Empowering Women Drives Impact Investing

Empowering Women Drives Impact Investing

The nearly 300 investors, advisors, asset managers and other attendees of High Water Women’s third annual Investing for Impact Symposium held yesterday in New York are taking a variety of approaches to engaging in impact investing but many common themes emerged during the event.
 
The key takeaways: empowering women is a key driver of impact, impact investing is moving into the mainstream, and interest will continue to expand as impact becomes more measurable and as millennials get further entrenched in the investing world.
 
The timing couldn’t have been better for the event hosted by High Water Women, a 501(c)(3) organization that engages women throughout the financial services sector in volunteerism and philanthropic giving. Yesterday, the Department of Labor issued new guidance that will make it easier for ERISA-based retirement plans to consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.
 
“I really believe it’ll be a game changer,” said Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, while announcing the DOL news at the symposium. “We really have something to celebrate today.”
 
Keynote speakers Ron, Marty and Stephanie Cordes captured the audience’s attention while discussing their multi-generational journey into impact investing. Ron and Marty are the co-chairs of the Cordes Foundation, which they founded in 2006 after Ron sold his investment management business. Stephanie, 25, the foundation’s vice chair, joined her parents full-time last year after quitting her job at media company Condé Nast.
 
“I was so laser-focused on having a career in fashion media,” said Stephanie. “I figured philanthropy was more for the baby boomer generation,” she added. “Boy, was I wrong.”
 
The Cordes Foundation, which focuses on the economic empowerment of women and girls, committed in 2014 to deploy 100% of its portfolio to impact investing. The family is also moving its personal portfolio in that direction by trying to make everything as impactful as possible, said Ron, who helped found ImpactAssets, a nonprofit financial services firm that provides impact investment products and educational resources.
 
Like other investors, the Cordes family is pleased that asset managers are becoming increasingly committed to bringing more impact products to investors. “It’s not going to happen all at once, but we’re making progress,” says Ron. “Everyone is now talking about it.”
 
Lisa Hall, managing director of impact investing at Amsterdam-based Anthos Asset Management and former CEO of Calvert Foundation, said during a panel discussion that using a gender lens in investing is much bigger than just looking at the number of women on a board or the number of women being served. When women are empowered by education and receive financing for their businesses, “It improves the entire community,” she says. “It’s not just the lives of the individual women.”
 
Women are also less likely to want to segregate philanthrophy and impact investing, Jackie VanderBrug, a senior vice president within Global Portfolio Solutions and Institutional Investments at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, said during a different panel discussion.
 
During a breakout session focused on measuring impact in public investments, Himani Phadke, who leads research on industry-specific sustainability issues and their financial value impacts at the nonprofit Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB), expressed hope that companies will disclose more information through their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and step up their focus on the intersection of sustainability and finance.
 
Robert Hassler, CEO and co-founder of oekum research AG, a Munich-based sustainability rating agency providing research to institutional investors and asset managers, added that almost 60% of investments in Europe already integrate aspects of socially responsible investing, ESG and impact.
 
Farha-Joyce Haboucha—the director of sustainability and impact investing, a senior portfolio manager and a managing director of Rockefeller & Co.—emphasized the importance of really getting to know companies and their business models “You need to be willing to not have it happen in three seconds,” said Haboucha, who has worked in impact for 25 years. “If you don’t have patience, you’re not going to have impact.”
 
Erika Karp, a panel moderator and founder and CEO of Cornerstone Capital Inc., a woman-owned financial services firm based in New York, expressed optimism that impact investing is starting to go mainstream. “We’ll know we’ve made it,” she says, “when people just say investing.”
 
Original post in Financial Advisor Magazine