Bonnie Gurry Of GreenPortfolio On The Future Of Money and Banking
An Interview With David Liu
Adaptability — Fintech is one of the most rapidly evolving industries. Be committed to learning new trends and ideas — but also make sure to do your own research. Don’t jump on the bandwagon just because it is popular.
The way we bank has changed dramatically over the last decade. It was not too long ago when you had to wait in line in a bank to deposit money. Today things are totally different. You can do your banking without ever walking into a bank. In addition, the whole concept of money has changed. In the recent past, money usually meant bills and coins. But today, the concept of money has expanded to include digital currency and NFTs. What other innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?
To address this, we are talking to leaders in the banking, finance, and fintech worlds, to discuss the future of banking and money over the next few years. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bonnie Gurry.
Bonnie Gurry is the Co-founder and CEO of GreenPortfolio, a fintech startup democratizing climate data so consumers can leverage personal finance to make a positive climate impact. Bonnie has focused her career on clean energy, having worked as the North American Clean Energy Lead at BASF and Renewable Energy Resources and Technology Engineer at the New York Power Authority. She also worked in venture capital and technology licensing with a focus on cleantech investments. She earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Caltech, and an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in this industry?
Climate change has been a professional and personal focus of mine for as long as I can remember. I have spent much of my career working to bring clean energy solutions to market — but I often wondered what my money was doing after I put it in the bank or my 401k. Was it negating all the work I was doing by investing in companies which were furthering climate change?
Over the past few years, lots of new financial products (funds, bank accounts, etc.) became available and claimed to stop climate change. On the surface, this sounded great to me! Unfortunately, as I started doing a lot of legwork to see if they actually were climate positive, it turns out that a lot were just using misleading marketing claims. It is cheaper and easier to say you are “green” than to actually make sure you are building the clean energy future we all need and want.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The climate community is really unparalleled. Since starting GreenPortfolio, I’ve been amazed by the outpouring of support and assistance from so many people. It was really unexpected and wonderful! Finding a group of people so collaborative and passionate about using their skills and talents to tackle this huge problem is something that really differentiates this professional sector from others. If you are feeling overwhelmed or worried about the climate crisis, I highly recommend reaching out to a group, organization or company that is working on a solution that resonates with you. Contribute in a way that is meaningful to you and helpful to the cause!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure that I have a favorite quote as such, but my co-founder, Elizabeth Landau, and I talk a lot about how important the 80/20 rule is in the climate fight and our business. Often, it feels like people get stuck working towards perfection when it comes to the climate crisis. We really take a different approach — what can we do now to help people adjust the 20% of their financial choices that are probably causing 80% of their negative climate impact? We don’t need perfect climate disclosure data to start doing that today. We have enough information at our disposal to empower consumers to start creating positive climate impact with their financial choices today.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The impact of individual financial choices is one of the last untapped frontiers to slow climate change. Morgan Stanley reported that 74% of millennials cited time and effort as a barrier to sustainable investing. The process for greening your finances is manual, fragmented, and misleading. The interviews my co-founder and I conducted found that people want to align their financial well-being with climate impact but there’s no quick and easy way to do so.
GreenPortfolio makes it easier to fight climate change with your finances. We’re building what 91% of millennials want — a personalized way to track the environmental impact of their investments, bank accounts, and spending habits. We use data to assess negative or positive effect on climate change for each company and calculate a score. Based on your portfolio and the financial products you use, we can provide you with your own climate impact score. GreenPortfolio makes it easy to see not only which or your financial products has the worst climate impact, but also connects you to pre-approved alternatives to make it easy to adapt. It’s time to put an end to greenwashing — personal financial gain and climate action can coexist if there is more transparency.
How do you think this might change the world?
GreenPortfolio is focused on democratizing climate finance and impact investing. The kind of analysis we are providing is generally only accessible to those who are affluent enough to pay for a wealth manager or have weeks of free time to conduct their own manual, in-depth analysis. Whether it’s because of knowledge, time, or money, we want to remove these barriers and automate this labor and data intensive process. GreenPortfolio helps everyone unleash the power of their financial decisions to benefit both their financial well-being and the planet.
What most excites you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? Can you explain what you mean?
