By Lauryn Agnew, CEO of Seal Cove Financial
Place-based impact investing adds another dimension to the exciting and growing field of impact investing: the investment strategy designed to combine financial returns with positive economic and/or environmental impacts. In its early phase, impact investing was predominantly associated with private equity investments into social enterprises to improve the lives of those at the global ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – the poorest of the poor. Broadening the concept of impact investing to include place can open opportunities for place-based mission-oriented organizations to participate in investing in as well as giving to one’s mission and place.
For those fiduciaries whose mission is to serve their beneficiaries in a particular geographic region, limited place-based investment strategies exist. The financial services industry is based on global geographic diversification strategies and regional/local markets haven’t justified the development of very many local investable opportunities.
We believe that the San Francisco /Silicon Valley Bay Area has the right combination of institutional wealth pools, talent, innovative spirit, and generous philanthropists to demonstrate that Place-Based Impact Investing can bring private capital, public resources, and philanthropic assets together to build a better and stronger, more sustainable economic region. With the right model, the wealth pools that have grown so large in our Bay Area could prudently and intentionally invest a small portion of their assets in our own region, enhancing our economic resilience, prosperity and sustainability.
Collaboration and centralization, combined with transparency and stringent due diligence, can provide the tools to invest – just a small portion of – our asset pools (retirement plans, community and family foundations, corporate and private charitable assets, and endowments) – into our local economy. By offering a family of funds, that is well due-diligenced by an expert team, we can manage the collective asset base in specialized multi-manager funds based on broad asset classes: public equity, fixed income (bonds), real estate, infrastructure, private equity and a community investing/savings fund. Using these funds as building blocks for a relatively small portfolio allocation to place-based impact investing (for example, 1-5%), investors can target their unique risk/return/impact goals and have an intentional impact on the Bay Area. Risk and return are set to achieve the asset class’s individual benchmark risk and return profile (for example, the public equities portfolio’s benchmark is the Russell 3000). Additionally, these funds will have a goal to seek, invest, report, and disclose their local or regional/ Bay Area impact. Each asset class has a specific targeted impact potential.
A well diversified portfolio can therefore offer a variety of potential impact opportunities. Using our public equity holdings, we can engage corporate managements, particularly those companies headquartered in the Bay Area, on a variety of topics like Board of Directors diversity, for example, and encouraging more diversity in the Board and senior management. We can encourage stronger environmental protections around the Bay and the world. We can encourage fair and non-discriminatory policies for the employees of these companies, many of who will be living in the Bay Area. We can encourage and invest in sustainable, long term local and regional real estate projects and programs that will provide strong returns to investors while helping to meet our pressing real estate and housing needs and goals. Infrastructure is a long term investment across many fields, like energy, information, health and education, housing and transit, jobs and community development. Private capital, invested in non-public social and job-creating companies, in start-ups and incubators, can flow more abundantly into disruptive and cutting edge technologies. By using one or more of our portfolios for intentional local impact, we can invest for a long term sustainable, prosperous and resilient community.
Who is a place-based impact investor?
There’s an easy way to know if you are a place-based impact investor: check your mission statement – or even your organization/foundation’s name. If a certain geographic area is mentioned there, it means that you have an opportunity for geographic alignment of investments with your mission, using assets to augment or enhance your gifting (or benefit) dollars in support of your mission.
Some examples of place-based investors include the following:
The large endowment funds at the academic institutions in the Bay Area (Stanford, Cal, USF, Santa Clara, etc.) can invest in the Bay Area to help serve the students who live all around the Bay Area – by investing in our local economy: diversity and jobs, company formation and engagement, housing and transit, etc. We can invest locally to keep our region welcoming, healthy and safe for students.
