter the ESG investment sphere again. In this section, we also attempted to assess which internal and external factors might impact the interviewee s opinion of ESG investments. Finally, we included questions about whether the interviewee and his or her firm have sufficient knowhow and experience to assess risks or opportunities stemming from ESG investments. From Contrast Capital s perspective, this is a very important question to understand whether a significant need for consulting services to asset owners exists. 5

6 e) The very last section of the questionnaire included typical closing questions for an interview of this nature relating to anonymity and any additional comments the interviewee might have. 2.5 Framing Research Questions: Challenges and Learning We have also designed the interview guide to trigger deep discussions from the interviewee s side, rather than just giving yes or no answers (so called semi-structured interview guide ). The discussion should be spontaneous so that we can gather insights by probing questions. We have included questions as below to assess the individual, organizational, and cultural-level barriers, as part of our discussion: Individual-level: Do you feel more comfortable with traditional investments? Organizations internal structure: How important is the mandate or commitment from the board, as well as the requests from the beneficiaries of pension funds, in selecting ESG investments? Language and terminology: Do you think sustainable investments are a marketing tool? Rewards: Would regulatory systems favourable for ESG such as tax breaks or internal incentive systems drive you for ESG investments? Organizational inertia: Are you and your organization open to new investment ideas and styles? Although we spent significant time developing the interview guide and questions, some of the questions didn't generate responses as intended. Do you think there is sufficient internal know-how and experience in your organization? The question turned out to be too directly framed from our (interviewers ) viewpoint and didn't work to capture the true and honest assessment of interviewees own knowledge and experience. Most of the interviewees answered, Yes, we have enough know-how or, It doesn't matter as we could hire external people. The question didn't induce honest descriptions of internal situations as an issue. Similarly, on the question Do you think training and education would be useful? more than half of the interviewees answered, Yes, training is always useful but we don't have enough time for that. Also, one interviewee was resented on this question, saying, You should see who you are talking to! On the other hand, when we changed the question slightly to, Do you think training and education for the board would be useful? they were much more willing to admit, Yes, we need it. It would have been also useful to have separate interview guidance for the groups, as some questions were more pertinent to pension funds than to family offices. 6

7 Part III: Sustainable Investments and its Relevance in Switzerland 3.1 Definition(s) There are multiple different definitions of sustainable investments. Eurosif 3 uses the term "SRI" (Sustainable and Responsible Investing) for any type of investment process that combines investors' financial objectives with their concerns about Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues 4. According to FNG 5, Sustainable Investment is the umbrella term for sustainable, responsible, ethical, social and environmental investment and all other investment processes that take the influence of ESG criteria into account in their financial analyses. The World Economic Forum defines Sustainable Investing as an investment approach, which integrates long-term ESG criteria into investment and ownership decision-making with the objective of generating superior risk-adjusted financial returns 6. These extra-financial criteria are used alongside traditional financial criteria such as cash flow and price-to-earnings ratios. The focus on superior risk-adjusted financial returns distinguishes sustainable investing from similarsounding approaches such as impact investing or socially responsible investing, in which lower financial returns can be accepted as a trade-off for meeting social or environmental goals. A similar definition comes from Generation Investment Management that state in their Sustainable Capitalism" manifesto that in order to overcome challenges such as climate change, water scarcity, and poverty, we are to take actions to correct market failures 7. While governments and civil society need to be part of the solution to these massive challenges, ultimately it will be companies and investors that will mobilise the capital needed to overcome them. Sustainable investments is a framework that seeks to maximise long-term economic value creation by reforming markets to address real needs while considering all costs and stakeholders. We are of the opinion that in all definitions provided by market participants (e.g. investment consultants, asset owners, service providers, asset managers, etc.) as well as national and supranational organisations (e.g. UN, Eurosif) there are four key communalities that describe the concept of ESG investing: Long-term investment perspective (+5 years) Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are potential drivers of return and risk The impact of an investment is taken into account Sustainable investment approach can be applied across all existing asset classes Throughout this study the term Sustainable investing and ESG investing will be used interchangeably. While it is helpful to use this generic term for practical reasons, it is necessary to fill this term with meaning and concrete priority topics. For each organization within and outside the investment business relevant ESG topics vary substantially This definition implies as well a clear differentiation from the recently developed investment concept of Impact Investing. This approach puts the social investment impact (and sometimes the environmental impact) in the centre of the investment focus. The expected financial return (at or below traditional market return) is generated alongside the social return. Philanthropic activities are not geared towards generating a financial return since they have the character of a donation or grant with a clear social and/or environmental mission. 3 Eurosif (the European Sustainable Investment Forum) is a pan-european network and think-tank whose mission is to develop sustainability through European financial markets. 4 Refer to Glossary in Appendix for details 5 Forum Nachhaltige Geldanlagen: accessible at 6 World Economic Forum, Accelerating the Transition towards Sustainable Investing 2011 Geneva pp. 8 7 Generation Investment Management LLP, 2012, Sustainable Capitalism pp. 7 7

