Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Analyzing The Phenomenal Growth Of Impact Investing

November 17th, 2016

By Michael Lent, Partner, CIO

US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Business released its 2016 Biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, and there was much good news in it.

The report, issued on Nov. 14, found that over $8.72 trillion in assets – or one in five dollars invested under professional management in the US – are now invested using sustainable, responsible and impact investing criteria.  This total is up 69% from 2014.  There are now hundreds of investment options across all asset classes a trend that has been growing substantially over the past several decades.

This is truly remarkable, but it wasn’t so long ago that things were very different.

When I began my career, Impact investing was in its infancy.  I remember attending a Council on Foundation conference in 1995 with a dozen foundation representatives discussing what we called back then, “Socially Responsible Investing.”  Twenty-one years later, I spoke on a panel at the Mission Investors Exchange conference, presenting to several hundred foundations and close to five hundred attendees focused exclusively on impact investing.

In the intervening 20+ years, Impact Investing went mainstream. Institutional investors are incorporating ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors into their investment process, and traditional investment management firms are increasingly offering ESG investment options.

At the same time, companies around the globe are rapidly integrating sustainability into their core business models to increase their competitiveness, innovation and lower risks. We are moving from a time of carrot and stick approach to corporate change.  Increasingly we have sustainable companies receiving investments from impact investors.  This is a virtuous cycle and it is important to put into perspective how far we have come. We’ve come a long way.

Underlying Trends

In my view, three key trends were made abundantly clear in this report.

First is the rapidly growing interest in climate investing. More than $2.15 trillion of institutional assets apply climate change criteria.  This is a manyfold increase, and it reflects a growing awareness among large institutions about climate change risk.  Institutional investors’ increasing focused on this issue could lead companies to track their carbon output, to identify ways to lower it, and to provide innovative, low-carbon products and services.  It is one reason to have optimism about the future of the planet, despite the recent election results.  As a strong supporter of climate change solutions, we help many clients divest from carbon intensive industries and invest in other solutions.

Second is the growth of the community investing field.  The assets invested in Community Development Financial Institutions have doubled from $60 billion to $120 billion in two years.  These are the credit unions, banks and community loan funds that provide financing for critical affordable housing, social services, and small businesses in low-income communities and communities of color.  Historically, CDFIs have received most of their funding and capital from public sources or from banks and insurance companies under the Community Reinvestment Act. On a very hopeful note, private investors significantly increased their assets in community investing. There are great social, environmental and economic challenges in low-income communities. Access to capital is essential to long-term change in these communities.

Third, while a significant number of managers and investors say they are implementing ESG, it is not clear exactly what that means.  As an industry, there is definite room for improvement and transparency. Today, many managers are not specific about how they integrate ESG factors into their investment process. This vague application of ESG criteria is due to the lack of deliberate investment process. Some funds and managers want to be seen as “doing ESG investing to respond to client demand,” but are unsure of what to do.  For investors, you cannot simply pick an “SRI” fund and be satisfied that it actually has social impact. You must also understand what the manager is really doing to create impact.

Where We Go From Here

Looking ahead, I think the US SIF Trends report brings up four things we should think about:

  • While we have made great strides in offering more investment options, we still need more investment solutions across different impact themes, such as Gender Lens Investing, sustainable real assets, and on broader ownership strategies.
  • We need greater transparency from ESG managers and funds, so we can understand if they are actually having any impact. It’s not enough to say we do SRI. Investors need to know what and how managers are creating impact.
  • Investors shouldn’t underestimate the importance of finding a wealth manager or advisor who understands the impact field. There is a fair amount of complexity and a need to sort out the managers and funds that best fit your specific financial and impact goals.

The good news is that we’re making real progress in changing the way people and institutions invest.  Together, we can keep it going and bring about even more positive change.

To read Veris white papers on climate change, gender lens investing and other topics, please visit the Research section of our website.

 

Photo Credit: Ronald Tagra

Economic Update Q3 2016

November 2nd, 2016

by Jane Swan, CFA, Senior Wealth Manager

In an election year with no shortage of drama and surprises, the market has been relatively calm and steady. Market volatility often increases during an election year as uncertainty looms over the potential market impact of a new administration. We saw this clearly most recently in 2008. The risk in an investment is considered higher when there is potential for something unpredictable to happen.

Election Year Stock Market Volatility Measured by the VIX

Chicago Board Options Exchange

 

The brief period of high volatility came not from changes in US election forecasts but from the somewhat surprising Brexit results. The lower volatility going into the U.S. election and the steady growth of equity markets in the first three quarters of the year may leave little room for the post election bounce often experienced.

There are no negative numbers to report across major asset classes for the quarter, either fixed income or equity. Low volatility and steady growth contributed to a 2.5 percent increase in the S&P 500 (U.S. large cap) bringing year-to-date growth to 7.8 percent. The Russell 2000 index (U.S. small cap) was up 9.1 percent for the quarter, 11.5 percent for the year. International markets continued to recover from the second quarter Brexit vote with the MSCI EAFE (developed international markets) up 6.5 percent for the quarter, bringing year-to-date to a positive 2.2 percent. Emerging markets were the best performing asset class, up 9.2 percent in the quarter and 16.4 percent for the year.

