Last month, I had the pleasure of attending my 20th annual SRI conference – unless it was the 21st. I’ve kind of lost track. This year I had the honor of participating in a panel on Best Practices for financial advisors specializing in socially responsible investing. I shared the stage with two other respected advisors from seemingly very different firms and segments of the industry, Steve Ellis of Colorado Capital Management and Jane Lewenthal of, believe it or not, Wells Fargo. What I learned from the session is that while there is certainly more than one approach to working in this realm, that it seems that we shared some fundamentally important traits as well.
Steve, Jane and I came from three very different backgrounds but what I think we and other successful social investment advisors inevitably have in common boil down to two specific traits: First, a deep commitment to not just social investing in general terms, but for delving into our clients values to identify how these can be reflected in their investments and other financial actions. Frankly, I doubt any of us would be nearly as effective in our work if we didn’t share many of the values that our clients express to us. Second, and here we are not unique from other good financial advisors, we have an equally deep commitment to our clients overall financial wellbeing. “Win a few, lose a few” is not a formula for success in this business. Its about building lasting relationships where the value we add to a client is fundamental to helping them achieve their financial goals. Of course, none of us do this job perfectly. 20 years’ experience has given me plenty of opportunity to learn from my mistakes as well as successes.
I think its worth noting a bit about how the three of us differed in our approaches as well. In my own case, I spoke about my passion for working with middle-class clients, rather than exclusively with the “high net worth” clients favored by most financial advisors. For any of you who have my read my blogs in the past, you’ve heard me rant about income inequality. This remains a huge challenge for the social investment industry, and for the economy and society as a whole. Why make it worse by only offering my services to rich people. As I transition to retirement myself, there’s nothing that makes me feel better about my career than memories of clients telling me that without my help they wouldn’t have been able to retire when they did, or send their kids to college, or whatever the goal may have been. Unless, of course, the goal was to buy a second yacht. In which case, I couldn’t care less.
I’ll probably keep going to this conference for as long as I can, and not because I need the continuing education credits going forward. The SRI advisor community is an amazing bunch of dedicated folk, who’s abilities, efforts and values I find truly inspiring.