8 3.2 Sustainable Investments Landscape in Switzerland According to a study by FNG, 8 at the end of 2010, the Swiss market of sustainable investments (among asset managers, excluding pension funds) reached 42 billion CHF (funds, mandates and structured funds), which corresponds to an increase of 23.2% year on year. This indicates a good resilience of the sustainable market given the challenging market environment and investors risk aversion. In 2011, funds accounted for approximately 53%, mandates for 44% of the total sustainable investment market volume. As for investor distribution, institutional and retail/private investors each represent about 50% of the market. In 2011 the market share of equity investments is about 53%, while the market share of fixed-income investment is 31%. The increase of assets managed through mandates is due to institutional mandates for which sustainability considerations were for the first time integrated directly into financial analysis and investment decisions. This marks a new trend in the industry towards integration of sustainability in asset management. 9 (Source: FNG, Sustainable Investments in Switzerland 2011 pp. 11) As for pension funds, according to a Swisscanto s survey that covers 326 pension funds in Switzerland, 10 sustainable investments account for 3.8% of the total asset allocation among those pension funds, representing 20 billion CHF in A trend is that larger public pension funds have propensity to invest in sustainable investments. 3.3 ESG investment approaches Over the past fifteen years, several ESG investment approaches have been developed as more ESG data and information have become widely available for publicly listed corporations. Today, different investment approaches are used in combination in order to address investors concerns or to fulfill investor expectations. Not only has the equity asset class seen strong growth in ESG investments but also the corporate bond and to a lesser extent the government bond asset class has incorporated some elements of ESG investment approaches. The table below summarizes the definitions and the characteristics of such approaches. 11 For additional explanations, see the glossary in the Appendix. Each asset class has its specificities and some ESG investment approaches are not applicable across asset classes (e.g. active ownership for government bonds) Some approaches apply to institutional investors only, not retail investors Availability of ESG data limits the implementation of all ESG investment approaches, in particular for investments in emerging markets 8 FNG, Ivo Knoepfel, David Imbert 2011 Sustainable investments in Switzerland 2011, pp. 4 9 Ibid. 10 Swisscanto Vorsorge AG 2012 Schweizer Pensionskassen Mercer, 2011 Climate Change Scenarios Implications for Strategic Asset Allocation 8

