The Plague-Ground – Who do elephants like to sleep with? Elephants.

The world shifted after George Floyd was killed this summer. The desire for diversity exploded into a demand for it, especially at the top. Only five Fortune 500 CEOs are Black, and of the 13 Global 500 companies led by women, none is a woman of colour.

Today, social unrest has fueled a boom in the diversity industry. All the big consultancies and search firms have burgeoning DEI practices (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) and at Bain, diversity is “the next digital.”

Meanwhile, Walmart has set up a $100 million initiative to fight racism. Pepsi pledged to double its spending with black-owned suppliers, and JP Morgan Chase is extending $30 billion in loans over the next five years to minority households and businesses.

You’d think that something was actually happening. It may well be. But where change needs to happen most, diversity is minimal and piecemeal.

I’m speaking, of course, of the investment business, everything from global pension funds to your local co-op. By a very long-shot, the people who decide where money is invested and raised are SWMs – Straight White Men. No surprise, then, that this capital is deployed to people and enterprises owned and run by SWMs. This happens because elephants like to sleep with elephants.

Oddly, there are all kinds of elephants in the field of responsible investing, or at least impeding it.

Here, well-meaning investors try to solve society’s problems while making a profit. But as one pioneer in the responsible (i.e. impact) investing world told me: “Impact investing isn’t the same as philanthropy. If you want to invest rather than give, you should expect an impact you can measure and a return similar to what you can get elsewhere.”

That is Upkar Arora, who heads Rally Assets, a management and advisory firm that’s helped organizations and individuals “align their values with their assets,” long before impact investing was in vogue.

Eight of the firm’s 11 employees are women and they come from both the investment world and the not-for-profit world. They also run into systemic indifference all the time. This is the elephants issue again. For people who don’t suffer from racism or sexism, these aren’t urgent social issues that capital can help solve, largely because they aren’t personal issues.

Some of us think we can do well by doing good. For example, we can invest in a real estate project that includes a women’s shelter via a private equity impact fund or a public company. This is a responsible investment. But many people in the investment business still don’t see it that way.

They’re never going to say: “I really don’t understand responsible investing.” Instead, you’ll hear that it’s too risky, or not our style, or hasn’t been around long enough to prove itself.

I say this because a recent survey from the Responsible Investment Association revealed that 72% of investment advisors wanted to learn more about responsible investing products. Yet when asked if they had told their clients about these products, only 28% said “Yes”.

For decades, clinical trials for new drugs and medical procedures only recruited men. Women, who get menopausal and pregnant, were less ‘reliable’. So it’s no surprise that almost the same money was once spent on erectile dysfunction as on breast cancer. No one set out to marginalize women; it just happened and happened just as inevitably.

So if you want to use your money not only to make more, but to make a better world, remember, your investment advisor is paid to sustain the status quo. Their incentives veer to what’s gone before, not to what’s new and next.

If you want your bank or investment firm to change, as their client you need to push them. They will never push you. Banks sell stuff that’s good for them. In fact, you need to ask more from your advisor when it comes to investing with your values. You need to demand more.

But you can do more too.

First, you can do your homework by learning more about the whole field of impact and responsible investing.

You can also look for an adviser who’s from the part of the world you want your money to change. They may be a generation younger. Their skin may not be the colour of yours. They may be Muslim or gay or any other minority – especially in a city like Toronto where the visible minority is actually an all-too-invisible majority. Believe me, they know all about responsible investing. They’ve lived it. It’s time they be given a chance to invest it.

The good news is, things are already starting to change. On Tuesday the NASDAQ exchange in New York asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to insist that all 3,300 of its member companies publicly disclose diversity statistics about their boards of directors, and have at least two ‘diverse’ directors.

How many NASDAQ companies do this now?

Less than a quarter of them.

It’s a start.

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3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Sandra Pierce says:

    Bob – as an investment advisor I take offense at your comment that “we are paid to sustain the status quo” – it’s so unlike you to make a blanket statement .
    Good investment advisors- and there are many out there – do not sustain the status quo — they have to change with the times otherwise they aren’t very good money managers and they will lose clients. What worked yesterday does not necessarily work today. Good advisors are on top of the new and even more importantly aware of what their clients want. Also good advisors educate their clients.

    I am the first to criticize our industry , god know there is a lot that’s wrong with it.. But one could say that of many professions – medicine, lawyers, accountants. It almost always comes down to the individual.

    And your comment to look for a an advisor who’s from that part of the world … “they may be younger” not only smacks of ageism but ignores the fact that economic intuition CAN ONLY BE GAINED by years of experience and – full disclosure to those who don’t know me I am 63 years old so I might be bias- but our industry has a terrible habit of “creating investments’ that the consumer wants — but are not necessarily good for the client that’s where experience is so important. Having been an advisor for 35 years, I have witnessed many younger advisors get themselves and their clients in trouble because they lack that very experience to truly analyze the consequences of “the latest/hottest new idea” that has come to market.

    I could go on forever — but let me say one last thing — if you think that of your advisor — than you should move your investments to Dennis and myself.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Linda Granfield says:

    I quote: “By a very long-shot, the people who decide where money is invested and raised are SWMs – Straight White Men. No surprise, then, that this capital is deployed to people and enterprises owned and run by SWMs.”

    Bob, I read your statement at 8 this morning, was angry, but took time to cool off. At noon, I’m still angered by it. So I’ll comment.

    White and Male can be observed. But who asked those same men if they were straight?
    Is this an assumption, or where these White men asked about their sexual orientation? What bearing does a person’s sexual orientation have on their business acumen or lack thereof?

    Where do I sign up as an “WSDE” (White Straight Dame Elder) in case someone wants to make another idiotic classification?

    “SWM.” A reprehensible acronym in your blog.

    Reply

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