10 Years Later – Headed Toward a Brighter Future

by Anders Ferguson, Partner

As Veris marks our 10th anniversary we are optimistic. We’re emboldened by the fact that we launched in the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, and we succeeded because our clients’ demand for impact investing solutions is so strong and our team so committed.

We’re also optimistic because we see that impact investing and Veris are part of a much larger transformational ecosystem steadily gaining momentum. This ecosystem is advancing sustainability in business, investing, and society as a whole. It is pragmatically hopeful and touches most everything, large and small. It is self-organizing, ever expanding. It is guided by science, economics and spirit. Each part adds positive energy to this ever-expanding ecosystem. At work, at home.

This excerpt is from our recently published book celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Veris Wealth Partners. 10 Impacts In 10 Years is the story of our contributions to the world of impact investing and the heartening journey of our team. We created this reflection to recognize our clients and the collective progress we have made.

An Impactful Vision

In marking this milestone, it’s useful to start at the founding of our firm.

Ten years ago, the Veris founders – five entrepreneurs, including two impact investing advisory businesses – came together with an idea and a dream: To create a national Impact Private Wealth Management firm. The objective was to serve the growing needs of families, individuals and family foundations who want to go “all in” to create financial performance and impact with their wealth.

We felt a new day was emerging in which sustainable business and sustainable investing would integrate and change the way business operates and capital was invested. Ours was a vision in which sustainable businesses could change the world, and investors would choose to fund sustainable companies because they are the innovators and can deliver both financial performance and social benefit.

We believed, as did Generation Investment Management and others, that we were at a tipping point.  No longer would Socially Responsible Investing be primarily about what companies shouldn’t do. Instead, sustainable and impact investing focused on what companies could do to create positive change, by understanding the drivers of great companies and transformative businesses.

We wanted to be part of this new ecosystem, aptly described by the United Nations, “Business as an Agent of World Benefit.” We also understood that many of the world’s most pressing challenges could not be addressed via business alone.  That investing in NGOs and Community Banking was a critical part of building affordable housing, providing solar energy or clean drinking water in the villages of the world, and for empowering women through micro-finance.

A Vision Turns To Reality

With these dreams, plans, and thankfully a couple of hundred loyal clients, in August 2007 Veris opened our doors for business – just as the great financial crisis was beginning.  There were 10 of us, and we managed about $350 million in assets, mostly on the East Coast. In the following decade, we developed and grew our San Francisco office, and more recently created a Boulder office.  We are now 23 people. Amazingly, on June 13, the day of our 10th anniversary celebration at the Rubin Museum in New York, we hit $1 billion in assets under management.

We set out to be an independent firm, so we could stay completely focused on our clients, their needs and the kinds of impact investing they wanted across their entire portfolios. Importantly, we wanted to develop impact investments for all assets classes.

We also wanted to help steer our broader industry toward sustainable and impact investing.  And we knew that if we stuck to our mission –  if we didn’t mix up every type of investment style that might make excess returns – that Impact Investing would grow strongly.

We’ve done just that, and in the process, we have built dynamic  partnerships in our industry. We have been joined by many new families and their foundations seeking impact private wealth management. They want to achieve this with a firm of like-minded professionals and fellow investors who share their passion for what’s possible.

A Year Of Celebrations

To celebrate and honor our clients, partners and employees, Veris has been holding celebrations and client learning meetings at each of our office locations. The first was in New York on June 13 at the Rubin Museum, and our second was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 18. Our third will take place in San Francisco on September 26.

In Manhattan, 160 attended. We were very appreciative that many of our guests traveled for hours; many flew or came by train. The full-day event featured presentations from three of our Founders, Patricia Farrar-Rivas, Michael Lent and Steve Fahrer on “how we got here, what we have accomplished, and where we are going over the next decade.”

Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF, the sustainable and impact investing trade association, provided an overview of the extraordinary growth of our industry over the last decade.  From less than 10% of US assets managed for impact, to 25% and nearly $9 trillion today. One of the highlights of the day was a lengthy and weighty discussion with a multi-generational family who have worked with Michael for more than 20 years. The very reflective parents and their equally thoughtful Millennial children shared their common journey to impact investing, philanthropy and integrating their wealth into their lives.  There were many damp eyes as people pondered how all these questions might play out in their families, or even if they could really have the conversation.

Also well received were our five client-led breakouts on our key thematic areas: Gender Lens Investing, Community Wealth Building, Sustainable Food & Agriculture, Climate Solutions, and Millennials.  The passion shared in these intimate sessions were inspiring for us all.

I was personally thrilled to lead a conversation with Deval Patrick, Managing Director of Bain Capital’s new Double Impact Fund and the former Governor of Massachusetts. Deval was extremely articulate in explaining his shift from leading a state to building an impact investment fund at a very traditional private equity firm. He shared his hopes and his worries.  And he reminded us change-makers “that too often we whisper our successes, while we shout out our failures.”

On July 18, we had another terrific event.

Nearly 100 clients, colleagues and friends came to the Veris Portsmouth 10th Celebration and Farewell Gathering  for David Hills, a founding partner.  It was a very special night supported  by compelling remarks from keynoter Greg Watson, Director of Policy and System Design, E.F. Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Greg was formerly Secretary of Agriculture for Deval Patrick during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. Greg demonstrated that a lifetime of service in sustainable food and agriculture, both urban and rural, renewable energy, and creating more inclusive communities can be integrated for promising results.

Then, in a fireside chat, Veris partner Nicole Dolan discussed global and local sustainable business solutions for creating business as a force for change with Brad Sterl, founder and CEO, of Rustic Crust and Ken Locklin, Director, of Impax Asset Management. Rustic Crust is a New Hampshire company invested in by three Veris fund managers. Sterl provided a perspective on rural community job creation and sustainable food solutions.  Impax sub-advises the Pax Global Environmental Market Fund and Locklin offered a global market perspective on energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate solutions.  The audience was struck by the clarity that risk-taking and entrepreneurship drive real, positive change – be that in global solar projects or baking the best organic pizza dough in the U.S. from a rural New Hampshire town.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the evening was partner Alison Pyott’s farewell to David Hills, a founding Veris partner who has recently retired from the firm. In a heartfelt tribute, Alison and David recounted their collaboration, dilemmas and joys over the past decade working together and with clients. David shared some of his pioneering efforts over his 30-year career in impact investing and the depth of friendships he created. They made a bet who would tear up first. David lost.

Looking Ahead

In closing, I wanted to share the following excerpt is from our 10th anniversary book. It sums up how the team at Veris feels about the future.

To our clients, employees, colleagues and friends: Thank you for your support over the years.  We depend on the depth of your wisdom to do our work better. And to learn together.

We are optimistic as we head into the next decade, despite significant challenges.

 We’re hopeful because a new generation of investors and business leaders actively believe and demonstrate that sustainability and impact investing works! We are finally approaching the tipping point where this new generation sees the management power of sustainability.  They understand that Sustainability = Innovation.

We are also hopeful because of the unstoppable tide of impact in business-driven innovation. These companies invest in people, communities, creativity, and transformative technologies.

We know some don’t chare our optimism. We know the enormous challenges in front of us could thwart us. However, the wind in now at our back. Just 10 years ago, it was blowing against us.

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