9 For some asset classes (e.g. infrastructure, private equity, commodities, and real estate) it is pre-mature to assess the available ESG assessment approaches ESG Investment Approach Definition Type Positive Screening Seeking to invest in companies with a positive ESG corporate performance, and/or that produce products/services with a superior ESG profile, and/or that have substantial exposure to environmental/societal solutions Best-in-Class Pioneer Screening Thematic Investments Negative Screerning Avoidance to investment in targeted companies, industries and Ethical Exclusions countries Integration ESG factors influence investment risks and returns and thus incorporate into investment analysis and decision making Integration Recognize and exercise shareholder responsibilities by voting Voting Active Ownership and engagement (active dialogue) with companies in which one has invested Engagement (Source: Mercer, 2011 Climate Change Scenarios Implications for Strategic Asset Allocation ) The graph below shows the current adaption of ESG investment approaches by investors in Switzerland. (Source: FNG, Sustainable Investments in Switzerland 2011 pp. 11) 3.4 NEST Case Study Good Practice Example NEST is a collective pension fund ( Sammelstiftung ) for small to medium sized companies and has its head-quarters in Zürich, Switzerland. Since the incorporation in 1983, it has won 2,545 affiliate companies with 14,509 people insured. The average number of employees for the NEST member corporations is five. Currently, assets under management equal 1.3 billion CHF (March 2012) with a past annual investment performance of 2.8% in NEST believes that using ESG as an investment philosophy is the reason why companies choose NEST as their pension fund. NEST describes itself as Die ökologisch-ethische Pensionskasse (The environmental and ethical pension fund) and it has recently signed to UNPRI. NEST is the most advanced pension fund in Switzerland in terms of ESG investment philosophy among those we were able to get in touch with. The firm does not only apply negative and positive screening but also implements active voting in shareholders meetings as well as engagement and active dialogues with the companies they invest in. NEST s data and research provider, Inrate, 13 also works on incorporating ESG factors into investment decisions. 12 Nest Sammelstiftung Provisorischer Geschäftsbericht 2011 pp Inrate, accessible at 9

10 (Source: Nest Sammelstiftung Provisorischer Geschäftsbericht 2011 pp. 3) By sticking to those industries and companies that meet the ESG investment criteria, NEST generates consistent financial returns. Indeed, they record more stable and slightly higher returns than other pension funds. Comparing NEST s investment performance with a benchmark (Credit Suisse Swiss Pension Fund Index or CS PK-Index ), we observe that the volatility is much lower, especially in the years with negative returns. By investing with ESG criteria, NEST was able to mitigate the negative shocks. This could be a strong supporting factor for ESG investments, eliminating negative risks and achieving long-term performance. Sammelstiftung 14 could be the most advanced type of pension institution in terms of ESG consideration in the investment philosophy as part of the preference expression, because it has to attract membership corporations with a clear and differentiating value proposition to join its pension scheme. Also, they have to compete in the pension market with other pension scheme providers such as insurance companies, ensuring at least similar financial returns as they do. Christoph Müller, NEST Sammelstiftung, Zürich (Source: Nest Sammelstiftung, Provisorischer Geschäftsbericht 2011 pp. 3) 14 It is a form of pension fund in Switzerland and stands for collective institutions in English. Other forms are Gemeinschaftsstiftungen. Vorsorgeeinrichtung, which includes Pensionskassen and geschlossene Gemeinschaftsstiftungen. 10

11 Part IV: Empirical Interview Analysis 4.1 Interview Group 1 - Family offices and asset managers There are approximately 2,600 independent asset managers, including multi-family offices, in Switzerland, of which around 1,200 are in the German-speaking area. 15 Due to time-constraints, we were only able to contact about 80, or 6% of the target group. From the 80 that were contacted, a positive response was received from 15, and a total of 13 were interviewed for the purposes of this report. However, two out of the 13 were not classified as a family office or an asset manager, and these responses were excluded from the study. Each contact which received an invitation, also received a follow up call, and a second call some days later if no response was received. Difficulties in scheduling interviews were mainly due to lack of interest in the topic and lack of availability in general. The following analysis will be split into four sections based on the interview guidance: first, we look at the demographics; in the second section, we discuss general investment strategies and philosophies; in the third section, we go into more into detail about the ESG investments; and in the last section, we focus on barriers to ESG investments Characteristics of Interview Group The interview group consisted of four multi-family offices, two single family offices, four independent asset managers, one asset management arm of a private bank and two others in product structuring The seven of the interview group had assets under management of between 2 and 3.5 Billion Swiss Francs, with a four smaller firms or with an undisclosed amount of assets under management The companies, excluding the private bank, had between 5 and 50 employees, with the majority falling on the lower end of the scale with 8-14 employees The interviewees were all either a managing partner of the firm, with client/portfolio management responsibilities, a chief investment officer, a founder of the firm or a portfolio manager All but one of the respondents had at least of ten years of investing experience, with seven reporting 15 or more years of experience and all had been with the current firm for less than 10 years. Three of the interviewees were company founders, but in that case the company s founding date was used as a reference point Investment Approach and Current Challenges The over-arching themes were mainly focused on long-term investment approaches, wealth maintenance, cost-effectiveness, transparency and risk management. Respondents reported that the investment approach the firm is applying has mainly a long-term focus, which falls along the lines with the main investment strategy of wealth maintenance rather than aggressively pursuing high returns. The interviewees firms target high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals, who generally are well-established, and are concerned about passing the wealth onto the next generation. Another theme that could be seen is cost-effectiveness and transparency with regards to the asset allocation. Respondents felt that due to the bad reputation the industry has received, it is essential that the clients understand the products and do not spend significant amount of fees, which also served as a restricting factor in terms of asset allocation. Risk management is also seen as an important theme, and for some firms, it is at the center of the firm s investment philosophy. 15 FINMA Accessed July 26,

