Organisers of conferences have two duties – to inform and to entertain. Generally they forget the last one, which is why I avoid them if at all possible. Over many years of conferences I have been ‘informed’ to the gills, very rarely entertained, and almost never both at the same time. Actually: I take that back. I have been presented with information slides in a rubbish small typeface and colours and backgrounds that make it impossible to read at the back of the hall. Happens all the time.
So I went to last Wednesday’s Social Stock Exchange Family Offices Conference, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. And do you know what? It was both interesting and – thanks to the clever idea of using the services of Debate Mate, a Social Stock Exchange member – fun. About 10 o’clock in the morning half a dozen or so young people got stuck into the debate: “This House Believes that Private Investment Has A Greater Social Impact than Public Investment.” The youngsters went at it hammer-and-tongs, more articulate than many MPs and twice as swift in deflecting or using against themselves an opponents’ argument. Can’t for the life of me remember which side won – but that wasn’t the point. The point was to whip up enthusiasm and engage the audience – which it did in spades.
Before that though the day kicked off with Damian Payiatakis, whose memorable line for me was about impact investing; it’s now time, he said, not to ask why, “but how?” Maybe Payiatakis has to say that, given that he’s head of impact investing with Barclays. Maybe I have to write nice things about the Social Stock Exchange conference. That doesn’t mean we are liars.
For me there were two treats to the day. First treat to deliver was Bonny Landers, head of sustainable, responsible and impact investment at Sandaire Investment Office. Landers told us she has been with Sandaire 12 years, moving from the banking world in the 2000s because “they lost client focus” – I love a good euphemism. She took us through a case history of hers, dealing with a wealthy family in Asia, one of whom was utterly disengaged from any discussions about the family’s investment. This individual wanted to align her investments with her values. As she said: “If they don’t engage with the investments, then what’s it for?” According to Landers, to get wealthy families to engage with impact investment, you need to get them to define their values, define their goals, define their tools. “Try to get a family to articulate a theory of change. Not just ‘education’, but how do you want to change education?” It’s a useful question for any impact investor. Landers also cut through the thorny wastelands of ‘measurables’: “I tend to look at the family’s definition of what outcomes they are looking for.” The Asia story had a very happy ending – the whole family has embraced impact investment.
Then the live rambunctious debate (all very politely conducted) and a couple of profile presentations of Social Stock Exchange members, Thrive and Oikocredit, and similar from ET Index and Pavegen later in the day. And then an extremely interesting session from Simon Smiles. He told us that “98% of people I see simply aren’t interested in impact investment. I need to emphasise returns first.” His called this theory of investing “greed”. He didn’t look like Daniel stepping into the lions’ den. Who am I to question him? After all, his job title is ‘chief investment officer, ultra-high-net worth individuals with UBS Wealth Management.’
Smiles provided a very reasonable corrective to the hostility naked greed often arouses: “don’t try to change people’s motivation; try to embrace the greed as motivation. Give up trying to convince a large majority of people to become impact investors, and expand the area of impactful investments. You have got to embrace greed.”
It’s an interesting idea. Rather than bewail how slow (or not) the impact investment is growing because of an assumed paucity of investment, help broaden the range of impactful investments people can choose from. Appealing to their good nature simply does not wash, he said, with the majority of investors.
Before I knew it the morning was over, and finally people could find some seats – it was standing-room only as I predicted last week. The audience was buzzing as they left; many felt this was perhaps the best conference the exchange has hosted so far.
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