Celebrating Innovating Women in Sustainable and Impact Investing

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Sustainable investing — and the participation of women in the impact investing sector — have come a long way since its seedling state in the late 20th century.

But as recently as a decade ago, impact investing was still considered somewhat “alternative”. And that meant it was rife with potential for changemakers and innovators, including many trailblazing women who have carved out unique opportunities to boldly make change in a sector traditionally stacked against them.

And as the numbers bear out, women in impact investing have indeed made significant change. Today, more and more investors are going fossil-free and filtering out companies high in other negative impacts from their portfolios. According to a December 2020 article in Forbes on Why Socially Responsible Investing Is Likely To Gain Momentum Under Biden, the sustainable investing sector has seen a big spike in interest in the last several years — “total US-domiciled assets under management employing ESG investing strategies increased 42 percent over the past two years, to $17 trillion in 2020 up from $12 trillion at the start of 2018. The figure represents 33% of all US assets under professional management, meaning that one in three investing dollars is invested in this manner.”

More than 85% of U.S. investors are now interested in ESG, and half of those are currently taking part in at least one sustainable investing activity, according to Morgan Stanley’s 2019 Sustainable Signals report.

And in Canada, the Responsible Investing Association reports in its 2020 Canadian RI Trends Report that responsible investing “represents 61.8% of Canada’s investment industry, up from 50.6% two years ago”, and that “RI assets grew from $2.1 trillion at the end of 2017 to $3.2 trillion as at December 31st, 2019. This represents a 48% increase in RI assets under management (AUM) over two years.”

Women on all sides of the sector (investors, investees and investment managers) are a big part of the reason sustainable investing has become an over $30 trillion industry globally.

Women participate more in impact investing than in the conventional finance sector.

Leslie Cliff, Genus founding partner Tweet

Leslie Cliff, a founding partner at Genus, says ESG and impact investing benefit from much more gender balance than in traditional finance. “Women really hold their own in the impact world,” she says. “There are a lot of women in ESG and impact investing.”

At Genus, we’re fortunate to have many trailblazing women on board, who have led the way toward establishing and advancing innovative and robust ESG investing initiatives.

We’re proud to have been at the forefront of the sustainable and impact investing movement in Canada. And we’re equally delighted that our story is filled with incredible trailblazing women in impact investing who have helped lead the way to where we are today.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re sharing a few of their stories and accomplishments, starting with Cliff, who co-founded Genus back in 1989, after beginning her career as a stockbroker and portfolio manager.

Back then, one was much less likely to encounter women in the c-suites of the financial sector, much less innovating new financial products, but Cliff jumped at the opportunity to serve client needs with sustainable investment offerings the likes of which had not been seen before. And she credits an important Genus client for the push.

“Carol Newell (of Renewal Partners) is the one who came to us and requested we offer socially responsible investing back in 1991,” Cliff says. “She got us going down this road. And because we’re here to serve clients, we saw this as an opportunity to do it properly and transparently.”

Newell had received a series of multi-million dollar inheritances at age 37, and knew she wanted to use them to make positive change in the world. “I knew I already had enough,” she says. “I knew I needed to get these assets actively working on behalf of a mission — to stimulate an economy working to achieve a sustainable environment and social change for the benefit of all. I was introduced to Leslie, and she was very open to hearing my need to place these assets in ways that agreed with my values.”

I’m not against the idea of profits. I just don’t want them at the expense of ecosystems or others.

In those early days of ethical investing, determining what constituted an “ethical” investment proved challenging. But it was a challenge Cliff and the team of both men and women in impact investing took on heartily. “We had to figure out how to decide what’s ethical and what’s not ethical,” Cliff says. “And we almost started a research subsidiary in getting information from corporations.”

Instead, Newell’s team introduced Cliff to Michael Jantzi, whose research firm, now called Sustainalytics, was able to take this on. “The point for me really was to get assets out the door, injecting capital into businesses and non-profits that I was betting could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Newell says. “By providing alternative institutional investment vehicles, Genus has served as an engine for me, supporting my mandate to cycle patient capital and complementing my mission for 30 years. Certainly one of the things that attracted me to Genus is that it was co-founded by a woman. I look forward as they continue to explore the leading edges now demanded by our times.”