Public retirement funds, like the City and County of San Francisco Employees Retirement System, (59,000 active and retired employees and $20 billion in assets, https://mysfers.org/resources/publications/sfers-actuarial-valuations ) and whose employees quite likely travel from other counties where they live to work in San Francisco, have an opportunity allocate a small portion of their global portfolios to local economic development. They and the several other public retirement funds in the Bay Area invest billions of dollars of assets globally. Within these portfolios, they could intentionally support local investments, earn market rates of return through institutionally recognized investment managers, and participate in the funding for infrastructure, housing, transit, etc. for their employees and retirees and the overall benefit of the regional community.
Large corporate and personal wealth pools, whose owners are the beneficiaries of the innovation and economic strength of the Bay Area and whose employees live and work all over the Bay Area, can make local and regional investments to help build a more prosperous, resilient and sustainable future for their current and future employees and their families. Our generous philanthropists (Hewlett, Packard, Benioff, and Zuckerberg, to name a few) have an opportunity to use part of the 95% of their assets that is not given away as grants for local investing, without sacrificing return or increasing risk. Investments like these can add to the power of mission oriented grants, using more parts of the portfolio’s capital stack for local impact.
We can make it easier for place-based fiduciaries, wealth managers and asset owners to invest locally for impact by offering a centralized place for investments to be researched, managed by proven outside managers, and monitored for risks, returns and local impact.
Why we want to make place-based impact investments:
Our research indicates that we can overcome the various beliefs that investors have held that keep them unable or unwilling to consider place-based impact investing:
For the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative, place-based impact investing is about building a platform through which fiduciaries can collaborate on investments all around the San Francisco/Silicon Valley economic region that can provide a combination of market/benchmark returns in each asset class AND a positive local impact on our community. That broad goal opens the door to our robust economic economy that ranks in the top 20 in the world, is headquarters to the second largest concentration of S&P 500 companies, and is home to a uniquely innovative and diverse urban/rural community and world class destination. The Bay Area however still has its challenges, struggles and failings. Intentionally directing a small portion of our large global portfolios (maybe 1%) to the long term solutions for our own backyard can have a significant influence on the speed at which we find those solutions. Private capital can guide resources to the gaps in our economy and build a more prosperous, sustainable and resilient region.
Like all investment strategies, impact investing, for our purposes, provides a return and can be recycled over and over, unlike a grant which is a one-time impact gift. Place-based impact investing can tap into more of the capital resources of an organization to complement and enhance the grant-making activities of its regional mission.
Small allocations from large portfolios, when placed in commonly used financial instruments managed by professional investment firms, and even with a mission alignment in geographic terms, would not add to the overall riskiness of a global portfolio. Nor would that portion put the global rate of return expectations of the portfolio in jeopardy if it were constructed under the same strict fiduciary standards for all institutional funds under UPMIFA and ERISA. A large pool of assets dedicated to local investing would draw capital seekers and investment strategies for consideration as potential investments through the investment managers, growing the opportunity set and deal flow. Tracking the local impact would be concurrent with regular monitoring of the portfolios. A team of dedicated financial professionals, employing the best practices and resources of our field, can give investors the building blocks to make prudent portfolios with market returns and a local impact, customized to each investor’s own unique risk, return and impact goals.
The impact generated by these investment portfolios will depend on how that asset class provides impact, and how much we can focus that impact on the Bay Area. Having appropriate expectations about the sort of impact that each asset class offers is key to understanding how an overall portfolio can combine impact with returns. In the early days of these funds, the impact from these Bay Area portfolios would be small. With the potential for growing the assets base over time, more impact can be focused on the Bay Area’s unique needs and challenges.