12 If you manage the risk appropriately and professionally, the returns will come. This is at the core of our investment philosophy Jacques Stauffer, Parsumo Capital, Zürich The most pressing issues the firms are facing mainly relate to macro-level issues, such as the current economic environment and its impact on regulation, and the Euro crisis. The economic environment, especially in developed countries, is causing two trends: a shift of investment towards emerging markets, and a strong sentiment against the Euro, with some getting out of all Euro positions. Respondents are also concerned about the lessening importance of Switzerland as a financial nest. This shift is causing many to consider a new strategy that puts less importance on the Swiss market as a whole. For independent asset managers and multi-family offices, which are regulated by the FINMA, increased regulation has not caused significant changes in the way the firms operate. However, one trend which is apparent in the interviews is a higher rate of consolidation. This was mentioned by five interview partners, that they expect smaller firms to either go out of business, or more likely, to look to merge with another firm. Environmental issues were not mentioned as a major concern for the firms, mainly due to the fact that the firms are currently more preoccupied with the abovementioned macro-level issues. The following quote illustrates this sentiment ESG Investing Sustainability is important and it is on our minds, but it does not always protect our clients wealth Jürg Frey, Marcuard Family Office, Zürich All of the interviewees had at least some knowledge of ESG investments, and have had various degrees of contact with them at some point in their professional careers. However, only two were aware of the United National Principles of Responsible Investing (UNPRI). When asked the question of what the respondent thinks ESG investing is, they often asked the same question back, as there is no one definition that fits for everyone. From the interviews, the following points should be highlighted: Only four interviewees currently have clients who are investing in ESG investments, with one company, SEED Asset Management (highlighted below), reporting a set ESG investment approach as part of the firm s strategic asset allocation. All of the interviewees responded that ESG investments are an investment approach with an overlay to existing asset classes, versus a separate asset class. All of the respondents either expressed that they are not sure how sustainable investing is defined and measured, or said that their clients are confused about it. There also seems to be a perception that it may be used as a marketing tool, or a way to find a niche segment, as competition in the regular asset management or banking sector is really high. From a risk perspective, the group felt that in their opinion, the risk profile of ESG investments should be the same as for conventional investments or even better, since technically, a company which acts in a socially and environmentally responsible way is likely to mitigate its risk factors. Family office respondents commented that their clients, even though not involved in ESG investing, have a high affinity to philanthropy. As will be discussed in the next section about barriers to ESG investing, five respondents felt that a lack of returns and track record was a major issue, and therefore, clients would rather give money to organizations via contributions to philanthropy. "Philanthropy is the right way to go, and clients can do much more good with it. There is no need for performance measurements and the money goes directly to where the need is." Stephan Kehrli, KehrliZahnder Family Office, Zürich 12

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