3rd Quarter  and YTD Growth in Key Asset Classes
PMC Capital Markets Flash Report for periods ending Sept 30, 2016

PMC Capital Markets Flash Report for periods ending Sept 30, 2016

 

Investment grade domestic fixed income markets were the beneficiary of greater market uncertainty earlier in the year. The low volatility of the third quarter was reflected in very quiet returns to fixed income. U.S. Treasuries returned 0.5 percent in the quarter, bringing year to date returns to 5.8 percent. Corporate bonds were up an even smaller 0.2 percent for the quarter, 4.2 percent year-to-date. Municipal bonds were up just 0.1 percent for the quarter, 3.3 percent for the year-to-date. Outside of investment grade, low volatility contributed to a continued surge from high yield with the index up 5.6 percent for the quarter, 15.1 percent year-to-date.

3rd Quarter and YTD Returns by Industry Sector
PMC Capital Markets Flash Report for periods ending Sept 30, 2016

PMC Capital Markets Flash Report for periods ending Sept 30, 2016

 

Sector returns for the quarter trimmed gains from earlier in the year, but left all sectors of the economy in positive territory for the year. Strongest growth in the quarter came from technology which completely recovered from what was a negative first half of the year. While the energy sector remained the strongest sector year-to-date (up 19 percent for the year), the price of oil hit a plateau during the quarter. The results were a 2 percent increase in energy stocks prices for the quarter. Utilities and telecom remain among the greatest contributors to growth for the year despite negative returns in the third quarter.

Price of Oil
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

 

At this time, pollsters have high conviction in the outcome of the presidential election with the greatest uncertainty residing in the outcome of congressional, as well as state and local elections. Less certain is the path towards reconciliation of a deeply divided population. As economists ponder the catalysts to our political divisions, they will point to a shrinking middle class and its stagnant income growth. This is well illustrated by a comparison of two different definitions of ‘average’ Income. The chart below shows historical growth rates of average (also known as “mean”) and median family incomes. The average family income considers all family incomes and takes the mathematical average per family. The median stacks all family incomes and for each time period, finds the number in the middle of the stack. The median measure is often considered a better measure of the typical family because it is less biased by extremely high incomes. The graph below demonstrates this difference. While average incomes have grown considerably since the economic downturn, the typical (median) family had no actual growth in incomes over the last 8 years.

Mean and Median Income
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

 

As they seek to repair our fraying social fabric, we invite the incoming administration and congress to apply the lessons we have learned from various approaches to impact investing. Gender lens investments, for example, demonstrate the improved decision making capabilities of diverse teams.  Men and women working together are more likely to incorporate a broader array of risks and opportunities in their problem solving. Enhanced innovation is more likely when we tap the collective wisdom of people of different races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, sizes, and generations. Businesses developing technologies for mitigating climate change have the potential to drive future economic growth. Addressing access to capital in under-resourced communities has the potential to alleviate systemic economic inequality.

In short, impact investing is emerging as a ‘proof of concept’ that diverse and balanced teams are far more likely to deliver our ultimate goals:  inclusive and prosperous economies thriving in healthy and sustainable eco-systems.

What Is Sustainability, Anyway?

October 28th, 2016

By Anders Ferguson, Partner

Most of us dedicated to sustainability tend to think about it terms of the big issues – climate change, food scarcity, clean water and other global environmental and social issues.

After returning from Generation Investment Management’s most recent conference, my perception about creating sustainable businesses and systems evolved markedly.

The major takeaway is that technology has become a key driver in sustainable change. Much like it is driving so much of the economy these days and seemingly will be long into the future.

At the conference, speaker after speaker outlined how technology was the answer. Most of the discussion about the big issues was in the context of innovative solutions: grid-parity solar, long-lasting batteries, green buildings, smart cities, artificial intelligence, robotics, among others.

Technology is the new driver. I wasn’t expecting that.

Efficiency Drives Sustainability

So much of today’s dialogue about sustainability focuses on improving, even revolutionizing, the existing economic infrastructure of commerce and society.

What does that really mean? It means consuming less of the world’s resources and eliminating the hidden costs of industrial production that harm the Earth’s ecosystem. In short, it’s seizing the opportunity to apply technology to be more efficient and re-engineer the business process of the past century.

I think that’s why Generation, a global leader in fully integrating sustainable research into investment strategy, chose to highlight an unlikely company – Intuit – as a model of sustainability.

Intuit builds software that creates tax and accounting solutions; it is all about efficiency. Ultimately, doing these tasks more efficiently and seamlessly interconnected with its business-ecosystem is good for customers, clients, shareholders, and the environment. And the Intuit example certainly was a nonsequitor to what many investors consider when they think sustainable-impact.

