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Millennials Changing the Investment Conversation
By Michael Schweibinz

The millennial generation—today’s young adults born between 1980 and 2000—will inherit the increasing burdens of the world, including the dramatic changes that result from global warming. They will also benefit from the largest transfer of wealth in history: some $41 trillion over the next 40 years, 70% of which will likely go to women.

During a session at the 25th annual SRI Conference, moderator Justin Conway of The Calvert Foundation noted that the majority of millennials believe that the main priority of business should be to improve society. They also view today’s financial advisers as “stodgy middle-aged white guys in suits, with corner offices, [who] think they know everything; are pushing proprietary product at us, and certainly don't know us." The millennial generation has the potential to change financial services in surprising ways and presents an enormous opportunity for the Sustainable, Responsible, Impact investment industry.

The panel of experts assembled to discuss this topic included Jeff Sheridan, Managing Director of Distribution for ImpactAssets, Jess Grady-Benson, Young Alumni Organizer for the Responsible Endowments Coalition, and Gary Matthews, an Investment Advisor Representative of First Affirmative Financial Network.

All of the panelists agreed that investment professionals should be aware of three trends when working with millennial investors:

  1. Younger investors want to see transparency, both from their financial advisors and the investments the advisor recommends. According to Jeff Sheridan, “they will research the hell out of whatever you tell them.”
  2. Millennials also want to be a part of the decision-making process, both in choosing investments for their portfolios and engaging with the companies they invest in. With more knowledge, they have more questions. “I want to make as much money as I can, but I certainly don’t want to participate in that,” Sheridan has found.
  3. Millennials have a somewhat different notion of risk and return than older generations. The “triple bottom line” as a concept is gaining traction at an inspiring pace. In Jess Grady-Benson’s view, “gambling with our future by supporting industries that are directly incompatible with a livable future is even more risky.”

“The way that we’re inheriting this world is truly impacting who we are and the way we’re interested in how money is used,” said Grady-Benson. Her work with the Responsible Endowments Coalition is to engage alumni in the student-led initiatives focused on encouraging the endowment funds of their colleges, religious institutions, and other organizations to divest from fossil fuels and several other harmful areas that are likely to negatively affect our collective futures.

The movement has been wildly successful, sparking over 400 campaigns in two years across three continents. Grady-Benson has seen a lot of interest in community reinvestment: Students are not only motivated to divest from damaging industries, but also to see that the money is used to build the brightest future they can expect to have.

"Folks like myself, who studied environmental policy or other socially-related issues in school, maybe would have never really gotten interested in investing were it not for this movement,” she said. “It’s bringing together a really interesting mix of interests, and showing how powerful it can actually be to leverage the wealth of an institution for the social good.”

Sheridan added that the millennials, in spite of their wide (and not underutilized) access to knowledge, are not yet financially literate. “It’s amazing what they don’t know about the financial world,” he said. “They catch on pretty quickly, but it’s going to be a challenge to keep their passion with them [and] bring them back to reality… to accomplish all these things, but do it in a prudent manner.”

Engaging millennials on the practical application of their goals and values is an opportunity for the financial industry to win back its sullied reputation, and for socially conscious financial advisers to set themselves apart.

 

At First Affirmative, we understand that the ways we save, spend, and invest can dramatically influence both the fabric and consciousness of society. We believe that in addition to the benefits of ownership, investors bear responsibility for the impact our money has in the world. Are you making conscious decisions about the impact of your consumer purchase and investment decisions?

 

Mention of specific companies or securities should not be considered an endorsement or a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

Posted: December 15, 2014