Young professional of the year/rising star: Virginia Wasikowska, NN Investment Partners

Virginia Wasikowska, a portfolio manager in commercial real estate, seeks to go the extra mile to examine the soft factors behind investment deals with a positive impact, according to NN Investment Partners (NN IP).Virginia Wasikowska

Wasikowska, the winner of Young professional of the year at the 2021 Impact Awards, started her job at the Dutch asset management giant NN IP in 2018.

She joined a sector that has been and still is facing challenges when it comes to measuring non-financial/non-traditional metrics. According to NNIP, the lack of ESG reporting standards and limited availability of data has hampered the company's ability to understand what effect its projects were having.

"I found that we already had quite a lot of transactions that had a positive impact, but we weren't really capturing it anywhere, so we underplayed our results to our clients," Wasikowska told Environmental Finance.

She impressed her colleagues by coming up with a methodology that captured the positive and negative impact of transactions and could identify potential 'greenwashing' through flagging offsets.

As well as improving impact data, she has provided a quantitative angle to the company's impact investing.

"Identifying positive or negative impact of an investment involves looking at often fuzzy, qualitative details," Wasikowska said.

"They are sometimes a little bit difficult to capture unless you are really willing to dig deeper and try to understand them from multiple stakeholders' perspectives.

"It's not enough to just be analytical, you have to have the softer side as well to be able to capture these things consistently when making an assessment."

For example, during the organisation of a residential deal in The Hague this summer one of the tenants caught her eye. On closer inspection she realised they were on the investor's exclusion list due to human rights violations – firing debate about whether the tenant was a major enough part of the deal to be a red flag.

Wasikowska's colleague Ulla Fetzer, NN IP client portfolio manager, said: "It's about not just doing the obvious work but going the extra mile – looking through all levels of a transaction to get a thorough understanding not only of financial factors but also of non-financial issues, and making them visible so they can contribute to a more a balanced decision.

"Virginia has been instrumental in helping the commercial real estate team of NN IP achieve its ambitions on integrating ESG considerations into real estate financing to define impact.

"By developing deeper expertise on ESG issues in the context of real estate and private debt investments, she helps to further embed a culture that champions including ESG consideration in each decision."

The young portfolio manager helped develop minimum ESG standards, ensuring that scores were accurately attributed and weighed across the commercial real estate portfolio to better inform investing decisions.

In 2019, she closed one of her first deals in a "unique" $500 million transaction for a Dutch office campus of 40 buildings. The project aimed to contribute to advancing health technology by providing financing secured against real estate assets with an environment designed to foster innovation and collaboration.

Wasikowska is particularly good at filtering deals to determine their potential impact, Fetzer said.