In the public equity sector, the impact an investor has comes from the right of shareholders to engage with the management of companies to build long-term value. Shareholders can vote proxies as well as work with other groups of investors, sometimes in direct communication with management, for setting and reaching certain environmental, social or governance goals. As shareholders of Bay Area – headquartered companies, we can monitor and engage with corporate management for our commonly held goals of environmental safety of the San Francisco Bay and watershed, diversity in senior management and at the Board level, and for policies that include employees and community as stakeholders. The model portfolio developed in 2011 shows that a portfolio like this would have provided higher returns with no increase in risk (since inception through 2016). Tools like corporate engagement, ESG monitoring, a focus on companies headquartered in the Bay Area with a positive social, environmental and governance profile, build a portfolio that is better than average and could have a long term positive local impact. Indeed, some of these Bay Area companies could partner with us and put some investable assets to work in our own backyard. Publicly traded equities (stocks) are a part of everyone’s portfolio, and are a worthy tool for the impact they offer to shareholders.
Fixed income portfolios can track the impact they have through the bonds they own. Providing liquidity to investable projects is a proven strategy for impact and there are many ways to participate: small business loans, corporate bonds, municipal and government bonds, green bonds, infrastructure bonds, etc. These categories are then sliced and diced by industry, nationality, currency, etc. Building a fixed income portfolio that focuses on the financing opportunities in the Bay Area, like direct lending, deposits/investments at community banks and loan funds, local bond issuances, middle market corporate loans, through vetted investment professional firms, can provide both an overall market rate of return (Barclays Aggregate) and evidence of the impact, output and outcomes from that financing.
Likewise, Real Estate as an asset class has its own footprint for risk, return and impact. A diversified fund would include some liquid options, like sustainable REITS, and property investments across the spectrum, including residential and homeownership, multi-family and rentals, commercial, industrial, retail, and affordable categories. While the real estate portfolio will not be 100% Bay Area focused in the early days, we could expect to see more concentration in the Bay Area as the funds mature. The Bay Area has unique challenges to developing our limited and scenic real estate while balancing it with the enormous growth our region has seen. Longer term investors in the Bay Area Impact Investing real estate portfolio would invest in sustainable, regional solutions to some of the problems we face in housing disparity, affordability and shortage across the region. The portfolio would also include local and regional properties like medical, industrial, commercial, educational, etc.
Infrastructure opportunities would include broad categories of sustainable, prosperous and resilient community/regional investments, like cleaner energy for our homes, businesses, and cars, better transit options, affordable housing near transit, education and job training tied to job creation and job development in the region. Adjusting to the risks of climate change and sea level rise will take a regional effort to mitigate the risk that our San Francisco Bay can flood billions in real estate assets along its shores. In some cases, investments in infrastructure may have extended positive impact beyond the Bay Area. For example, water infrastructure investments may include the entire San Francisco Bay watershed north to Oregon and west to Nevada.
Private Equity/Venture Capital
Private equity was virtually born and raised in Silicon Valley. Experts at innovation and finding the next disruptor, private equity/venture capitalists have created millions of jobs around the world, as well as here in the Bay Area. To continue the Bay Area’s leadership, we can build that impact investing eco-system of innovation and support to solve not only the world’s problems but some of our own here at home. The investment spectrum in the private equity space in the Bay Area can also include the innovative Hubs, Incubators, crowd-funding and other alliances for investors. More funding opportunities for social entrepreneurs, building a social stock exchange, networking for more angel funding and more access to each other will help build the bridge between capital providers and capital seekers, through centralized virtual and physical resources.
Community Investment/Savings accounts
A diversified pool of notes with Bay Area based Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) will have a risk and return profile like that of a “really good savings account” while providing an asset base for these community banks and loan funds to grow their impact. They create a lot of community impact through lending to small businesses and non-profit organizations in our community and they have been doing this work successfully for decades. This can now be an accessible investment/savings choice for place-based impact investors. Under development is the first ever “Bay Area Super CD-Note” where we tie together transparency, liquidity, impact and strong returns through highly rated CDFIs in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Bay Area.
It seems that intentionally focusing a small portion of our investment portfolios on investing in the Bay Area would be a good thing, especially if we can expect to get market returns and a positive local impact, but without all the time and effort of doing it alone.
How to use the Bay Area Impact portfolios as building blocks for aligning your investment strategy with your mission and impact goals in your own backyard.
