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March 10, 2022

WHEB: Investing in Human Connection

Claire Jervis, Analsyt at WHEB tells us how human investments can capture real social impact.

Claire Jervis, an analyst at one of our Asset Manager partners, WHEB, guest wrote this blog on how investing in people is just as important as investing in the planet. We'll let WHEB tell you how they do it.

Hear The World: How WHEB is Investing in Human Connection

Sometimes it can feel like we live in a sensory onslaught. Children arguing. Music booming. Sirens blaring. How often do we wish for silence? Yet, sound is also what connects us. Through speech, we share our ideas. Through music, we express our creativity. Sirens help to keep us safe. 

By 2050, one in four of us could be living with hearing loss.

Recently in the UK, we saw Rose Aisling Ellis bring the nations focus onto the deaf community and the reality of their day to day life, following her journey to winning Strictly Come Dancing last year. Hearing loss is a huge social issue that can significantly impair someone’s quality of life. The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 20% of the global population live with hearing loss. That’s one and a half billion people. As our population gets older (and the world gets louder) this problem is only getting worse. By 2050, one in four of us could be living with hearing loss.

We mostly associate hearing loss with old age, where it can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation. But it can affect people of all ages, creating difficulties in language development, education, and employment. The good news is that hearing loss is usually treatable. For most sufferers, a high-quality hearing aid can significantly improve their quality of life. 

WHEB is invested in Sonova, the global leader in hearing care products. Sonova’s range of hearing aids enables most patients to find a solution that keeps them connected to the world. For the most serious cases, Sonova’s cochlear implants are life-changing – they can enable someone who is profoundly deaf to experience sound for the first time. Sonova prides itself on innovation – in 2021, the company spent over £150 million on research to find new and better hearing solutions. This helps the company preserve its global leading position, while improving outcomes for patients.

Innovation in health care is not always straightforward, however. Some of Sonova’s implants have had product quality issues. As a result, some patients have had them surgically replaced with newer (non-faulty) versions. We are engaging with the company on their product quality procedures, to understand how they can prevent this happening again. We have been reassured by recent data which suggest Sonova has regained customer trust and is making good progress with its implants business.

Hearing loss is much more difficult to treat in developing economies. This is why Sonova has founded the Hear the World Foundation, a non-profit which aims to improve quality of life for disadvantaged children with hearing loss. The Foundation has recently provided free hearing tests for 30,000 children in Peru, and donated hearing aids to Syrian refugees. Sonova is also working with a South African start-up to develop an app that enables anyone to conduct hearing screenings. They hope this app will provide greater access to hearing support worldwide.

WHEB captures the social impact of Sonova through our proprietary Impact Calculator. Sonova sold hearing aids to nearly two million people in 2020. By scaling this to the size of our investment, we can help our investors to understand how many people have been supported in part by their investment. For example, £10,000 invested in WHEB’s fund is associated with five people receiving healthcare treatment, among other social and environmental impacts.

Impact shown above is per £10,000 invested. 

There are an abundance of stories telling how Sonova’s products have had a huge positive impact on people’s lives. People like Léa Corbin, a child born with profound hearing loss. Leá’s Sonova implants enabled her to hear noises and sounds for the first time when she was nearly two years old. Leá can now speak well for her age and has a relatively normal childhood. Or Charles Owens, a jazz musician who plays the brunch slot at The Lighthouse Café – an LA hotspot made famous by the movie La La Land. Charles’ Sonova hearing aids enable him to continue making a living by doing what he loves. 

Stories like this exist for thousands of patients worldwide. This is why WHEB is proud to invest in Sonova.

Claire Jervis, Analyst on WHEB’s investment team


Please remember that when investing, making money is not guaranteed and your capital is at risk. The value of your fund can go down as well as up. Tax treatment depends on an individual’s circumstances and may be subject to change.

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