Gender equality investing is on the rise, but broaching the topic with clients remains a challenge for most financial advisors because it involves discussing values and products that advisors may not be aware of, according to experts at the 6th Annual High Water Women's 2018 Investing for Impact Symposium.

“Advisors are overwhelmed and afraid to bring up this topic because they may not know how to answer their client's questions,” said Katherine St. Onge, director of syndication and institutional partnerships with Calvert Impact Capital. “It’s not natural for advisors to ask about their client’s liquidity needs, their financial goals and whether they care about women or the environment in one breath.”

St. Onge was among the featured speakers on a panel about exploring different approaches to investing in gender equality along with Equileap Executive Director Diana van Maaskijk and JP Morgan’s Sustainable Investing Head Jessica Matthews.

The conference took place Wednesday at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

“Training advisors is key,” said Matthews. “One of the tools that’s more tangible is a survey we put together that financial advisors can take to clients because not every advisor is going to be really comfortable with this topic, but if you arm them with something to get the conversation going, it helps.”

According to Matthews, the JP Morgan tool, developed internally for advisors, asks broad questions and drills down to specific areas, such as the environment, gender and community, which helps guide the conversation.

“Asking about a client’s values is usually not part of the conversation or script advisors have been given,” St. Onge told Financial Advisor magazine. “We are changing the script. Not everyone thinks about values and money in the same context or are aware that there is a link.”

Although financial advisors may not be aware of them, the frameworks for gender equality investing exists and specific tools are being built for those frameworks.

For example, Equileap offers financial advisors its Gender Equality Global Report & Ranking to measure how well companies are accelerating gender equality in the workforce. “For some people, it’s important to invest in companies that are also philanthropically giving to women in their community and that framework exists,” said van Maaskijk. “We didn’t use it in our scorecard because it’s more important for us to look at what they are doing with their employees and within their supply chain.”

Other panelists included Laura LaRosa, executive director of client development with Glenmede, which is the trustee and administrator of The Pew Memorial Trust, and Anna Falth, manager of We Empower UN Women.

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