• Alexandra Damerau

The Development of Impact Investing

According to the Global Impact Investing Network, the impact investing industry is worth $228 billion. Its rapid growth has led people to question whether it will soon become an established part of commercial investing. This article will outline developments that point towards the integration of impact investing into traditional investing. Accessibility of impact investing will be assumed to be the key indicator of impact investing becoming a part of established investing.

The accessibility of impact investing has improved significantly over the past few years; but there is still a long way to go. Several robot-advisors are offering socially responsible portfolio options. For example, the platform Betterment is offering its users a Socially Responsible Investing portfolio, alongside its conventional investment products. Simultaneously, other robot-advisors have emerged with the sole purpose of allowing people to invest in companies with strong ESG practices, e.g. EarthFolio or the app Tickr.

Impact investing has also become more accessible with the emergence of online platforms that allow investors to invest in private ventures. Examples of this include SVX, an impact investment platform which enables individuals to invest in impact funds and private undertakings, and Rabble, a platform that connects impact investors with managers of projects which have a positive social or environmental impact with the prospect of generating financial returns.

Established financial institutions have also caught on with the trend of impact investment. Banks are now increasingly offering impact investing products to their clients. For example, UBS is offering the UBS Manage Advance (Sustainable Investing) portfolio “made up of sustainable investment vehicles and partially impact investing vehicles,” and Barclays has developed the Barclays Multi-Impact Growth Fund available to mainstream investors.

Furthermore, investment managers such as JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley are offering clients impact investment products, with great success. Morgan Stanley, for example, launched the Investing with Impact Platform in 2013 which is dedicated to sustainable investments only. It offers its clients several investment options including separately managed accounts and exchange-traded funds all within the impact investing framework. The platform reportedly recently surpassed its 5-year asset goal and now manages over $25 billion in assets. This shows that impact investment products are increasingly being supplied and that they are in high demand.

However, there remains a wide gap between the number of financial products and investment options available to conventional investors and those available to impact investors.

This gap is not the only hurdle that impact investment faces in becoming an established part of the investing industry. There remains the problem of how to measure impact. There are no clear, shared measurement standards on how impact is measured and how much impact a project or company must have on society or the environment to be called “impactful” and to be considered an impact investment. At first glance, some of the financial products offered may seem to produce an impact, but closer examination then shows that they include investments in companies that intuitively seem to slow down impact rather than create it. Therefore, the actual growth of impactful investment is hard to estimate and those aiming to create an impact whilst investing ought to critically examine to what extent the financial products offered are truly impactful.

In summary, developments show that the accessibility of impact investing is improving, which indicates that impact investing is moving towards becoming an integrated part of conventional investing. Various online investment outlets now offer impact investing products or are designed only to serve impact investment. Furthermore, traditional financial institutions and investment managers are successfully expanding their product range to accommodate clients who want to invest whilst improving society or the environment. Despite this, the impact investment industry still has a long way to go before becoming an established part of the conventional investment industry. It faces several problems on the way, one of which is the lack of an impact measurement standard.