Technology vs. Fossil Fuels

It turns out the highest profile issue in terms of sustainability – climate change – is all about technology, too. It’s crystal clear to me that technology is the fastest way to dismantle the fossil fuel stranglehold of the past century.

To that point, we are witnessing a remarkable, perhaps revolutionary pivot in the world’s energy production that has gone largely unnoticed. Globally, the majority of new electricity is now being produced by the sun.

Over the next 25 years, solar and wind will replace coal, oil and gas as the foundation of our societies.  Take a moment to let this reality really sink in. This means fossil fuels are phasing-down, plain and simple.

That’s being driven by the widespread availability of cheap, highly efficient solar panels and wind turbines. Solar panels are the product of sophisticated manufacturing driven by technology. PVs don’t grow in a garden, although scientists are working hard to change this. Advanced biomimickery holds the promise of turning PV panels of glass and rare minerals into biologically sophisticated processes, which may also be far friendlier to the environment.

This paradigm shift in energy production has much broader implications. Once a household is unplugged from the grid, it’s pretty clear what comes next. The dependence on “centralized generating plants” for fossil-fuel electricity dramatically diminishes.  And what we know as the current electrical grid is both functionally challenged, and in many places, simply may not work.

If you stop and think about it, battery technology alone – solar energy storage and batteries for electric vehicles – have the potential to create a more sustainable world from the bottom up.

We’re simply talking about batteries – not something far more technically complex like splitting of the atom. Combining the power of the sun with the storage capacity of lithium all of a sudden has the potential to end the use of oil in powering transportation in the coming years.

Mobile phones are yet another technology that generates more efficiency that will promote sustainability. Why travel to the bank or a market to transact business when you can do it right from your phone? In India, $4 smartphones are coming to the market.

A Truly Flat World

At the Generation Conference, it also became clear that the world suddenly went flat.

That was particularly true when we listened to Jesse Moore, CEO of M-KOPA, talking about delivering affordable, solar power, to the villages of Kenya.  The same sun that will power Elon Musk’s new Tesla 3 can empower a Kenyan villager to become an entrepreneur on her $4 smartphone or a “Coder” via wireless and affordable solar energy.

Think of the past decades of economic development in the emerging world, that were focused primarily on agricultural development models.  Now the displaced coal miner in Kentucky and the Kenyan villager may have the same opportunity to become knowledge workers in our interconnected global tech-economy.

Further, because the villager is never likely to be served by grids delivering phone or electricity, or bricks and mortar companies delivering most goods and services, that $4 smartphone is their computer and communicator to the world.

Ecosystems And Life on Earth

All of this is wonderful and will accelerate the inexorable progress toward sustainability, but a larger question remains: Does the power of technology in recreating sustainability still respect the seemingly mundane and beautifully uber-complex natural magic of our ecosystems?

I hope so, but I’m not entirely certain, which is very concerning.

Images of the climate crisis are with us every day.  Collapsing polar ice caps. Confused birds.  Mass extinctions.  Failing wetlands. These same rainforests, oceans, timberlands, wetlands and agriculture drove our concerns about sustainability and the environment in the first place.

The extraordinary synchronicity of our ecosystems, and all its creatures, unfolded through eons of years of finely-tuned evolution, don’t appear to really drive the brilliant minds of Silicon Valley leaders and its great scientific institutions.

Yes, they are developing distributive technologies and business models around the world. And yes they are amassing multibillion dollar fortunes to further their dreams. But do remarkable investment returns sync with the natural order of ecosystem returns?

Is it because the tech-masters don’t really see or viscerally experience nature?  Do they think they can bioengineer or genetically “improve” all life so nature and its ecosystems just matter less? Is our natural world just another 3D reality of our advanced video-gaming?

I did not see enough sensitivity to these issues from the leaders of a technological universe, even though the net effect ultimately advances sustainability.

I know at Veris, our impact investing clients are enthusiastic about supporting and investing in new sustainable food systems.  They think organic food and local grass-fed beef are part of sustainable solutions.  They want to invest in REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) credits to save the rainforest, as well as complementary and alternative health systems. And, they want a solar future based in new technologies.

But where do our ecosystems factor into the thinking of technologists?  I thought Climate Change concerned us because an actual physical property – carbon and heat – was destroying our ecosystem?  Does technology solve all of this? Is our food coming from 3D printers and Petri dishes?  Is genetic modification so obviously safe and successful that agriculture crops will flourish in a world running out of water?

Ecosystems and technology were the wake-up call for me. Climate change in all ecosystems, economic and health consequences combined with light-speed technology, are clearly critical pivots for a sustainable future. Let us be wise in how they integrate and truly further our lives and planet for seven generations.

Rapid Change Is Upon Us

This isn’t the first time my perception of sustainability has expanded.

In a blog I wrote last year, I made the case that sustainability is a worldview, a mindset, based on mindfulness and interconnectedness. It is not simply the products, technology and services we call “sustainable.” I now see just how powerful technology has become as partner of that worldview.

