GreenMoney Interview Series: Impact Assets
ImpactAssets co-founders Tim Freundlich, Ron Cordes, and Wayne Silby interviewed by GreenMoney founder Cliff Feigenbaum
Recently, GreenMoney founder Cliff Feigenbaum sat down for a conversation with ImpactAssets co-founders Tim Freundlich, Ron Cordes, and Wayne Silby to discuss how they are catalyzing capital to change the world.
Five years ago, Tim, Ron and Wayne recognized the enormous demand for impact investing had not translated into significant capital. They also determined the low capital flows and general lack of awareness were largely due to the absence of a good system for finding, processing and measuring impact investments. To meet that need, they launched ImpactAssets with the initial support of Calvert Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.
Their first product, The Giving Fund, is a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) that has surpassed $200 million in assets with more than 150 impact investment holdings from over 700 families. They are just about to introduce low minimum, publicly offered debt notes that will help broaden investor access to microfinance and sustainable agriculture investments.
Cliff: What has the path been for ImpactAssets?
Tim: In 2010, we launched ImpactAssets (www.impactassets.org) out of the Calvert Foundation as a non-profit financial services firm that increases the flow of capital into investments that deliver financial, social, and environmental returns. Basically, we’re building a platform to enable asset owners and their wealth managers to advance positive change through investment. Support from impact investing pioneers has been instrumental. Beyond our co-founders, Ron Cordes and Wayne Silby, they include Charly and Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation, Liesel Pritzker Simmons and Ian Simmons of Blue Haven Initiative, Gerhard Pries, as well as Mennonite Economic Development Associates.
Cliff: How did the three of you get together to launch ImpactAssets?
Wayne: I was involved in impact investing at Calvert Investments working on the social venture capital activities as well as with Calvert Foundation. Impact investing was still being driven by a few, rather than many – which is not a sustainable ecosystem. Ron wanted to do something with impact, and I was excited when he reached out to me. Ron is a visionary with a reputable track record on Wall Street, and I knew his interest could help move impact investing from the margins to the mainstream. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to collaborate and leverage Ron’s leadership, history, and networks.
Ron: I spent the first half of my life building businesses to be the best in the world. For the second half, I really wanted to support businesses that are the best for the world. In 2007, the Cordes Foundation made our first series of impact investments, and we discovered how hard it was to actually find and invest in these firms. We were electronically pounding the pavement, using Google as our guide. There was no centralized infrastructure. One of the funds we discovered was Good Capital, co-founded by Tim. He and I became friends and I became interested in what he was doing at Calvert Foundation, incubating its Donor Advised Fund (DAF). I reached out to Wayne and learned of the Foundation’s intent to spin out the DAF with Tim’s involvement. Wayne is an extraordinary leader, and gets things done. Tim is one of the most creative and entrepreneurial thinkers in the space.
Cliff: How do Donor Advised Funds work?
Tim: It’s a three-step process – give, invest and grant. With ImpactAsset’s Giving Fund, you donate philanthropic dollars, grant some immediately, and place the rest in an array of impact investments. Either you recommend those investments, or select from our platform. You make more philanthropic grants as your investment capital grows. The Giving Fund enables you to increase your philanthropic impact by growing your capital through impact investing. It’s unique from other DAF’s in that, for a $5,000 minimum, you can bring your philanthropy and investment capital together to solve world issues.
Cliff: Why was a DAF your initial means of catalyzing impact capital?
Wayne: Bringing investments to investors is about the vision, and also about the plumbing – the mechanism of delivery. When the visionaries meet the plumbers, things happen. The DAF enabled us to create that plumbing. As Tim mentioned, what makes this system different is the impact investing platform. You grant some of your investment out, and put the rest directly to work for causes you believe in.
Ron: The Giving Fund impact investing platform covers all themes, sectors, and geographies, with everything from individual companies to leading venture capital impact disruptors, seed ventures to top-tier impact fund managers. That’s the real differentiator from other donor advised funds in the market.
Tim: Fran Seegull, ImpactAssets’ Chief Investment Officer, curates the platform. She’s a recognized impact investment leader, with a venture capital background. Her team sources, conducts diligence on and measures financial and impact returns for investments representing one of the most comprehensive, high quality impact portfolios in the market. The portfolio includes over 150 direct company investments, over 50 private debt and equity impact funds, and roughly 15 ESG/SRI mutual funds.
We were also fortunate to tap Jed Emerson as Chief Impact Strategist. He’s been critical in providing high caliber thought leadership and practitioner education that enables investors and their advisors to make informed decisions. He recently co-authored an issue brief, “The Millennial Perspective,” which is an invaluable resource for advisors looking to evolve their practices to serve wealthy millennials interested in impact investing. In 2014, Beth Stelluto came on board as our Chief Growth Officer, and has been instrumental to our 75 percent growth.
Cliff: How is the annual ImpactAssets 50 list of fund managers representative of your mission as an impact investing catalyst?
Ron: We recognized there was no source for information on impact investment fund managers. So, at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative, I introduced the ImpactAssets 50, a free database of the top 50 managers in social and environmental impact investing. It’s available on www.impactassets.org, and is refreshed annually. Today, it’s the go-to resource for those new to impact investing. It’s also become a distinct “feather in the cap” for managers on the list.
Cliff: The Giving Fund sits at the intersection of impact investment and philanthropy, allowing for a wide array of choices. How do you see donors engaging with the fund?
Tim: That intersection provides a great deal of flexibility in how donors can engage. Some manifest their giving through impact investing. For others, it’s all about giving. We see three primary ways donor clients utilize The Giving Fund to align their capital with their values.
