The Toronto Stock Exchange is Canada’s biggest stock market — if you’re an investor with Canadian mutual funds, stocks, or bonds, your money is probably there. But for accredited investors who want to make a social and/or environmental impact, there is the SVX. The company that owns and operates the Toronto Stock Exchange, TMX Group Inc., has been a longstanding collaborator on the SVX project, providing support since the concept was first developed in 2008.1 The SVX was conceived to “create a market for good”. I sat down with Tristina Sinopoli, Project Coordinator at the SVX, to learn more about the organization and Tristina’s own experience in the world of impact investing2:
What is the SVX?
“The SVX is an online impact investing platform designed to connect ventures and funds that have a social or environmental impact in the work that they do, with investors that have expressed an interest in investing in companies that really do meet that double bottom line or triple bottom line, and vision.”
And for people who are unfamiliar with the “double bottom line” or “triple bottom line”, how would you define those terms?
“Companies that go above and beyond what’s expected of them by law to actually ensure that they’re having a very strong social or environmental impact. And what this really means is that they’re intentional about their impact. So they set out to actually overcome a problem that they see exists, whether it’s an environmental problem or a community problem…and they’re very intentional about saying ‘we’re going to use our business solution to solve that particular problem.’ So it’s not that impact is just a wonderful by-product of the work that they do, but they’re actually saying ‘we will be impactful and we’re integrating that, from top down, bottom up, throughout the entire organization’.”
Can you talk about some of your favourite victories or successes at the SVX?
The launch of the SVX was huge. Adam Spence had been working on the SVX…I would say, in total about 6 years…From ideation, to the pilot, to the demonstration. It was a really long journey for him in terms of getting the regulators on board, allocating all the right resources, building-up buying with all of our tremendously supportive partners like TMX, RBC, Rockefeller Foundation, the Government of Ontario, and quite a few others…So the moment when we received approval and the moment when we all realized ‘we’re live, and this has been done, and now we’re this existing entity and now we can do the work that we’ve wanting to do for so long’…It was an epiphany, a ‘we can do this and we’re on the ground doing it’ type of moment.”
I understand that the SVX usually deals with accredited investors, but are you open to being approached by individuals who would like to learn more about impact investing?
So what would a preliminary conversation look like?
“We would really be talking about common definition of impact investing. What we find is that a lot of individuals have come across impact investing at one point or another, it just wasn’t labeled ‘impact investing’, or it was labeled ‘social finance’, which is yet again another common term…We would talk about examples that are close to home and close to the investor’s frame of mind so that they would be able to relate to and understand what impact investing is. For instance, if I met with a family or individual that had generated wealth through some type of agriculture business that they were involved in, I would talk about the various impact investing examples that I know of in the agriculture space…Sometimes it’s a learning focused conversation, but sometimes they actually do know the examples really well, and we can talk about how that was an impact investment, and what the intricacies of those investments were.”
How did you become involved with the SVX team?
“Great Question! I studied at York University at the Schulich School of Business and I focused my studies within the financial market sector and I took a lot of courses in private equity. But while I was doing that, I took a lot of courses in Urban Planning and Environmental Studies, those were my passions, and they gave me that trigger moment to say ‘I want to do something with my business degree outside of the traditional investment banking or accounting’…I was the person in business school that always said: ‘what about their employees? And what about the environment? What about some of these horrendous outsourcing practices that we see multinationals doing?’ I wanted to use business in a way that would make me feel really good about what I was doing and also to help companies that I really believed in…I learned about MaRS in a happenstance type of situation: Investeco presented in my private equity class and they were talking about how there was this growing momentum of investors that wanted to invest in their Sustainable Food Fund because they [the investors] believed in it. And I thought, that’s the line that I want to go with, and I started researching MaRS and learned more about it…I started at the centre as an intern…I joined the SVX team in late 2012.”
“Impact Investing” was coined in 2007. Do you feel impact investing is still in its baby stages right now?
It’s very nascent. It’s not in baby stages in terms of everyone still trying to figure out what this beast is, it’s now about trying to figure out who it’s most appropriate for, and which investors want to get on board…It’s nascent in that there’s still not a lot of people doing impact investing. But with [newness] comes a lot of great advantages…It’s very easy now to look to leaders in the space and say ‘I want to join this space, how do I do it?’…Especially if they are a foundation, they can look to leaders like the Hamilton Community Foundation and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. The same goes for individuals as well as institutions, [for example] RBC has their Impact Investing Fund.”
What about outside of Ontario, what are the global trends in impact investing?
We’re definitely involved in the global conversion. We’re a part of the G7 Taskforce on Social Finance. We have a roundtable that convenes every so often with the goal of creating policies and frameworks that can help guide the impact investing movement forward globally…One of the things that we’re seeing is that the UK is very well ahead when it comes to social finance…[For example] social impact bonds were piloted in the UK…I would say they are the leaders in the space, especially the work that Sir Ronald Cohen has done to really build the market in the UK. And then we see various countries are ahead in different portfolios, so some countries may have really well-developed agriculture-type impact investing policies and procedures that are in place…Impact investing is so contextual that what it means in one country can mean something totally different in another country depending on both the domestic impact as well as the global impact.