The continual re-imaging of sustainability is exactly what we need to do.

When we get overly invested in a certain mindset, we miss opportunities. Technology may be the game-changer that we didn’t see coming. Given the rapid pace of innovation, it would be wise to keep an open mind and let insights/solutions, both natural and synthetic, come to us.

 

This article previously appeared on ImpactAlpha

Gender Lens Investing: Growing Interest, Increasing Options

September 22nd, 2016

Editor’s Note: This blog is a complement to a new analysis of gender lens investing (GLI) strategies by Veris Wealth Partners and Women Effect. Gender lens investments direct capital to companies and organizations that support the status and well being of women and girls. To access this information, please visit Women Effect. To read Veris’ GLI analyses from 2013 and 2015, please go to our Research page.


 

by Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, CFP®, Senior Wealth Manager, and Alison Pyott, Partner & Senior Wealth Manager

In a few short years, Gender Lens Investing has moved from promising concept to potentially one of the next big things in impact and sustainable investing.

That’s one of the clear takeaways from a new, joint analysis on Gender Lens Investing by Veris and Women Effect published this week.

Consider the following:

  • Assets Under Management (AUM) disclosed by GLI strategies investing in publically traded securities grew from $100 million as of Sept. 30, 2014 to $561 million as of June 30, 2016. That’s approaching a 500% increase.
  • As of June 30 2016, there were 15 public market GLI equity and debt solutions, up from nine as of Sept. 30, 2014. Two of the new vehicles target non-U.S investors, including Canadian and those in select European and Asian countries.
  • More than half of the growth in AUM has been in the Gender Diversity Index ETF (SHE) from State Street Global Advisors. The ETF was launched in March 2016 and was seeded with an initial $250 million from Calsters (California State Teachers Retirement System).

The growth is the result of an accelerating desire by individual and institutional investors to place capital in investments that directly benefit women and girls.

 

Investment in Gender Lens Strategies Reporting AUM
($561 Million as of June 30, 2016)

 gli-chart

“Expanding The Pie”

While the growth in GLI strategies has been heartening, equally important is the philosophical change they are engendering in the way we think about impact and sustainable investing.

For so long, many of us have viewed the world in “either/or” terms. Do we invest for societal and environmental benefits or purely financial returns? Do we opt for economic growth or a sustainable future?  Ingrained (and often subconscious) biases may lead us to believe that for minorities and women to advance, others must lose. Or, that if we choose inclusive companies, we are settling for less than stellar investment performance. Our reality is seemingly zero-sum. I win, you lose.

This represents a scarcity mentality, as if life’s opportunities were a static pie and sharing it with more people means less for everyone.

However, people, communities and the environment are not pies! We all exist in a dynamic ecosystem that constantly responds to new inputs.  GLI is a way to move beyond “either/or” thinking to “both/and” investing. More money invested in women and girls means more opportunities for society as a whole, men and boys included.

The good news is that GLI is taking off.  More investing solutions will emerge as momentum grows for investing for gender parity. At the same time, a more holistic view of GLI’s benefits will bring more investors into the space, and that will benefit every segment of society.

Economic Update Q2 2016

July 27th, 2016

by Jane Swan, CFA, Senior Wealth Manager

The surprise outcome of the Brexit vote was one of the second quarter’s biggest events. Citizens of the U.K. voted to leave the economic and political partnership of the European Union, roiling world markets and sending the British pound to 30 year lows. But the sharp and immediate negative market reaction quickly dissipated. If we consider an investment of $100 the day before the vote, we see that in almost all broad markets, the quick and early losses were largely recovered. This serves as a reminder to use caution when tempted to react to market volatility. Absent sustained market impact, we continue to focus on the long term social and environmental implications of the vote as well as the upcoming election in the United States.

Value of $100 invested the day before the Brexit vote
Yahoo! Finance

Yahoo! Finance

This burst of volatility in late June had little impact on the total quarterly returns for most segments of the stock market. The S&P 500 (U.S. large cap) markets dropped over 5 percent immediately following the vote but finished the quarter up 2.5 percent. For the first half of the year, the large cap market is up 3.8 percent. The Russell 2000 index (small cap) was up 3.8 percent in the quarter, 2.2 percent for the year. Developed international markets dropped almost 10 percent in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and recovered only half of that before the end of the quarter. The MSCI EAFE (developed markets) fell a total of 1.2 percent for the quarter and is down 4 percent year to date.  MSCI Emerging Markets had less of a jolt from the vote and ended the quarter up 0.8 percent for the quarter, up 6.6 percent year to date.

