Where Do Impact Professionals Put Their Own Money?

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TBLI 2013 is full of experts advising banks and individual investors on how to make sustainable or impact investments. But where, Berry Kennedy asks, do the experts put their own money?

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Surprisingly, it turns out that not all professionals who work in the sustainable finance field make impact investments.

“It’s not a question of not believing in it. It’s just a question of not getting around to it,” says Andrea Weidemann, head of public relations at the indices provider STOXX.

“There are too many moving parts in my life right now,” admits image and personal brand consultant Rick Keating.

This is not to say that people in sustainable finance don’t try to invest their own funds. Some, like Beth Richardson at BCorp, are lucky enough to work for companies that make it easier by offering responsible benefits, like Beth’s socially responsible retirement fund.  Others, like Rosanna Grimaldi, global relationship manager also at STOXX, or Eric Holterhues at Triodos Bank, which has both impact funds and and SRI funds, work in positions that make it easy to find out where and how to make personal impact investments. Grimaldi owns a small amount of an ESG indices offered by Stoxx. Conflict of interest policies at Triodos keep Holterhues from investing in his own products, but he does have his savings in environmentally and socially responsible banks.

But it also depends on how you define the term impact investing. Beth Richardson does go beyond her company retirement fund, investing a small amount in the community development bank Self Help. The challenge, she says, is that “I’m not an accredited investor, so there are not a huge amount of options.” There are some SRI options, but to Richardson, that’s more screening, which is “different than impact.” In other words, Grimaldi and Holterhues’s investments may be good, but they are not “impact investing.”

There are also investors who would go even further. Aymeric Jung, who left a 10-year career in inevestment banking to try to start the Slow Money movement in Europe, says that for him, the first step was to “take back money from capital markets, because nobody anymore can explain what’s going on…” Instead, he’s moving his money into primarily loans to local organic food businesses. His first investment is in an organic seed company. When I asked him how he got around the accreditation problem he laughed: “By using a lawyer.”

The underlying theme is a strong personal belief in the field itself- the field is their social return. Grimaldi brushes aside the fact that the sustainability indices she owns have earned returns as good as the benchmark. She invests in them, “not to earn money, to be frank… I do it because I believe in it.” Even Holterhues stresses that the profit is important “to attract money from investors” not for itself. The profit seems to be less a personal motive than a desire to bring more people to the field.

Initially, it seemed odd, inconsistent, that so few impact professionals I spoke to have their own impact investments. But given the challenges to individuals to make impact investments—which could be the subject of a whole other article—I’m more interested in those that do take creative steps to do so. Either way, the men and women who invest their careers in the field add a fourth prong to the triple-bottom-line approach:  Beyond people, money, environment, they want make their mark on the world.

Ed. note: A description of  Triodos Bank  was added 18 November. 

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