Envest Stands Out Among Socially Responsible Investment Managers
The landscape of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and SRI (Socially Responsible Impact) investing tools has become overwhelming. It feels as if these terms have become buzzwords and marketing fodder for an industry that has yet to truly evolve. I recently heard the statistic that approximately ⅓ of all investable assets in the US were being deployed through an ESG and/or SRI lens. Given where we were just 10 years ago, this metric and the growth within the industry is staggering and wonderfully promising, but it also begs the question: Is it real?
Is ESG and SRI investing legitimate?
Global warming and economic equality are two crises that seem to be worsening at an accelerating pace. On the one hand, with more and more mainstream attention on these systemic issues, it makes sense that investors would want to include a values-based lens in their decisions. We’re inherently good after all, right? On the other hand, if this much money is pouring into these areas, why aren’t we seeing more positive outcomes?
To put it mildly, methods of ESG/SRI measurement are flawed and the barriers of entry are inconsequential for industry participants. While I applaud more people and companies wanting to get involved and be associated with these trends, watering down these terms is dangerous because it dilutes the potential impact and effectiveness of companies truly on the frontlines putting in the work.
In the meantime, for those trying to build a more equitable, clean future for themselves and their children, these concepts are as relevant as ever, and the urgency to take action has never been greater. Atmos thinks it is imperative to help cut through the noise and spotlight those companies that are leading with purposeful and positive action. Envest Asset Management is one of those companies.
What does Envest Asset Management do?
James: We provide independent holistic, values-based financial planning and investment advice. On a personal level, that means we’re a fiduciary that’s legally obligated to work in our clients’ best interest. We help people identify gaps and risks in their finances to move toward better financial understanding and footing for today and for the future.
Can you describe the types of clients you might work with?
James: We work with individuals, families, businesses and nonprofits, and we have no minimum wealth requirements, so our offering is intentionally very inclusive. We work with people that want help achieving certain financial goals, but also recognize that their financial footprint has a meaningful environmental and social impact. We can help with putting together that complete financial plan that marries goals and values.
What advice would you give to a consumer interested in these types of products, and how should a person view the various ESG/SRI products currently available?
James: According to US SIF, there are over $17 trillion worth of professionally managed assets using sustainable investing strategies. That makes up $1 out of every $3 professionally managed assets in the US. So there are plenty of sustainable investment options across various asset classes. However, not all sustainable investments are equal, and that’s really important to understand. It’s important to look underneath the hood to understand if the values of the investments really measure up. For example, there are some sustainably-focused funds that are invested in fossil fuel companies, like Exxon. That may or may not meet your individual value threshold, but it’s important to know. Beyond values, investors also need to understand if the product meets their risk tolerance. Some individuals may be, unknowingly, taking on too much risk with certain investment options. This level of guidance is our business.
How long do you typically work with your clients?
James: We typically have long-term relationships with our clients spanning years. It’s important for me to build trust and understanding with everyone we work with. Finances can be scary and overwhelming. We can help put the pieces together that are right for you. We’re often hired to analyze and reinvest a portion of a client’s portfolio, for example, but then we’re asked to look at things like credit cards, mortgages, student loans or insurance. We are well-versed in all of it. We want to be the first ones our clients call when they have a question, and that means having a deep personal connection over years.
What were you doing before Envest?
James: I have been an environmental engineer, investment banker in social infrastructure, and debt and equity investor in clean energy. Sustainability and environmental values have been with me since the beginning. I launched Envest Asset Management when I noticed that many financial advisors offering financial planning and investment management services were missing the sustainability or social justice components. These issues are necessarily interconnected though. We bring our whole selves, feelings, hopes and dreams to other areas of our lives and I think we can treat our finances into the fold.
What does being a B Corp mean to you?
James: I love that my company is a B Corp. The community is passionate, vast, and growing. We all created businesses with “purpose” in mind. Becoming a B Corp just made sense since we use environmental, social, and governance strategies as guiding principles. From a practical standpoint, the process of being a B Corp really makes the company look inward. We needed to better understand our operating risks and gaps to strengthen our company. It’s made us a stronger company.
What can you tell us about Atmos Financial?
James: I knew right away that I wanted to partner with Atmos both professionally and personally. Atmos has a great online savings product at very competitive interest rates. Their commitment to environmental and social causes through their platform is unique. It fits well for me personally. It fits well for many of my clients. I have yet to see a platform that takes their mandate to positively impact the environment so seriously.