2016 Q2 Asset Class Returns
PMC Capital Markets Flash Report For Periods Ending June 30, 2016

PMC Capital Markets Flash Report For Periods Ending June 30, 2016

Domestic fixed income markets benefited from the flight to safety often associated with global economic uncertainty. The yield on the 10 year Treasury dropped to 1.48 percent. This added 3 percent to the total return of Treasuries in the second quarter bringing their year to date total return to 7.95 percent.  Other investment grade bonds were up year to date and in the quarter, but did not have the scale of benefit from the “flight to quality” of Treasuries. Corporate bonds were up 2.2 percent for the quarter, 5.3 percent year to date. Municipals were up 2.6 percent in the quarter, 4.3 percent year to date. High yield was the best performer of the major indexes, up 5.5 percent for the quarter and 9.1 percent so far this year.

Return for the quarter and year to date has been strongest in the sectors sometimes thought of as late-cycle sectors. The rebound in oil prices that began in January continued through much of the quarter. This contributed to the energy sector being the best performing sector in the quarter. Strong returns also came from Telecom, Utilities, Consumer Staples and Materials. However, Health Care, Industrials, Financials, Consumer Discretionary and Technology have had weaker results in the quarter and year to date. With Technology and Financials being the two largest sectors in the market, making up over a third of the S&P 500, their negative performance so far has considerably constrained the total market return.

2016 Q2 Sector Returns
PMC Capital Markets Flash Report For Periods Ending June 30, 2016

PMC Capital Markets Flash Report For Periods Ending June 30, 2016

The seemingly fleeting market impact of the Brexit vote does not make it a non-event. The U.K.’s departure from the European Union has repercussions beyond short-term investment returns. As trade dependencies between the U.K. and the E.U. will likely lead to relatively favorable trade policies negotiated over the months and years to come, the vote represents a significant symbolic blow to the ideals of the Union. The broader impact of the European Union was demonstrated by the 2012 receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of “over six decades of contributions to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”[1] Polling suggests the vote to exit was largely motivated by a perceived ability to better constrain immigration into the U.K. when independent of the union’s humanitarian guiding principles. Significant populations of voters were motivated to vote based on this platform of fear.

With upcoming elections in the United States, France, and Germany, the tone, composition and results of this election have greater implications. In the face of increasing income inequality, we have seen a growing appetite for campaigns emphasizing anti-immigrant and anti-government rhetoric. We see this in the rise to power of Theresa May in the U.K., the popularity of Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump’s status as the Republican nominee for president in the United States.

Violent Crime Trends in the U.S.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Generated using the NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool at www.bjs.gov. 22-Jul-16

Bureau of Justice Statistics. Generated using the NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool at www.bjs.gov. 22-Jul-16

In 1980 CNN was founded as the first 24-hour news station. Today, dozens of channels recruit viewers to 24-hours of news. Through this time “news” has become a commodity through which stations sell advertising by recruiting viewers. News outlets may sprinkle stories about panda bears playing with their babies, but the primary tease and consistent voice lures viewers with fear. Across borders, politicians follow this trend as they seek to inspire followers by exploiting their deepest anxieties. Xenophobic, anti-immigrant platforms capitalize on this culture of fear despite significant statistical declines in crime. This tactic is the opposite of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s approach when he famously declared in his inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In the context of this climate of fear, we are grateful for the choices our clients have made to design their investment portfolios in line with a better future. While most of our portfolios exclude segments of the economy or particular companies that we and our clients think contribute to harm, much of our client assets are also invested in solutions. Our clients invest in companies that recognize that welcoming a diversity of employees and paying them a fair wage attracts and retains the best talent. Our clients invest in companies developing and advancing technologies that mitigate climate change, conserve resources, and reduce waste. Our clients invest in loan funds that are advancing affordable housing, expanding job opportunities in under-served areas, and improving access to health care. It is our distinct honor, amidst the chaos and fear, to engage in this work.

The Power of UNICEF’s Next Generation Program

June 2nd, 2016

By Rebecca Orlowitz, Wealth Management Associate

When someone looks at their wealth, they see multiple components. It includes their investments, savings, and their giving. This last piece – the giving – is what led me to impact investing.

I actually wasn’t aware that investing and innovative philanthropy could do so much good until I joined the Next Generation. Since 2010, I have been on the junior board of UNICEF USA called, “Next Generation.” We fundraise for different projects using our networks to increase our reach and our impact. To date we have raised nearly $6 million for 12 different projects.

UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund. It is supported entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, corporations and private individuals. UNICEF receives no funding from the assessed dues of the United Nations. UNICEF operates in 197 countries and is already “in-country” before emergency or disaster strikes. UNICEF is invited in by local governments and works hand in hand with them.

UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. 90.2% of every $1 donated goes directly to children, and it has the highest rating by Charity Navigator. UNICEF is very lean in terms of overhead and its staff from Caryl Stern, CEO, on down is committed and talented.

Here are some key Impact Initiatives that make UNICEF so effective:

Advocacy
UNICEF advocates for the protection and development of the world’s children. Through petitions and letters, we encouraged President Obama to sign the Girls Count Act into law in 2015. This legislation directs support to birth certificate registration, to help ensure that girls especially can be full participants in society.