First, there’s the “Impact Entrepreneur,” who believes entrepreneurship can solve the worlds’ biggest problems. They feel the way to create change and sustainability is by investing capital in innovative, young companies addressing global issues. They’ll often recommend a company they’re interested in. Our investment team will assess the company, and if it checks out, The Giving Fund will invest the donor’s capital into it.
Next, there’s the “Impact Investor,” who likes the access to private debt and equity investments curated by our investment team. They believe true diversification includes more than just public market investing. The Global Impact Ventures Platform and the Seed Venture Platform feature quality investment opportunities with top-tier impact fund managers and individual companies across all stages of growth.
Finally, the “Impact Aligned Philanthropist” is primarily focused on philanthropic granting. Their approach to impact investing within The Giving Fund is a strategic allocation to ESG/SRI mutual funds and impact debt. They’re primarily focused on liquid options for investment, though they have a range of time horizons.
Cliff: What’s next for ImpactAssets?
Ron: We’ll be launching two Impact Investment Notes this Fall. They’re the first in a range of products accessible outside of the DAF. Their structure is a real game changer. We’re working with Microvest and Alterfin, both highly respected portfolio managers in microfinance and global sustainable agriculture, respectively. The Notes provide far lower investment minimums than typically seen in private debt funds and an attractive rate of return. Plus, they can be bought by and held in your brokerage account. These are critical features for an impact structure that seeks to further democratize impact investing, and great news for advisors and investors seeking ease and transparency.
Wayne: Our mission is to push the envelope and innovate in ways that continue to break barriers to broad-based impact investing. We have to drive toward what’s needed, what’s missing, and what’s next in areas of research and investment product development, all from our uniquely differentiated position. At the same time, we’re acting within a field with major recent movement from big players like Goldman Sachs, Bain, and BlackRock. That’s creating more substantive commitments to impact investing.
Tim: For research and field building, we’ll focus on leveraging our massive scope as asset owners across class, sector, geographic and type. Our 150 position impact investment portfolio is adding roughly 10 new positions per month. That presents a unique, increasing opportunity to focus on metrics, impact reporting and research.
We must be a long-term partner to wealth advisors, and serve as a resource over the years as they evolve with the market. We’ll jump forward from the sustainable agriculture and microfinance notes we’re now launching to build a suite of offerings that can meet the market where it is, and pull it forward. As we quickly scale through $1 billion, we’ll become a significant and additive market maker for funds and managers to tap a much more diverse and democratic base of impact investment capital. We’re moving into an accelerating renaissance of capital and entrepreneurship, spurred by generational shifts in assets and values, and made poignant by climate change and wealth and justice gaps.
These are interesting times. Not only can we dream bigger, we must dream bigger.
Ron Cordes – Board Member and Chairman, Executive Committee
Ron has enjoyed an iconic 30-plus year career in the investment industry. He co-founded and then sold AssetMark Investment Services to Genworth Financial in 2006, and was involved in the re-acquisition of the firm with private equity investors in 2013. He is currently Executive Co-Chairman of AssetMark, which is responsible for over $25 billion in assets under management for individual and institutional clients. He is co-author of “The Art of Investing & Portfolio Management,” published in 2004 by McGraw Hill, and was recognized as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. He holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of California, Berkeley. Ron speaks and writes extensively on the field of impact investing, and has been profiled in publications including The New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Financial Planning and Financial Advisor magazines. He is a co-founder with his wife, Marty, of the Cordes Foundation, and serves on the Boards of FairTrade USA, Encore.org, ImpactAssets, MicroVest and the Center for Social Impact Learning at the Middlebury Institute.
Wayne Silby – Chairman, Board of Directors, Executive Committee & Investment Committee Member
Wayne Silby founded Calvert Investments, a $15B investment management group in Bethesda, MD, noted for its leadership in the area of socially responsible investment. Though he is no longer active in most of the day-to-day business of Calvert, he serves as president of Calvert Social Investment Fund and supervises its private equity activities. Mr. Silby also co-founded Social Venture Network, a group of socially oriented entrepreneurs and investors, and Calvert Social Venture Partners, one of the first socially-oriented venture capital funds. He helped start an Internet company focused on group collaboration, called GroupServe Foundation, which he now chairs. He also started the Emerging Europe Fund for Sustainable Investment, a $60M Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) private equity fund focused on Central Europe. Mr. Silby sits on the board of UNIFI, the Calvert Foundation, Calvert Funds, the Ice Organization (UK), Syntao (Beijing), Committee for the Future (DC) and the Grameen Foundation. He serves as the Chairman of the ImpactAssets Board of Directors and also serves on ImpactAssets’ Investment Committee. He has a Bachelor of Science in economics from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Juris Doctor from the Georgetown University Law Center.
Tim Freundlich – President
Mr. Freundlich is a long-time innovator in new financial instruments in the social enterprise sector, which he now applies as the head of ImpactAssets. He has served in a number of capacities at Calvert Foundation over the last fourteen years, including his current role as special consultant. At Calvert Foundation, he conceived of and launched the Giving Fund, was instrumental in building the $225 million Calvert Community Investment Note and helped to launch Community Investment Partners, an analysis and asset administration business. He co-founded and serves as managing partner for Good Capital, including its flagship Social Enterprise Expansion Fund LP and its two operating spin outs: 1) the annual Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conferences in San Francisco and Europe and 2) Hub Bay Area, a co-working, meeting and community space. Additionally, he serves on the steering committee of Hub North America. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of San Francisco.