Since those early days, taking steps to make impact investments accessible to all has meant constant innovation, and that has required innovative leaders.

To that end, in 2005, portfolio manager Mary Lou Miles joined Genus after the purchase of the small investment firm she had been working with. Today she’s our director of wealth management, providing mentorship for up-and-coming portfolio managers, and continuing our tradition of seeking new ways to fulfill client aspirations.

For example, when it became difficult to find just the right impact investments to match client needs, Miles helped us introduce our Impact Investment Counsel, a project with SVX to identify a brand new pool of potential impact investments. “Impact Investment Counsel looks at illiquid impact opportunities like venture capital, debt and companies that are making a difference in the world,” Miles says. “Our investment team does our own due diligence and we have a small group of clients who were very interested in participating to support these companies. I’m proud to continually offer innovative solutions like this to our clients.”

Through initiatives like Impact Investment Counsel, Miles can customize clients’ portfolios based on their impact priorities. “We provide our clients with the ability to pick their UN sustainable goals and we match companies to that,” she says. “We made a name for ourselves as one of the first impact funds in Canada, and we’re not afraid to innovate, listen to our clients and make changes. It’s one advantage of being a small firm.”

It’s also an advantage of having so many incredible trailblazing men and women in impact investing working at — and with — Genus. So to all of our amazing associates, we say: keep blazing away.

Interested in exploring innovative solutions in sustainable and impact investing? Get in touch to find out more about how we can create a portfolio that matches your values.

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Client impact

“Graduating from a big bank to Genus was one of the best financial steps we've ever taken. Genus has delivered reliable asset growth despite our moderate risk tolerance. As our financial security has grown, we've also been the beneficiaries of a great client experience. The company's communications have been consistently transparent and informative, including educational webinars and a well-designed web portal where we can track investments daily. Most importantly to us, our portfolio manager has always responded swiftly and thoroughly to our questions and requests. ”
Martin T.
"Having relatively diverse financial goals and needs, along with a slight reticence regarding the stock market, Genus skillfully addressed all of our concerns, and put together a truly exceptional plan: Fossil free funds and a diversified investment portfolio, check; An effective Impact investment portfolio that coincides with our hopes and dreams for a better world, check; Professional advice and assistance to create a donor advised charitable fund with immediate charitable receipts for tax purposes, check. Returns? Way beyond our expectations! We even had some fun along the way and certainly enjoyed an incredible two-year start to what will be a satisfying long-term relationship with Genus."
Marc B.
“I love the service I get at Genus.”
Chris H.
“Leslie and I were fellow board members when we met twenty years ago. For the last ten she has been thoughtful in the construction of an investment strategy for my family and is executing the strategy as planned. The team at Genus has met my expectations and are a pleasure to deal with.”
Bob Q.
“For over 15 years, I have provided selection and performance evaluation of multiple investment managers for a significant family office. Leslie and Genus have been foundational for me in my role. I have always found Leslie and her colleagues to be insightful and proactive, and found the performance of their portion of the portfolio to be well above benchmarks. And they have been a great pleasure to work with.”
Douglas H.
“Genus is a very innovative firm. I am pleased to invest in their Fossil Free and Impact strategies that help me invest in line with my values.”
Marnie C.
“Great team of professionals. Excellent website and reporting. Responds to inquiries promptly. Very pleased with the process of changing from another company to Genus as well. Kudos.”
David L.
“Genus consistently provides a good, clearly explained, comprehensive picture of the general economic and financial situation, along with an excellent account of the investment decisions made in relation to this. Genus’ equally strong concern with clients’ questions and requests for further information is also a very important part of the service it provides.”
Allan S.
“Back in 1992 when I found myself at fifty with a substantial amount of money to invest, I knew just one thing — that I didn’t want to contribute to tobacco companies, arms manufacturers, or oil. But over the ensuing years the options for socially responsible investing have become far more sophisticated and I’m very happy that this is a big part of the Genus approach. I also very much appreciate the long-term relationship with my portfolio manager, Mary Lou.”
Ann P.

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