When you invest, you do so with purpose. You likely invest to fund your retirement, to provide for your family and even leave a meaningful legacy after you’re gone. Critical to your investment strategy is the ability to access market returns to grow your wealth over the long-term to help you realize more of your goals.
If you also want to invest with a positive societal or environmental purpose, you may look to adding impact investments to your portfolio. At Merrill Lynch, we define impact investments as investments made into companies, organizations and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. In other words, investments designed to create positive change in society.
Many investors think creating this kind of impact with their portfolio would require some tradeoffs, such as giving up long-term growth for positive societal benefit. However, a deeper analysis of impact investments shows that this may not always be the case. In fact, when compared to traditional investments, impact investments can often offer risk adjusted returns for many investors.1
Impact Investing’s Focus on the Long-Term
Whatever the purpose you are investing for, impact investments can help you capture the long-term growth you need while also creating impact in society.—Anna Snider, Managing Director and Investment Strategist, U.S. Trust, Head of Due Diligence, GWIM Chief Investment Office
Since the financial crisis, the focus on seeking immediate returns has begun to shift to a mindset that gives more importance to the potential long-term return of any given investment. This trend has been led by large, institutional investors who are now evaluating their investment decisions for their potential over many years, not just for the next quarter.
Enhanced access to company data, new investment modeling techniques and the ability to process large amounts of data means that investors can incorporate factors that go beyond traditional risk and return metrics. Now investors can evaluate their investments across a range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors to ascertain the impact their investments may have, not just the risk and return they may offer.
Demand for ESG data from investors also places pressure on companies to incorporate these factors into their decision making. Many companies are now evaluating their business practices for their profit potential, but also against metrics like water and energy utilization as well as larger issues such as how their manufacturing and employment practices affect society at large.
When corporate decisions are evaluated closely, the data show that decisions that focus on maximizing profits for the next quarter can actually lead to lower long-term performance of the firm. Conversely, firms that incorporate ESG factors into their strategic decision making are more likely to deliver higher returns over the long-term. By focusing on creating lasting value these ESG-focused firms may even be able to help mitigate the impact of risks beyond their control—like droughts, high energy costs or labor unrest.2 This is why incorporating impact investments into your portfolio may actually help investors capture market-rates of return and achieve potentially better long-term performance.
The range of impact investments
Impact investing comprises a range of investment types and all impact investments are not the same. At Merrill Lynch, we classify Impact Investments into four categories, each with their own unique risk-return profile:
Balancing your investment and impact goals
Institutional investors and managers who work in the impact investing field seek to balance the risk, return and impact of their investments. This same process is one that you can use as you think about potentially adding impact investments to your own portfolio.
Key factors that investors need to balance when investing for impact
Merrill Lynch research shows significant interest in Impact investing, yet hesitation around actual adoption. Helping investors understand the spectrum of opportunities and unpack the misconceptions around risk allows us to help our clients to meet their impact goals.—Jackie VanderBrug, Managing Director, Office of the CIO
If you would like to incorporate impact into your investment strategy, while maintaining the growth potential that you need, you should focus on selecting investments that credibly combine both the intention and investment approach that you are looking for. A close examination of your investments can help you understand exactly how an investment creates impact and how it is measured and reported.
Evaluating and selecting impact investments for your portfolio doesn’t have to be a struggle. With the right support and access to guidance from impact investment subject matter experts, you can easily start to incorporate impact into your portfolio.
At Merrill Lynch, we offer access to a range of impact investment solutions, from individual investments to complete impact portfolios. We also have a team of investment experts in our Chief Investment Office who are dedicated to delivering a robust suite of impact investment choices to our clients.
To learn more about our Impact Investment offering and Bank of America’s commitments to ESG, visit our Impact Investing page.
3 Questions to Ask Your Advisor
- Can impact investments add value to my portfolio in the long-run?
- What risks do I need to consider before adding impact investments to my strategy?
- How can I add impact to my portfolio in an efficient way?
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1Deconstructing Risks in Impact Portfolios.” Bank of America GWIM CIO. March 2018.
Impact investing and/or Environmental Social Governance (ESG) investing has certain risks based on the fact that ESG criteria excludes securities of certain issuers for nonfinancial reasons and therefore, investors may forgo some market opportunities and the universe of investments available will be smaller.
Impact investing and/or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) managers may take into consideration factors beyond traditional financial information to select securities, which could result in relative investment performance deviating from other strategies or broad market benchmarks, depending on whether such sectors or investments are in or out of favor in the market. Further, ESG strategies may rely on certain values based criteria to eliminate exposures found in similar strategies or broad market benchmarks, which could also result in relative investment performance deviating.