3. How do you choose where to focus impact investments?
A manager may tell you that screening out certain sectors (alcohol, fossil fuels, firearms) is what guides their impact path. But subjective exclusions like these aren’t impact investing. Instead, impact investing works through measures of inclusion—it’s for something, rather than in opposition only.
Find out the manager’s parameters around what qualifies for inclusion in their impact investment universe. It’s one thing to be environmentally, socially and financially productive. But you’d have more impact by focusing on historically marginalized communities—even more so if the goal is to shrink gaps in areas like academic achievement, clean water, economic development and healthcare.
Then, look for clearly stated core measures of inclusion. A manager should set minimum thresholds that issuers need to meet in each sector, so they know they’re targeting communities most in need. For example, a threshold for education bonds could require at least 60% of students in the system to be receiving free and reduced priced meals. Likewise, hospital issuers would need to show at least 20% of their gross revenues coming from Medicaid patients and charity care. And the universe could be narrowed from there, based on local demographics and needs.
4. How do you know you’re making a true impact?
Measuring actual impact is hard work, because data isn’t standardized. So be wary of managers who claim it’s a simple process or defined with broad parameters. Instead, managers should identify key performance indicators specific to each impact bond’s sector, then measure the issuer’s progress toward such goals.
In mass transit, for instance, trends in greenhouse gas emissions, mechanical failures and low-income ridership really matter to a community’s progress. Improve these factors and you’re working toward making a true impact.
5. Beyond research, what other resources do you leverage for impact investing?
It’s very important to constantly apply the basic principles of municipal investing: staying well-diversified and conducting thorough quantitative and fundamental research. Technology is also supportive, especially in today’s highly fragmented muni market in which the faster you navigate, the better your alpha generation or tax-loss harvesting.
When it comes to impact investing, don’t let your manager coast on reputation. Expect thoughtfulness and experience, which can make all the difference between greenwashing and meaningfully uplifting under-resourced communities.