“Impact investing” inches from niche to mainstream
WHEN investors gathered in Amsterdam in late 2016 for perhaps the largest annual conference on “impact investing”, the mood was upbeat. The concept of investing in assets that offer measurable social or environmental benefits as well as financial returns has come a long way from its modest roots in the early 2000s.
Panellists at the conference included, among others, representatives of two of the world’s largest pension funds, TIAA of America and PGGM of the Netherlands, and of the asset-management arm of AXA, a French insurance behemoth. A niche product is inching into the mainstream.
In the past two years BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, launched a new division called “Impact”; Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, acquired an impact-investment firm, Imprint Capital; and two American private-equity firms, Bain Capital and TPG, launched impact funds.
The main driver of all this activity is investor demand. Deborah Winshel, boss of BlackRock Impact, points to the transfer of wealth to women and the young, whose investment goals, she says, transcend mere financial returns. Among institutions, sources of demand have moved beyond charitable foundations to hard-bitten pension funds and insurers.