US and Global Focus
UNICEF created a Fitbit like device called, the “Kid Power Band.” UNICEF Kid Power gives school children in the US the power to unlock funding to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to severely malnourished children around the world. The more kids give, the more points they earn, the more lives they save. And they learn about creating impact early on.

Inspired Marketplace
UNICEF has an online market offering thousands of handmade items produced by artisans from around the globe. The proceeds benefit UNICEF programs and support local entrepreneurs. NextGen curates a section, so you can see what we think is cool! You can also shop for inspired gifts such as desks, tents, blanks, and vaccines (just to name a few), which go to children in need.

Climate Change
UNICEF has taken the strong position that “climate change both feeds on and accentuates inequality and children are disproportionately vulnerable to these impacts.” UNICEF is incorporating climate resilience into interventions and program areas as well as data collection, technical assistance to governments, and policy advocacy. UNICEF is stepping up its efforts to systematically green the organization, including reporting and investing in renewable energy and resource efficient facilities and operations. “Unless we act now: The impact of climate change on children.” Read more here.

Water
UNICEF Tap is our water project. Together with our partners, we created a website that monitors the motion of your cell phone and for every five minutes you don’t touch your phone, our donors will fund one full day supply of drinking water for a child. This is a great way to keep everyone’s attention during meetings. Check it out for yourself here.

Innovation Labs
UNICEF’s collaborative incubation accelerators bring businesses, universities, governments and civil society together to create sustainable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing children and youth. Some of the projects include:

– Mobil Health systems including real time test results, tracking patients through SMS to ensure they receive help.

– DigiSchool is a solar powered school in a suitcase which provides access to quality learning content 24/7.

– UNICEF just launched an innovation fund, its very own impact investment vehicle! Investments will be in the form of small grants first, followed by venture capital (VC) like equity investments.

Small Ripples of Change
During my 6 years working with UNICEF I have been part of a global organization transforming to create greater impact for children. I have seen impact philanthropy beginning to spawn impact investing. I have learned personally that integrating my investing, giving and work in the world causes small ripples of change. I look forward to continuing this journey and invite you to contact me or click here to learn more about NextGen’s impact on the world’s children.

Reflecting on New Ways to Connect

May 11th, 2016

By Lori Choi, Partner & Wealth Manager

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Transforming Family Philanthropy Retreat with an inspiring group of young people, all seeking to align their family giving and investing with social justice values.

Organized by Resource Generation (RG), the retreat was a thoughtful combination of racial and economic justice education, skill-building workshops around social justice, impact investing, and managing family dynamics. Veris was happy to sponsor this conference, and we were thrilled that several Veris clients attended as well.

This was my fourth time attending an RG retreat, and each past conference has influenced my views and understanding of social justice in some way.

I recently attended the Transforming Family Philanthropy Retreat and I found myself moved to apply the social justice philanthropy principles to the world of impact investing in new ways.

In particular, the principles that resonated most deeply with me were focusing on the root causes of problems rather than the symptoms (e.g. through advocacy, organizing, and engagement), and involving those most impacted by the problem into the decision-making process.

Throughout the weekend, I kept asking myself – how could these principles work in impact investing?

Three Ways To Have Impact

The first idea that came to mind was something we had been incubating after hearing clients’ desires for a greater connection to their impact investments. Why not invite clients to visit the impact organizations, so that they can see first hand the people and communities that they are supporting with their investment dollars? We continue to work on this idea, and welcome your input on how Veris can help you develop relationships with your impact investments.

The second idea is how we can share decision-making power with communities most impacted. This is a difficult principle to apply, even within impact investing. However, I was reminded of RSF Social Finance’s approach to determining interest rates for investors and borrowers. The group hosts quarterly Pricing Meetings2 that bring together the stakeholders in the fund – investors, borrowers, and staff – to determine mutually beneficial rates that reflect the needs of the entire community. While this approach may not be applicable to all asset classes, it serves as a good reminder to consider the integrity of the “how” in an investment, and not just the “what.”

The last thing that came to mind for me is how the impact investment industry has been able to tackle some of the root causes of problems created by corporations. Although public equities may be dubbed by some as not truly “impactful” even with the integration of ESG criteria, I look at this asset class as an example of what is possible. Many of our equity impact managers, including Boston Common, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments, and Pax World, have been doing this work for years. They have been tirelessly engaging corporations in dialogue about questionable practices on behalf of shareholders, and leveraging proxy voting and resolution writing to change behavior. I feel encouraged that this shareholder activism is an element of impact that we support at Veris.

I look forward to thinking more about how Veris can help our clients increase their connection to their impact investments, and hope that you will speak with your advisor about any ideas you may have too.

 

Veris Guest Blog: Navigating Rough Waters

April 22nd, 2016

By Timothy P. Dunn, CFA, Founder, Managing Member and Chief Investment Officer of Terra Alpha Investments, LLC

Adapting to a Water-Stressed Future
Water is a resource needed by everyone on the planet, but few fully appreciate the accelerating risk that a lack of water might mean to a company or an investor.

