Owning Your Investor “Identity”

I’ve been out socializing over the last few months, meeting a variety of new people at work events and friends’ homes. We had some typical “nice-to-meet-you” conversations covering the usual territory: “How do you know the hosts?”…. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more snow so we could ski?”…and “What do you do?”

I spoke with one woman about my work with Invest for Better and our mission to inspire and mobilize more women to become impact investors. She was curious and a little confused. For starters, she doesn’t consider herself an investor. This is, unfortunately, a pretty common refrain that I hear. We women are multi-dimensional and consider our identities for the scenarios they’re in when asked. We often identify vocationally: I’m a doctor, a teacher, a senior vice president of marketing for a software company, retired; or we identify by our family position: I’m so-and-so’s mom, I’m so-and-so’s wife, an empty nester. Other identities follow: skier, runner, traveler, foodie, and philanthropist. But investor? Unless she’s an advisor, venture capitalist or other investment professional, that’s a rarity.

To help this new friend to recognize that she is actually an investor (and plant the seed that she can become an impact investor), I started with the basics, something presumably non-offensive or considered private: do you have a bank account? “Yes, of course!” she replied. This makes her an investor and gives her the potential to be an impact investor.

Where we bank has an impact. An op-ed in the New York Times gets to the heart of the matter. The article Want to Do Something About Climate Change? Follow the Money by Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben lists several of our country’s major banks among the world’s largest investors in fossil fuels, citing one example where a bank is financing an oil pipeline that would run from Canada through tribal land in the American Midwest.

That’s not an investment I want to be a part of. That’s why about five years ago my husband and I switched our deposits from a well-known global bank to a regional credit union. This credit union invests in my community (not fossil fuel projects), advocates for financial inclusion, and, as a member, gives me a voice.

Meanwhile, while attending a professional gathering to talk about money and meaning, I had an encounter with a woman who identifies as a philanthropist. She has the track record to prove her impact. Yet, when I told her about Invest for Better, she got very excited. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she could invest for impact. This smart, sophisticated and well-networked woman had believed in a separation that impact pursuits are limited to charity, and in turn, never identified as an investor.

As we begin to identify as investors, I encourage us all to consider our values and the impact we want to have. In a role-reversal over lunch with a friend (we discussed multiple identities during that hour: entrepreneur, mom, and investor), she brought up impact investing. She wanted me to know that over her husband’s objections, they moved their investments to a new asset manager who invests with a social impact lens, and that they’d over performed their prior performance. Hooray! I’ve seen it for myself. My husband remains content to invest more conventionally. Me? I have been the one educating my advisor on impact and socially responsible funds. I enjoy outperforming my husband, quarter after quarter.

For women to become impact investors, we first need to identify as investors. Then we can follow the action steps recommended by Invest for Better. As an investor, we have a responsibility to know what we own. Once we have a handle on our investments we can decide which are in keeping with our values and make changes accordingly. For those with more capital to potentially invest, educate ourselves. I participated in a Women Angels in Training Experiential Investment Workshop led by the Northern New England Women’s Investor Network, a powerful and talented group of women who identify as investors. And talk to someone you trust, whether that’s your partner or your financial advisor or another female investor. Consider launching or joining an Invest for Better Circle with a group of women in your community. It’s by educating each other that we’ll be able to move money toward solving some of the more daunting challenges of our times.