Climate fintech, which is an industry that is leveraging financial technology to address climate change, will continue its rapid emergence as people continue to voice their preference for financial products that align with their values. For example, integration of carbon offsetting and removal into the payments industry will become more commonplace.
What most concerns you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? What would you suggest needs to be done to address that?
With consumer interest in sustainable banking on the rise, I’m also seeing an influx of greenwashing as institutions try to capitalize on this trend. Greenwashing is the act of portraying products and services as more environmentally friendly than they actually are. When I explain to people that their Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Fund likely contains fossil fuel companies or that their daily bank is the largest funder of fossil fuels in the world — they get angry.
Better disclosures are needed, and fortunately the SEC has announced its plans for corporate climate disclosures in the upcoming years. We don’t have years to wait on this issue though, which is why I founded GreenPortfolio. Someone needs to act with consumers’ interests in mind and help them navigate this world of green finance. By tracking current practices and disclosures of financial institutions against their future commitments, GreenPortfolio provides people with clear and concise views of how good or bad banks, credit cards, and other financial products are for the climate.
How would you articulate how the concept of money has changed in recent times? Is it really a change? How is it still the same? Can you explain what you mean?
As millennials and GenZ gain more wealth, the concept of money is evolving to include its impact on the world in addition to traditional sentiments like capital gains and financial security. It’s not necessarily new that younger generations say they care about climate change, but the difference now is that they’re acting on it. Morgan Stanley reported that 67% of millennials have already screened, selected, or exited investments based on sustainability.
Based on your vantage point as an insider in the finance industry, what innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?
The latest and greatest way to differentiate in banking is not necessarily a technical innovation but a shift in to align your products and services with your customers’ values.
How has the pandemic changed the way banks interact and engage with their customers?
The pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital banking for all generations. Looking specifically at GenZ and millennials, mobile banking is the primary way younger generations want to manage their money.
In your particular experience, how has the pandemic changed the way you interact with, and engage your customers?
GreenPortfolio was launched during the pandemic so we have always employed a digital-first approach.
In my work in the telecom space, I’m very interested in the importance of user experience. How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, encrypted messaging apps, phone, or video calls? How has this shift impacted the user and customer experience? What challenges do these apps present when used as a customer engagement tool?
At this point, we’re still focused on engaging our customers through social media and niche, climate-focused groups. Once our app is live, encrypted messaging and curated notifications will help us create secure channels and personalized communication with our customers.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I’d like a system that works as a continuous feedback loop between consumers and corporations. It should be easier for consumers and shareholders to connect with the companies and brands that they interact with. Allowing a public company to have an almost instantaneous understanding that they’re losing customers because of their corporate climate choices would fundamentally change how companies behave.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Modern Finance, Banking and Fintech industries?
1) Adaptability — Fintech is one of the most rapidly evolving industries. Be committed to learning new trends and ideas — but also make sure to do your own research. Don’t jump on the bandwagon just because it is popular.
2) Network — Financial systems are more and more interconnected and you need to be too. If you want to be the one bringing new solutions and advancements to your team, you need to be plugged into a network that keeps you informed. I like to know about a new climate fintech product that is coming out before it is launched. Then I can take the time to learn about the philosophy and methodology before it hits the market. You only really can do this if your network keeps you keyed in.
3) Curiosity — Fintech is all about finding disruptive technologies that can advance the world of banking. It’s important to think outside the box, ask questions, and dive below the surface to find where real problems lie.
4) Customer Focus — Whether your customer is a business or a person, it’s essential to understand their challenges and frustrations so you can deliver a solution that meets their needs. I knew I had to build GreenPortfolio when I interviewed a person who told me that it took him a full week to green his finances because the process was manual and he had to use a spreadsheet. Aligning personal finance and climate impact shouldn’t be that hard.
5) A Passion for Impact — I really believe that caring only about profitability is a thing of the past. Obviously, we’re all in business to make money, but you can find ways to align profits with doing good for the environment and others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I envision a world where everyone can be an investor in a clean energy future. Climate change is the existential crisis of my generation, and I don’t want to continue passing this problem to younger generations. With GreenPortfolio, I’m helping everyone become part of the clean energy transition.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.