In this blog, we outline the challenges facing companies and investors as water becomes a scarcer resource. We offer a number of suggestions about how to address the investment and operational risks in a water-stressed future, and we provide further analysis in our white paper, Navigating Rough Waters.

Environmental Productivity
At a higher level, though, this blog is about environmental productivity, an emerging idea in investment analysis.

Environmental productivity focuses on the efficiency with which companies use and impact natural resources. In our view, the more efficient a company is in using resources such as water, the greater the likelihood of higher risk-adjusted returns for investors. Environmental productivity is a game-changer for investors thinking about how to deploy capital.

This new investment approach is possible because of the growing availability of quality data about corporate carbon and water usage, as well the other environmental impacts, such as waste output. The good news today is that we now have an expanding body of actual data to gauge the usage of precious environmental resources. In the days and years ahead, more environmental impacts will be factored into investment analysis.

Environmental Productivity WaterA Thirsty World
With regard to the stress on global water resources, it’s useful to put the big picture into perspective.

In 2015, the World Economic Forum called the global water crises “the biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade.” The demand for water is rising faster than the world’s population. Between 2007 and 2025, water use is predicted to increase 50% in developing countries and 18% in developed countries. By 2030, experts project a 40% gap between global supplies of and demand for freshwater.

At the same time, the global supply of water is becoming more variable and unreliable. Only 2.5% of Earth’s water is fresh water. By 2025, 67% of the world’s population is expected to be living in water-scarce regions, compared to about 20% in 2015. Rising global temperatures can cause faster glacial melting, more evaporation, and less snowfall, all of which raise the risk of 
drought. The severity and frequency of extreme droughts and floods are increasing.

Exacerbating the problem is that water infrastructure worldwide is dated and inefficient. In the U.S. alone, our existing infrastructure loses about 2.1 trillion gallons of water each year, or 1.7% of annual water usage. From a business perspective, water constraints are having a bottom line impact. In 2015, 405 global companies reported detrimental water challenges that totaled more than $2.5 billion.

The point is clear: Ignoring water-associated risks is a significant peril to companies, investors and of course humans.

What Investors Should Do
So what is an investor to do?

In our view, it’s essential to incorporate environmental factors, including corporate water usage and water stress exposure, into investment analysis and portfolio creation. As important, investors need to request that companies measure and report their water usage and impact information on a routine basis.

Among the water-related issues that should be consider in portfolio construction:

  • Identify material amounts of potentially stranded assets due to water risks. Has the company provided locations of their largest assets and are any exposed to negative changes in weather patterns or sea level rise?
  • Identify operational risks due to availability of water or changing weather patterns that could disrupt production facilities and supply chains.
  • Identify operational opportunities of a company versus its peers, and/or in terms of improvements in operations, to lower costs related to water.
  • Incorporate efficiency factors into earnings forecasts.
  • Incorporate balance sheet and operational risks into the valuation process.

In fact, some institutional investors have already begun factoring water risk into the investment analysis. Norges Bank Investment Management and CalPERS have publicly stated they consider the water risks of their portfolio holdings. Private equity firms Carlyle Group and KKR, among others, expect their portfolio companies to assess and manage their water risks and seek to improve water-related efficiencies. This is what we do at Terra Alpha Investments. 

What Companies Should Do
For their part, companies need to do their own risk assessment. All potential physical (quantity and quality), reputational, and regulatory risks must be acknowledged and assessed. The risks will vary depending on where the company operates.

To properly size those risks, it’s critical for firms to evaluate their total water usage. A full water risk analysis includes measuring direct water usage, waste, value chain footprint, and assessing local conditions in areas of both current and future operation.

Additionally, a company’s water footprint must be regularly monitored and operate under the assumption that water-related events can suddenly appear and can have severe ramifications. A water footprint is not static.

Once measured, it is critical for companies to publicly disclose water risk data. Water is a material factor that aids investors in their investment analysis. Full disclosure also gives companies the ability to optimize water efficiency and minimize water risk. Investors should expect transparency of material information.

More and more companies are recognizing the importance of water disclosure. In 2013, which is the latest data available, 1,025 companies publicly shared their water metrics. As disclosure rates continue to rise, a company can more accurately benchmark performance against that of their peers.

The Bottom Line
As world population grows, water demand will only grow. Every company, as well as every investor, would be well-served to make sure they understand water-related risks.

Timothy P. Dunn, CFA, is Founder, Managing Member and Chief Investment Officer of Terra Alpha Investments, LLC, an advocacy investment firm.

*The information presented by Mr. Dunn is not an endorsement of Terra Alpha Investments by Veris Wealth Partners

Happy International Women’s Day!

March 8th, 2016

By Rebecca Orlowitz, Wealth Management Associate, and Luisamaria Carlile, Senior Wealth Manager

We at Veris wish you a hopeful and strong International Women’s Day.

