Impact investors aim to achieve specific, positive social or environmental goals such as creating more affordable housing, or reducing reliance on fossil fuels, but they do so to earn market returns too, while weighing other standard investment considerations such as risk and liquidity.
That’s a key finding of “Impact Investing Decision-Making: Insights on Financial Performance,” a report published last week by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) that assesses investor attitudes toward financial performance based on outstanding studies by outside firms and an analysis of financial performance that was gleaned from its annual survey of impact investors.
“What’s important here, and what we’re delighted about, is that financial performance is an important consideration for impact investors, but they are really looking at it taking into account a number of considerations,” says Dean Hand, director of research at the GIIN.
To weigh impact alongside performance is not unusual in the sense that traditional market investors also weigh a number of things. Risk and return, for instance, are factors commonly taken into consideration in balance with one another.
To invest in an emerging market company might lead to higher returns than a similar investment in a U.S. firm, but it’s riskier, bearing a higher potential of falling apart, so investors have to decide how much risk they are willing to stomach to get the returns they want.
The GIIN’s survey results have shown that impact investors generally get the balance they are seeking—nearly 88% in the most recent survey say that their portfolios meet or exceed their expectations for returns.
But when investors care about creating a positive social or environmental impact, they also weigh traditional investment considerations, such as liquidity—do they need their investment cash back soon or can they wait? If the latter, an investor may be more willing to invest in a private equity fund with a longer time horizon, and a different set of impact outcomes than might be available via a green bond, for instance.
If they are a more conservative investor, too, not willing to shoulder a lot of risk—a highly rated green bond may be just the thing.
The Importance of Manager Selection
The GIIN’s report looked at how impact investments in private markets have performed, culling data from available research by groups such as Cambridge Associates and Symbiotics as well as its own investor survey.
Private-equity impact investments, for instance, can deliver high returns, outperforming the S&P 500 index by 15%, according to a study by the International Finance Corp., although a University of California study found the median impact fund had an internal rate of return (IRR) of 6.4% compared with 7.4% for the median “impact-agnostic” fund.
And results can vary widely. The GIIN’s survey data showed that the top 10% of private-equity portfolios in emerging markets had realized returns of more than 29% while the bottom 10% had returns below 6%.
As a result, the GIIN finds that fund manager selection matters, not just in terms of quality, Hand says, but in helping the investor understand “whether or not they are achieving what they want both in terms of financial performance and impact performance.”
Investors also have to ask the right questions, Hand says. For example, it’s important to ask questions like: What specific impact results a manager is getting? How are those results measured? How do you convey this information to investors?
Where these have been successful, particularly in impact investing, is where the AO and AM work together to derive what results they are looking for, what their objectives are, and how they are going to report on those results.
“Good asset-owner and asset-manager relationships are built on a close working relationship,” Hand says. “Where these have been successful, particularly in impact investing, is where the asset owner and asset manager work together to derive what results they are looking for, what their objectives are, and how they are going to report on those results.”
Performance in Private Debt, Real Assets
According to the report, private debt funds focused on impact have tended to provide low-risk returns, as most investors expect, while delivering stability as well as diversification to impact portfolios.
The GIIN survey data showed average returns for impact debt funds ranged from 8% for developed market funds to 11% for emerging market funds, while Symbiotics data found a weighted average yield of 7.6% for fixed-income impact funds, the report said.
Investing in real assets, such as real estate and timberland, can lead to good returns, but the results vary widely depending on the time horizon as well as the type of investment, the report found. Investors surveyed by the GIIN reported returns ranging from 8% to 23%—again, pointing to the need for investors to select the right asset managers.
To give a sense of how experienced impact investors balance all these factors, the report offers examples from five experienced impact investors.
IDP Foundation, a private nonprofit focused on access to education and poverty alleviation, invests for impact from its endowment as well as through program-related investments. The foundation cares about achieving high impact but also competitive, market-rate financial returns.
The GIIN looked at five major factors the foundation weighs before deciding on an investment: financial return objectives, impact objectives, financial risk, impact risk, resource capacity, and liquidity constraints.
It turns out IDP considers its financial return and impact objectives to be “very important,” while financial risk—or the volatility of expected returns—and impact risk are “important.” The foundation’s resource capacity is less important, as it leans on a consulting firm as an advisor, and screen service to make sure it doesn’t invest in anything that violates its impact goals.
