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Impact Investing: What It Is and How It Can Reshape Markets

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The Global Impact Investing Network, comprising several hundred institutional investors and asset managers, has released a roadmap to accelerate the development of impact investing, which has been growing in popularity among individual investors, too.

Advisors with clients who are interested in impact investing as well as those who view impact investing as means to attract new clients may want to consult the roadmap because it can help them monitor developments in that market and even allows them to play a role in those developments if they’re interested.

(Related: ESG, Sustainable and Impact Investing: An Advisor’s Guide)

But before that, advisors should understand what impact investing is. The term is often used as a substitute for ESG and socially responsible investing, but it represents something beyond those approaches in a continuum that starts with screening out companies because of the negative qualities of their products, like tobacco (negative screening).

ESG comes next in the continuum and involves the diminution of investment assets from companies that score low on environmental, social (often treatment of employees) and governance measures. Then comes impact investing, whose central purpose is to generate “a positive impact for people and the planet alongside financial returns,” according to GIIN.

(Related: New Women-Led RIA to Focus on Impact Investing: Portfolio Products)

Impact investing is also not philanthropy, which doesn’t provide returns to donors, just tax deductions for those who itemize, but can support those efforts.

“Governments and philanthropic capital is not sufficient to meet the needs of the social and environmental challenges that exist,” says Abhilash Mudaliar, GIIN research director. “Impact investment offers a more financially sustainable way to address those problems.”

(Related: Will Advisors Finally Embrace ESG and Sustainable Investing in 2018?)

According to the GIIN roadmap, impact investing to date “has largely taken place through the asset classes of private equity, private debt and real assets,” which are available only to institutional and accredited investors, although there are some notes and mutual funds focused on impact investing including Calvert Impact Capital, Triodos Bank, Enterprise Community Partners and Wellington Management (via Hartford Funds).

“The impact investing industry needs to develop more products for everyday retail investors that still appropriately protect consumers in accordance with ethical considerations and the law,” according to the GIIN roadmap. “We envision every investor having viable opportunities to build wealth in a way that that advances a positive impact on people and the planet; impact investing cannot be available only for the wealthy. “

The push for more retail impact investing products is one of several recommendations included in the roadmap, which is “an action plan” to grow the industry over the next five to seven years, and is not restricted to GIIN members.

(Related: 4 Strategies for Responsible Exits From Impact Investments)

The roadmap also continues five other categories of action:

  • Establish clear principles and standards for the practice of impact investing to strengthen its identity. These include not only the establishment of mutually agreed upon principles but also best practices for impact measurement, management and reporting and clarification of the risk-return expectations of different types of capital.
  • Change the paradigm that governs investment behavior and expectations about the responsibility of finance in society. “Align incentives with impact; launch a broad global campaign to reshape the mindsets about the role of capital in society and update investment theory to integrate impact alongside risk and return.”
  • Design tools and services that support the incorporation of impact into routine analysis, allocation and deal-making activities of investors, including ratings for impact that assess a range of factors, analysis and allocation tools that integrate risk, return and impact and the expanded availability of investment banking services tailored to impact investing.
  • Bolster education and training of investment professionals to increase awareness of impact investing through training programs for wealth advisors and investment managers and support the development of impact investing-focused businesses. “Advisors should talk to their firms to invest in education and training in impact investing to meet client demand,” says Mudaliar.
  • Enhance policies to establish incentives for impact investments and adopt a supportive regulatory environment for investors and business that are generating impact. This would include the clarification of fiduciary duty with respect to social and environmental considerations and tax incentives for impact investments.

The roadmap was developed with the impact of 350 representatives, including wealth managers, from over 250 organizations worldwide. It was produced in consultation with The Monitor Institute by Deloitte and with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, one of the founding members of the GIIN.


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