Impact investing seems to be edging out traditional “socially responsible investing” in attracting the investment dollars of ultra-high-net-worth investors, according to new research and industry observers.
In a recent Spectrem Group survey, investors with between $5 million and $25 million in liquid net worth expressed less interest in socially responsible investing than they did five years earlier.
The survey results did not come as a surprise to officials at a leading SRI investment firm Calvert Investments, who said wealthy families and foundations are moving away from legacy SRI vehicles.
“We’re seeing more money in today’s environment flowing to impact investing,” said Lynne Ford, Calvert’s executive vice president for distribution. “They’re much more interested in impact investing, where they can put larger sums of money to work for both financial return and social impact.”
In general, traditional socially responsible investing seeks to avoid investing in goods and services deemed to damage society, such as tobacco, weapons and pornography, or to encourage corporations to improve their practices on environmental, social and governance issues. Impact investing involves focusing assets on social or environmental challenges, but at the same time generating financial returns.
The Spectrum study on socially responsible investing found that, in general, using wealth to help others is a priority for less than 24 percent of very rich investors. It’s a greater concern for mass affluent investors (30 percent) and millionaire investors (28 percent).
The very affluent’s lack of interest in socially responsible investing is primarily attributable to their “purely financial” investment objectives (76 percent), according to Spectrem. Almost half the respondents (46 percent) said corporate claims of socially responsible behavior are “nothing more than public relations.”
Forty-two percent of ultra-wealthy investors said corporations should do all they can to generate a profit and let individuals use their investment returns to promote social change. Thirty-eight percent said they have never given much thought to the issue of social responsibility in their investing. Fourteen percent said social responsibility is not a corporate responsibility at all.
Young, ultra-high-net-worth investors value socially responsible investing more than older investors, according to the survey. Thirty-five percent of those below the age of 45 consider social responsibility a primary investment selection factor, compared with only 19 percent of ultra-wealthy investors overall. Younger investors are actually more interested in SRI than they were five years ago.
Among all investors, meanwhile, other studies indicate an increased interested in do-good investing.
A June 2012 report by US SIF, a group that promotes sustainable and responsible investing, found that from 2010 to 2012 this type of investing grew over 22 percent. More than one out of every nine dollars under professional management in the U.S. is currently invested in sustainable and responsible strategies, according to the study.
US SIF’s research shows these investments grew from about $600 billion in 1995 to over $3.74 trillion in 2012. In addition, a June 2012 study by Calvert Foundation and others found strong interest in impact investing with a near-term market opportunity.