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.”
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.”
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.”
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.