Financial investments designed to have a positive impact on society while providing potential long-term returns have widespread appeal, according to a new survey of respondents in the U.S. and the U.K.

Fifty-six percent of U.S. participants and 59% of those in the U.K. said impact investing was somewhat or very attractive, whether it involved environmental, social and governance factors or socially responsible investing ones. This was up from 49% for U.S. respondents in 2018 and 38% in 2016.

For its third annual report, American Century Investments added a U.K. sample for comparative purposes. The firm fielded the study in mid-August among 1,003 adults in the U.S. and 1,004 in the U.K., using Engine’s twice-weekly Online Caravan Omnibus Survey.

Sixty-five percent of millennial participants in the U.S. and 72% in the U.K. displayed heightened interest in impact investing. This compared with 55% of American Gen Xers and 64% of their British counterparts. Appeal among baby boomers was lower, at 49% in the U.S. and 46% in the U.K.

“The findings of our study reaffirm that interest in impact investing continues to be on an upward trajectory across all age groups, but most importantly, it is encouraging to see that millennials are in the driver’s seat for impact investing,” Guillaume Mascotto, head of ESG and investment stewardship at American Century, said in a statement.

According to the study, some two in five U.S. millennials planned to invest within the next five years, compared with one in three U.K. millennials.

Mascotto said it behooved asset management firms to enhance their investment standards in an industry that will soon have to meet the expectations of more socially and environmentally responsible millennials.

“As this generation increasingly demonstrates a desire to align their positive intentions to address global pressing issues with their investment choices, it is crucial that we understand their values and preferences so that we can properly assess both opportunities and risks,” he said.

The survey results appeared to back him up. Even though respondents cited “return on investment, risks, fees and length of time” as their main considerations when making investments, 64% of those from the U.K. and 57% from the U.S. maintained that impact on society was very or somewhat important.

As to causes that mattered most to respondents, health care/disease prevention and cures topped the list for about a third of those in both countries — a finding consistent with 2018 and 2016 results, American Century said.

Environment/sustainability was a close second choice, followed by improved education, mitigating poverty, gender equality and alignment with religious principles.

The survey further found that familiarity with impact investing had increased from 20% in the U.S. in 2016 and 24% in 2018 to 30% this year vs. 36% in the U.K.

Thirty-two percent of U.S. respondents said they choose to do business with companies whose values align with their own, compared with only 24% of U.K. participants.

The percentage of respondents who believed that impact on society was either very or somewhat important to them as investors is increasing:

  • 2016 – 42% U.S.
  • 2018 – 54% U.S.
  • 2019 – 57% U.S. vs 64% U.K.

— Check out Advisors’ Advice: Clients’ Biggest ESG Investing Questions on ThinkAdvisor.