Introducing Till

What It Is, and Why We’re Doing It

It’s time to be fearless.

By Ben Vivari and Kylelane Purcell

Our company, Purcell Communications, is launching a new initiative this year called Till. Till is a program that helps advisors cultivate sustainable investors by providing a different kind of financial education and guidance.

But for us, Till is more than a product. It’s a way to make actionable an idea whose time, finally, has come.

For as long as we’ve been in the investment industry, investors have shown a strong interest in sustainable investing (sometimes called responsible, green, or “ESG” investing). It’s a reasonable instinct — people use their values to make decisions in every other sphere of their life. But it’s an instinct that hasn’t always been respected within the investment industry.

In just the past 5 years, though, things have changed dramatically:

· The demand for values-aligned investing has become downright insistent, especially from large institutions. Pension plans, nonprofits, and foundations are done with making investments that run counter to their missions and have come to expect values alignment in their financial plans.

· The financial power of women and millennials is growing, and only expected to grow more. By huge margins, women and millennials want their investments to align with their values.

· In response, the options available to values-based investors have exploded. The statistics are eye-popping: there are currently more than 800 US-based mutual funds and ETFs with a sustainability focus.

As a result, there are more and better options to invest your values today, regardless of what specifically your values are. But that doesn’t mean that the asset management industry or the advisor community are serving individual investors as they should.

The Diagnosis

Here’s the problem as we see it. Asset managers are traditionally focused on data — essentially, reducing complex decisions down to a standardized set of numbers. In fact, “advanced analytics” has become the centerpiece of investment decision making. Call it Peter Lynch being pushed aside by moneyball.

You can argue whether all this data has made the industry better, but it is undeniably true that it has made it increasingly out of touch with what investors actually care about and want to support.

Over the years, advisors have been trained to apply planning formulas to client needs that best fit the data frameworks asset managers prefer. But values-aligned investing is a different proposition. Sustainability data, while abundant, is not standardized, and investor demand is driven not only by measurable goals but also by values and preferences. Finding truly suitable investing options demands a deeper dive into the asset manager’s biases and motivations.

In other words, investors need more than data and formulas to make sense of their choices. They need examples and stories. If the industry wants to build relationships with sustainability investors, it needs to provide more transparency and much more consistency in the ESG content it provides. The only way to get broad change is to preferentially invest with the companies that provide it.

The Path Forward is from the Ground Up

Investing your values is not a check-the-box exercise (or as we like to say, #ESGisNotaTree). It requires good information and a wary eye to distinguish between the different approaches asset managers are using. That’s why Till is so focused on helping advisors and investors know how to get the answers you need.

We believe in the power of asking the right questions. After all, it was the steady drumbeat of investors asking “why not?” that drove the development of passive strategies a generation ago. Then, as now, advisors and asset managers didn’t always see the benefit of providing something new — it took steady, insistent demand from well-informed investors.

It’s our intention to help advisors cultivate an environment that is welcoming, informative, and empowering for sustainable investors. There are many studies and lots of data showing that individuals want to have these conversations.

And yet, those same studies also show that those conversations aren’t happening. That’s a loss on both sides of the equation. Investors miss out on the chance to invest in alignment with their personal values, while advisors are sacrificing an obvious opportunity to differentiate their practice, add value for clients, and build long-term, lasting relationships.

Like advisors, our goal is to turn sustainable investing interest into sustainable investing action. Every investment in a legitimate sustainable strategy changes the way that money gets distributed in our economy: it changes the questions that are asked of companies, it elevates the profile of non-financial impacts that companies have, and it creates a more meaningful type of accountability.

This is our mission at Till, and we are excited to join you on your journey to cultivate the power and influence of sustainable investors.

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