Can you tell me about some of the trends you’re seeing in impact investing that relate to gender?
I can speak to what I’m seeing generally in the impact investing market in Ontario when it comes to gender…I’ve dealt with many families, so many males and females, husband and wife teams that are really interested in impact investing, or alternatively, a daughter and father or a daughter and mother, and so I would say that I’ve dealt with a 50/50 split of males and females…In terms of the female presence, we’re definitely seeing, at least from my experiences, that more women are involved in impact investing than in your traditional private equity VC space investing. And I think that the reason for that comes from a lot of female entrepreneurs or female executives that have recognized the potential of impact investing and the ability for them to actually use some capital in a really innovative way. So a lot of female entrepreneurs that have done work in the health care space, for example, then say, ‘I want to be able to invest in it, and actually put dollars towards a project that is similar to the company that I created myself’. And the same with the foundations as well, with foundations, we see a lot of female leaders in foundations that are leading the charge, a lot of executive directors in Canada are female, and so we do see huge momentum from women…[In a MaRS Women in Venture Capital and Private Equity study the high-level summary] was actually quite surprising: Females in venture capital and private equity usually take more of an administrative role, and are not necessarily involved in the investment decision making. That’s something that hopefully, when we have more data on impact investing, we can counteract and say, ‘well actually, when it comes to impact investing funds, the case is much different.’ We don’t have those numbers yet, and that’s something as a centre we can definitely work towards…I guess the other point that I would add as to why we’re still not fully ahead when it comes to the gender gap in impact investing, is that a lot of the investment professionals come from the traditional market, and so it is kind of a mirror-image…Obviously that can change and I foresee that developing as there are more women entering the traditional market as well, but I think that is something to keep in the back of our minds, that these are not just new investment professionals that are coming to light because of impact investing, there’s a fragment that are, but impact investing falls within the entire financial services ecosystem and so it’s important to understand that system as a whole, and to understand how we can support women across that entire system…One of the points that I would add is that even within the impact investment sector, it’s important to talk about female investors and female leadership, but it’s also important to talk about females as leaders in roles within the social enterprises that they operate in: That’s representation on the board for example, and that’s something we’re very cognisant of while we work with companies that are within the impact investing space, to ensure that they are really living the values that they are talking about, and many of them, if not all of them, are. For example, a company like ZooShare, I know that Daniel is very forward thinking when it comes to female leadership and that’s his own personal prerogative as well.
Did you learn about impact investing in business school?
When I was in university, the terms ‘impact investing’ and ‘social finance’ were not used whatsoever. The term ‘social responsible investing’ was, but it was used more-so in the sense of publicly listed companies and applying an ESG [environmental, social, governance] lens to that particular portfolio of investment. When I was at school there was 1 course on social entrepreneurship, and it was taught at a very high level…I felt that the instant I graduated, the course offering at Schulich increased to include impact investing and more social entrepreneurship courses…I think it’s important that impact investing is embedded throughout all courses that are business focused…as well as sector-specific focused courses…If you are in Environmental Studies, you should be able to understand the different financing mechanisms out there that can help you finance an idea that you might be working on…that’s critical. Impact investing is the definition of interdisciplinary work.
Do you have any tips on how to increase people’s awareness of impact investing in general?
Talking about it more. The investors that are currently doing it, should be talking about it as much as they can, obviously, not providing the sensitive information of their investment or anything like that, but actually being able to say “I invested in this really cool company, it’s very different than what I normally invest in”. When I meet colleagues I’m constantly talking about the work I do and trying to see how it relates to their life, for example if they work at RBC, I say, did you know RBC has an impact investment fund, have you ever heard of what they’re doing at the other end of the bank? And the more we can create those points of interaction where people can say “wow, this has actually touched my life in one way”, then we’ll have more people. On the inverse, not just from the customer perspective, but companies continuously telling their story and talking about why they’re different.
What do you think the future of impact investing future looks like? I read a great article about the future impact of millennials and impact investing.
When I think about myself and I think about the values that I have and the kind of investments I look for in my own portfolio, it’s very aligned with the person that I am…I think that [the future of impact investment] would be two routes developing at once: So the first component would be millennials aging who are accumulating wealth and looking for products that are much better at telling their own story, and much better being able to say ‘if you have values aligned with this particular sector, we’re the investment for you because those are our own values too.’ But I also wouldn’t discredit the older generation of current investors that exist…I mean, my parents have values too, and if they knew more about what they could invest in, they would do a lot more of it.
2) Personal interview with Tristina Sinopoli recorded 2014/07/29