Why investors are still finding it difficult to invest in a better world

I’m not sure about how ready the wider financial profession is to have a female client tell them they are letting the children down

Rebecca Kowalski, company director, Overstory Finance


Rebecca Kowalski, company director, Overstory Finance

I had an insightful conversation with a wealthy businesswoman and investor last week. She shared her personal sustainable finance journey with a great deal of honesty. The conversation was being recorded for sharing so I am not breaching any confidence here.

When she sold a business for a significant sum several years back, she searched in vain for a financial adviser who could offer her some values led, impact orientated, nature friendly investment solutions. She wanted to invest for a better world for her children. She was met with blank stares, as if talking in a foreign language.

See also: – Can the sustainable investing conversation move from peripheral to personal?

It’s not a story that surprised me, I have heard it several  times before. What was different about this investor though, was that she didn’t give up. For the sake of this article, I’ll refer to my investor friend as Flora (seems relevant as Roman Goddess of flowers and youth). She kept up her pursuit of sustainable retail investment options and found two of the impact/environmentally orientated discretionary managers who have my greatest confidence.

Still not fully satisfied, she then figured out how much of her capital she could afford to take a bit more risk/or a longer-term view with (Flora would make a pretty good financial adviser). With that slice of the pie, Flora sought out start up businesses with green purpose but still felt that the impact was not strong and fast enough. Flora is aware of the gravity of climate change and our breaking of planetary boundaries and wants her money to fund solutions that can deliver immediate environmental and social benefits.  Community energy schemes were one option that she decided to invest in. 

What did surprise me about my conversation with Flora was the effect it had on the other person with us, a non-client-facing member of the financial planning profession. I’ll call him Janus for consistency (the Roman God of  beginnings, doorways and transitions), it seems relevant in the circumstances. Janus was keen to give Flora a bigger platform and a wider financial planning audience.  

I fully expected Flora’s story to be interesting and compelling, as I know she is a frank and persuasive speaker. However, as a person who (not always but often) restrains my words in a bid not to offend or alienate, I found it insightful that her messaging lit such a spark. 

Flora uses real language, free of financial planning and investment jargon, and is every bit as impassioned and determined as a young climate activist. I wholeheartedly agree that her views are valuable and informative for members of the finance profession who still think that clients “are not interested in sustainable investing”. This was the exact reason I had asked her to spare some time to have a public conversation with me. 

What I wasn’t so sure about was how ready the wider financial profession is to have a female client tell them, in so many words, that they are letting the children down, dawdling and dithering and failing to capitalise on a vital opportunity to fund positive impact. 

After all, some of us didn’t seem to like it when Greta Thunberg sent a similar message to Baillie Gifford. I suppose it is understandable that someone who is older, has  more professional experience and has to some extent engaged with the industry is a more welcome orator than a 20 year old. Even a 20 year old who is world famous, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace prize and has purportedly generated enough income to be a high-net-worth client herself.

As a person who interacts both with finance professionals and climate and environmental action advocates, young and old, rich and poor, tortoise and hare (the tortoise might not have time to finish the sustainability race), I have experienced many instances of one side slinging mud at the other. Although, if I had to pick a side, I’d be in Team Climate, I think this divide is sad and unhelpful. We all have common goals, disasters to avoid and treasures to preserve. For this reason, I wish Greta had come to Edinburgh and ideally spoken to a room full of financial professionals and maybe their children too.

This was not to be, but I do take great heart from the fact that Flora’s voice will be shared to the profession, alongside other thought leaders, via various channels over the coming months. You may hear this valuable investor view via a podcast, a webinar, echoing through the guidance and solutions I share with advisers, and perhaps even at an event in Edinburgh.

We have a lot to learn, not all investors will have the conviction and wherewithal that Flora did to find the right investment solutions for their purse, their people and their one and only planet. For the many that don’t, it is the professional adviser’s role to guide them to that place – to be like Janus, the God of doorways and transitions.

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