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What is Impact Investing and What Can it do for Your Investment Portfolio?

Our content series gets under the skin of impact investing

Ready, steady, go. Impact investing, an asset field similar to that of the SRI (Sustainable and Responsible Investment) landscape is gaining traction with investors. It represents the opportunity to propel both private and public money towards investments that pinpoint measurable positive social impact alongside financial returns. In light of an increasingly socially and environmentally conscious society, impact investing brings an extra dimension to the management and the scope of an investment portfolio.So, what exactly does impact investment entail? Is it an investment fad? And how does corporate governance fit into the equation? Our content series will explore how investors can tune their portfolios towards the future and still ensure a healthy return. What is Impact Investing and What Can it do for Your Investment Portfolio?

 WHAT IS IMPACT INVESTING? 

The term itself was believed to have been coined by The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in 2007. However, it has been in recent months that impact investment has grown into its own, with recognition from the World Bank and other key players. In 2018  The Financial Times  declared that ‘Impact investing has become one of the hottest strategies in fund management’.

The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to scaling impact investments globally defines impact investing as ‘investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return’. The market as of April 2019 was calculated by GIIN to be worth more than half a trillion dollars or $502 billion.

 In its nascent state, impact investing is prised to meet some of the world’s most urgent needs now and in the future. Experts, like Waide Warner, a senior research fellow at the IRI, argues that, “the funding required to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals substantially outstrips the financial capacity of the world’s governments.” As it stands, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says that there is an investment gap of $2.5 trillion, needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries.

But there is a lot of unclarity surrounding the ins and outs of impact investing, particularly in so far as strategic and defined measurements are concerned. Questions arise too about the differences between Impact Investments and those in a similar vein; Ethical investments, Sustainable investments, ESG (Environmental Social Governance) investments and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). This content series aims to demystify the ins and outs of impact investing for all interested individuals who lack clarity about impact investments.

One of the crucial differences between impact investing and the aforementioned areas is that impact investing focuses on both for-profit companies and non-profits organisations.            

 WHY IS IMPACT INVESTING IMPORTANT TO INVESTORS NOW? 

For Glenmede Investment Management (GIM) , an independent U.S. based investment management firm, their foray into impact investing began in 2001. They have since launched 4 large-cap strategies which were built to ‘align client values and investments’ which allow for the prospect of ‘competitive returns for their efforts’.

The demand for impact investing, as experienced by many asset management firms  like Glenmede, is also incentivised by the sheer diversity and wealth of suitable investments available. Investments made in this sector are also not limited to what some commenters have deemed “progressive” causes. Investments can include the following areas to name a few:

  • Health and well being
  • Education
  • Community development
  • Support for small businesses
  • Climate Change
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Sustainable consumer products and fair trade

Impact investing as a field of asset management is also  largely encouraged by female and millennial investors, with research finding that 64% of Gen Y respondents were interested or very keen to invest with impact. What is also encouraging for investors is the significant growth trajectory of this field. Between 2013 and 2017, the International Finance Corporation noted that impact investment grew fivefold

 OPERATING PRINCIPLES FOR IMPACT INVESTING

The International Finance Corporation, a World Bank group, together with 60 global investors who hold over $350bn dollars between them in assets, (Credit Suisse, IFU-Investment Fund for Developing Countries and Acumen Capital Partners to name a few) came together to adopt and launch the ‘Operating Principles for Impact Management’ in April 2019.These principles were  for investors who wish to ‘generate a positive impact for society alongside financial returns in a disciplined and transparent way’, lending much needed clarity and guidance to the process.

A: Strategic Intent

Define strategic impact objective(s), consistent with the investment strategy.

  1. Manage strategic impact on a portfolio basis.

B: Originating & Structuring

  1. Establish the Manager’s contribution to the achievement of impact.
  2. Assess the expected impact of each investment, based on a systematic approach.
  3. Assess, address, monitor, and manage potential negative impacts of each investment.

C: Portfolio Management

Monitor the progress of each investment in achieving impact against expectations and respond appropriately.

D: Impact at Exit

  1. Conduct exits considering the effect on sustained impact.
  2. Review, document, and improve decisions and processes based on the achievement of impact and lessons learned

E: Independent Verification  

  • Independently verify the entire process

 WHAT IS NEXT? 

The Blackrock Investment Institute, a faction of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, say that investors in 2019 need to understand one key thing; Sustainability is the future of investing. This is all thanks to sharper insights and more granular data available amongst a growing awareness of sustainability. Investors today need clear lines drawn and our next blog in this series will delve into new subjects to allow potential investors more insights about the challenges of impact investing, the important of data and analytics and essential tips from other key figures in the industry.