“What we hope by these spotlights is that it will give investors an idea of how those things are actually playing out so they can match that in their own decision making,” Hand says.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
New research tackles the source of financial conflict and what we can do about it
When couples argue over money, the real source of the conflict usually isn’t on their bank statement.
Financial disagreements tend to be stand-ins for deeper issues in our relationships, researchers and couples counsellors said, since the way we use money is a reflection of our values, character and beliefs. Persistent fights over spending and saving often doom romantic partnerships: Even if you fix the money problem, the underlying issues remain.
To understand what the fights are really about, new research from social scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa began with a unique data set: more than 1,000 posts culled from a relationship forum on the social-media platform Reddit. Money was a major thread in the posts, which largely broke down into complaints about one-sided decision-making, uneven contributions, a lack of shared values and perceived unfairness or irresponsibility.
By analysing and categorising the candid messages, then interviewing hundreds of couples, the researchers said they have isolated some of the recurring patterns behind financial conflicts.
The research found that when partners disagree about mundane expenses, such as grocery bills and shop receipts, they tend to have better relationships. Fights about fair contributions to household finances and perceived financial irresponsibility are particularly detrimental, however.
While there is no cure-all to resolve the disputes, the antidote in many cases is to talk about money more, not less, said Johanna Peetz, a professor of psychology at Carleton who co-authored the study.
“You should discuss finances more in relationships, because then small things won’t escalate into bigger problems,” she said.
A partner might insist on taking a vacation the other can’t afford. Another married couple might want to separate their previously combined finances. Couples might also realize they no longer share values they originally brought to the relationship.
Differentiating between your own viewpoint on the money fight from that of your partner is no easy feat, said Thomas Faupl, a marriage and family psychotherapist in San Francisco. Where one person sees an easily solvable problem—overspending on groceries—the other might see an irrevocable rift in the relationship.
Faupl, who specialises in helping couples work through financial difficulties, said many partners succeed in finding common ground that can keep them connected amid heated discussions. Identifying recurring themes in the most frequent conflicts also helps.
“There is something very visceral about money, and for a lot of people, it has to do with security and power,” he said. “There’s permutations on the theme, and that could be around responsibility, it could be around control, it could be around power, it could be around fairness.”
Barbara Krenzer and John Stone first began their relationship more than three decades ago. Early on in their conversations, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based couple opened up about what they both felt to be most important in life: spending quality time with family and investing in lifelong memories.
“We didn’t buy into the big lifestyle,” Krenzer said. “Time is so important and we both valued that.”
For Krenzer and Stone, committing to that shared value meant making sacrifices. Krenzer, a physician, reduced her work hours while raising their three children. Stone trained as an attorney, but once Krenzer went back to full-time work, he looked for a job that let him spend the mornings with the children.
“Compromise: That’s a word they don’t say enough with marriage,” Krenzer said. “You have to get beyond the love and say, ‘Do I want to compromise for them and find that middle ground?’”
Talking about numbers behind a behaviour can help bring a couple out of a fight and back to earth, Faupl said. One partner might rue the other’s tightfistedness, but a discussion of the numbers reveals the supposed tightwad is diligently saving money for the couple’s shared future.
“I get under the hood with people so we can get black-and-white numbers on the table,” he said. “Are these conversations accurate, or are they somehow emotionally based?”
Couples might follow tenets of good financial management and build wealth together, but conflict is bound to arise if one partner feels the other isn’t honouring that shared commitment, Faupl said.
“If your partner helps with your savings goals, then that feels instrumental to your own goals, and that is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” he said.
A sense of mission
When it comes to sticking out the hard times, “sharing values is important, even more so than sharing personality traits,” Peetz said. In her own research, Peetz found that romantic partners who disagreed about shared values could one day split up as a result.
“That is the crux of the conflict often: They each have a different definition,” she said of themes such as fairness and responsibility.
And sometimes, it is worth it to really dig into the potentially difficult conversations around big money decisions. When things are working well, coming together to achieve these common goals—such as saving for your own retirement or preparing for your children’s financial future—will create intimacy, not money strife.
“That is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” she said.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’