The six Bay Area Impact Investing portfolios (public equity, fixed income, real estate, infrastructure, private equity, and community investing/savings) are like building blocks to mix and match to meet your own personal, family or institutional target investment goals and mission. Each portfolio is asset class specific, and is designed to deliver the market/benchmark return for that asset class as well as a positive impact on the San Francisco Bay Area’s long term sustainability, prosperity and resilience.
Let’s describe the characteristics of each of the portfolios:
Public Equities: This model stock portfolio is over-weighted in Bay Area headquartered companies which gives its investors an oversized voice for indirect impact through corporate engagement and proxy voting. It encourages strong attention to ESG criteria, long term wealth creation for shareholders, and a positive impact on the Bay Area through shareholder activism.
Publicly Traded Fixed Income: This Bay Area bond fund will hold a broad selection of investable bonds generally offered by Bay Area issuers: municipalities, local governments and agencies, regional corporate bonds as well as strategies for direct lending to small and medium sized businesses and non-profits, and project bonds for the area.
The Real Estate portfolio will include both liquid REITs and investable projects across the spectrum of residential (homeownership and rentals, affordable and planned spaces, rental and multi-family), industrial and commercial broadly across the Bay Area. It will include sustainability, resilience and prosperity goals and will adopt fiduciary standards to invest in the complex environment that is the San Francisco Bay Area real estate market. Impact here can be counted in terms of properties built/bought, families housed, jobs created, GHG reduced, etc.
Infrastructure investments may be in the form of infrastructure bonds tied to specific projects, or public private partnerships for longer term regional transit, housing, and community development solutions. Clean and green energy efficiency, internet access, congestion on the highways, carbon footprints are some of the infrastructure investment needs we see in the Bay Area. With our approach to pooling long term assets, we can find the right partners and shovel-ready opportunities, through networking and centralized collaboration.
Private equity portfolios, with exposure to the newest entrepreneurial talent found in hubs, incubators and our leading business schools, can be fueled with local talent and resources so the Bay Area can continue to lead the world in creative solutions through innovation and technology. This is a long term portfolio, usually inaccessible to many investors, that can provide early funding for new disruptive ideas, mentorship, and building job-creating machines that focus on the resources and needs of the Bay Area. Success stories already abound about start-ups in the Bay Area’s Low-Moderate Income neighborhoods that have realized significant local impact and provided strong returns to private equity investors, like Pandora, Tesla, Revolution Foods, to name a few.
Combining asset classes in our portfolios is smart diversification. We can apply this concept to our local investment portfolio allocations as well. For example, the old investing rule of thumb was to have a 60% stocks/40% bonds portfolio. Today a well diversified portfolio might look like this below:
|Asset Class||Allocation||Expected annual returns|
Typical portfolios will mix these asset classes for an overall average rate of return, relying on the ups and downs of each asset class in its market cycle to moderate the overall risk (volatility) in the portfolio, resulting in a long term average expectation for the portfolio to return about 6.5-7.5% annually over time.
If you are a moderate-risk/moderate-return investor, as are many long term asset pools that expect to survive many generations, then this diversified allocation approach could be a guideline for your place-based impact investing allocation. Split your 1% place-based impact investing allocation into its component asset classes and look forward to it earning it’s assigned market benchmark returns and providing a positive impact on the Bay Area overall.
If you are a more aggressive investor you can shift your percentage allocation in favor of the higher earning asset classes like public and private equities, targeting more there and less to the other asset class portfolios.
If you are a more conservative investor and want more comfort in a less volatile portfolio, you can choose to invest more in the Community Investment/Savings, Bond and Infrastructure funds.
Likewise, because these are already geographically aligned, local mission oriented investors can tilt their place-based impact investments to focus more on a particular alignment with mission than on the risk and return metrics. For example a fund that seeks to impact jobs and job creation can use the public equity, private equity, and real estate portfolios to impact the job goals for job creation and job development. Housing advocates can align their investments to the Real Estate, Bond and Infrastructure portfolios.