In honor of this occasion, our Veris offices recognize three amazing organizations that are advancing women and girls. Their work highlights what’s possible with a local community organization, a well-known global entity and a business oriented organization.

Roseli_Oasis_group-1000pxlOasis For Girls

Oasis For Girls partners with girls and young women of color from under-resourced communities in San Francisco. The program helps them cultivate the skills, knowledge, and confidence to discover their dreams and build strong futures. Programs include Life Skills and Career Exploration to counter risk behaviors for girls vulnerable to drug and alcohol use, dropping out of school, or becoming ensnared in the juvenile justice system.

Learn more here: http://www.sfoasis.org/

 

 

unicefgirlsbannerUNICEF

UNICEF’s work to promote gender equality and empower women focuses on education. Keeping girls in school and avoiding early marriage or work is the single most effective policy for raising overall economic productivity. It is also key to lowering infant and maternal mortality, educating the next generation, improving nutrition and promoting health. With millions of child refugees around the world, it is more important than ever to support access to education — especially for girls. UNICEF-funded schools provide safety and a sense of normalcy for children to grow and learn. Mothers who have had some education are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school as are mothers with no education.

Learn more here: http://www.unicef.org/mdg/gender.html

 

handsCatalyst

Catalyst’s mission is to accelerate women’s workplace inclusion through research, tools and services, events, and recognition programs. Its work raises awareness of how inclusion benefits today’s global businesses, and provides guidance and solutions on how to enact real change.  Catalyst has more than 800 supporting organizations around the world including companies, firms, business schools, and associations that collectively employ millions of women. Their latest call to action is #DisruptTheDefault, encouraging companies and individuals to shake up the way we think, speak, and act, and pushing boldly for meaningful change in the workplace and world for women and men.

Learn more here: http://www.catalyst.org/

Veris supports the spirit of International Women’s Day and is committed to the social and economic progress of women and girls. To learn how Veris is empowering women and girls both in the U.S. and abroad, click here to see our white papers about Gender Lens Investing.

 

Impact Investing in Denver

February 11th, 2016

By Casey Verbeck, Director, Business Development

It’s hard not to be awed by the natural splendor of the Rockies, or for that matter, the zeal with which Coloradans are now embracing impact investing.

Over the past few years, the Mile High City, always known for its progressive thinking about the environment, has emerged as a hotbed of impact investing.

The proof points are not only the growing interest we see in Veris’ Boulder office, but also by the number of impact investing events taking place here. In fact, there will be at least four important gatherings this year. They include the following:

  • Colorado Impact Days, March 2-4. This event is part of the Colorado Impact Initiative whose goal is to raise $100 million to help fund impact-minded entrepreneurs.
  • Impact/SRI & ESG, Sept. 19. Financial Advisor IQ and Private Wealth will again by hosting the 5th Annual Impact/SRI & ESG summit in Denver.
  • SRI Conference, Nov. 9-11. The 27th Annual SRI Conference has come back to Denver and will bring together thought leaders to discuss impact investing solutions, financial products and key industry topics.

What’s Driving the Interest?

From our vantage point, we see at least three major drivers accelerating the interest in impact investing.

First, Millennials, those born between the early 1980s to early 2000s – are passionate about impact investing. They immediately see the benefit of aligning their values and their wealth, whether it is community wealth building, creating solutions to global warming, sustainable agriculture, or gender lens investing.

Increasingly, Millennials are having more influence on the investment decisions of their parents and grandparents. As a result, a growing number of Baby Boomers are also beginning to understand the power of impact investing.

This important shift is not only taking place in Denver, but across the country. Millennials, among other demographics, are re-shaping how people think about managing their wealth. It’s very exciting to see this new wave of enthusiasm for having impact with your wealth.

Foundations Making A Difference

Second, foundations are recognizing, they also can create impact with their portfolios.  They have the opportunity to further their mission by aligning their endowments with their mission, expanding their programmatic granting.

In talking to foundations in Colorado, I have found many are surprised (or disappointed) to learn their capital does not support sustainability. Too much capital is invested in the fossil fuel economy or simply doesn’t factor social and environmental impact into investment decision-making.

Foundations and other institutional investors increasingly realize by making impact investing a priority, they can influence the behavior of companies and invest in solutions to create a more sustainable world.

Smarter Way To Invest

Finally, more savvy investors are realizing the implications of having exposure to fossil fuels or companies not considering social and environment factors in their business planning.  These investors increasingly understand that companies focused on sustainable solutions in their operations, product and services are creating the best ideas for today and tomorrow.

The conversation is shifting, and today, being a responsible investor means investing in companies that are mindful of all the environmental and social impacts of their operations.

The good news is more investments are available now than ever before to achieve these objectives. The key is making the commitment to learn about impact investing approaches and adapting your investment strategy to align your values with smart decisions.

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The bottom line is that Coloradans are setting a great example with their deepening interest in impact investing. It’s incredibly motivating to be part of that movement.