33 years ago, I worked at the United Nations as a Public Information Assistant in New York City. It was a logical step after university, where I had majored in International Politics and Foreign Languages. It was an amazing experience. But then, weighed down by the burden of college debt, I transitioned from development into finance. My first day on the trading floor at Lehman Brothers was October 19th, 1987: the day of the stock market crash otherwise known as “Black Monday”.
The contrast was stark, but only on the surface. I went from an environment of analysis, discussion, debate, risk-taking and presenting – to more of the same. Only it was a lot faster, and a lot louder. And the goal was to make money, not positive social change. I hated it at first. But with time I appreciated that faster and louder was a lot more like me. And I realized that the more I learned, the more power I had to at least do my own job right – that is, commit to make money as ethically and socially responsibly as possible. My motto was always transparency and honesty, especially regarding fees and profit margins. (This was not always easy. Particularly in regard to client transparency, my personal ethics were often in conflict with management’s demands.)
Luckily, today ethical investing is so popular that the concept boasts several names. But their definitions all fall more or less under “financial investing for profit, BUT, only after passing the three filters known as “ESG”: 1. Is it Environmentally friendly? 1. Is it Socially just? 3. Does the organization practice sound corporate Governance?” My clients’ investment portfolios go through two or three filters after I have tailored and allocated my pick of instruments to achieve ultimate profit for minimum risk given the clients’ goals, and as determined by their LaIF Financial Plan.
First of all, I tailor each portfolio to the client’s own personal beliefs and values in regard to their own ESG filters. After all, “friendly”, “just” and “sound” are subjective. And after conducting the “LaIF Assessment”, I learn a lot about a client’s values and beliefs, and can ensure that their investments include that which is most near and dear to them.
Secondly, if the client requests, I apply my own personal ESG filter. For this purpose, I constantly examine businesses and industries – which, to keep things interesting, also keep changing, if not evolving – to help determine which investments will furthermore provide the satisfaction of knowing that they also contribute to positive social change. For this research, my clients are also LaIF “Partners”. Their input is extremely valuable, as they represent a range of cultural and educational backgrounds with deep insights as emerging, active, and retired managers from diverse industries globally.
Thirdly, I make sure that the client is banking on the right platform for them. That means I make sure that, given their investment needs, they are getting the best banking services for the fairest and most transparent conditions. Ethical investing “goes both ways”; banks are under pressure today to keep up their side of the bargain, and I have the experience to ensure that they do when serving me and my clients. If that filter fails, I help my client find the banking platform that truly suits their needs.
So, how lucky am I? I now do everything I love, and I am helping clients to focus on doing what they love, while seeing to it that their hard-earned money is also supporting that which they love. Ok, so it is no longer fast and loud. But to be honest, compared to 33 years ago…neither am I!