Tracking the Impact in the Bay Area
Building sustainability will be a long term investment goal for the BAIII portfolios. In the beginning, we want at least some portion of our private capital portfolios to be participating on an intentional basis in the investable opportunities in the Bay Area. In the long term, we want to create more impactful opportunities and an investment platform for channeling local resources and capital to local investments and community resilience for our region. We can grow into a clearinghouse for other parts of the impact investing capital stack as well.
From the model portfolios designed in 2013-14, we can extract the sorts of investments that provide examples of the kinds of impact we seek in the various asset classes.
HIT Invests $16.8 Million in Gabilan Plaza Apartments in Salinas, CA Rehab of Affordable Housing Development Will Generate Over 110 Union Construction Jobs
The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) provided $16.8 million in financing for the $43.3 million rehabilitation of Gabilan Plaza Apartments, a multifamily development that has provided affordable housing to residents of Salinas, CA, for over 40 years. The all-union rehabilitation work is expected to generate more than 110 union jobs.
The HIT investment of union and public employee pension funds will help finance exterior and interior rehabilitation at the aging housing complex, which consists of 26 garden-style apartment buildings offering 200 rental units. All of the units are income restricted, with 10% designated for households earning up to 50% of the area median income and the rest reserved for families earning up to 60% of the area median income.
Eddy & Taylor Family Housing
Location: San Francisco, CA
TOAH Fund Financing: $7.2 million
Housing Units: 153
Retail Space: 12,000 square feet
The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. is developing an old parking lot into a 14-story building with affordable housing and retail space planned to attract a grocery store to this underserved community. The site is located just two blocks from the Powell Street BART station, a major transit hub in San Francisco.
|Municipal Industrial Revenue Bonds:|
San Francisco PUC – Wastewater infrastructure bonds
• $240 million Wastewater Revenue Bond will fund eligible projects in sustainable storm water management and wastewater projects
Green infrastructure is a stormwater management tool that takes advantage of the natural processes of soils and plants in order to slow down and clean stormwater and keep it from overwhelming the City's sewer system
|• The first certified green water bond to finance sustainable water infrastructure
• Working to maintain the 100+ year old, 900 mile long combined sewer system and 17 pump stations that collect sewage and storm water
|Long term municipal revenue bond for water infrastructure
Proposal to open The Bay Area Center for Place-based Impact Investing: Let’s make it easier to invest locally
The Center becomes the PLACE where collaboration and collective impact begin. By centralizing the core activities like due diligence, resource management, and monitoring of the portfolios, a collaborative team and their investor/partners would have a virtual and physical place to work and network. Members/investors will get to align their mission and financial goals and capital seekers will have a platform for networking and mentoring. Acting as a clearinghouse, the Center can be the home to all sorts of impact investing opportunities, across the capital markets continuum, including:
Next Steps: How do we open the Bay Area Center for Place-based Impact Investing?
The Bay Area Center for Impact Investing
The Bay Area is the natural place to build a model for a more efficient channeling of private capital into the regional economy. Let’s do it.
 The research paper describing the BAIII was published in the Routledge Handbook of Sustainable and Social Finance with Oxford University: “Regional Impact Investing for Institutional Investors: The Bay Area Impact Investing Initiative,” July 2016
 The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco encouraged and published the research working paper: “Impact Investing for Small Place-Based Fiduciaries: The Case Study of the United Way of the Bay Area”. http://www.frbsf.org/community-development/files/wp2012-05.pdf
 Financing Sustainable Cities Scan and Toolkit, October 2016, in partnership with HIP Investor: to download the paper: http://usdn.org/public/page/32/Government-Operations
 Cornerstone Journal of Sustainable Finance and Banking, “Proximity” (full edition) December 2016 issue: http://cornerstonecapinc.com/2016/11/place-based-impact-investing-how-to-invest-in-your-own-backyard