When Jay Lipman graduated from high school, he booked a one-way ticket to Africa and volunteered at an orphanage. Unfortunately, he contracted malaria not long after he arrived and was forced to return to England.
“I was very, very sick, and I realized that there was only so much I could do on the ground in those communities,” he says. “I actually had a privilege that I wasn’t using by being there, and I realized that if I used that privilege, I might be able to make more of a systemic impact.”
Fast-forward to 2015, when Lipman and his two close friends, Johnny Mair and Doug Scott, founded Ethic, a sustainable, technology-driven asset management platform that financial advisors use to build custom portfolios for clients. The firm crossed the $2 billion mark in assets under management in July and currently serves more than 135 advisory firms. Lipman says it took time for advisors to feel comfortable about discussing sustainable investing. But in many cases, that wariness has now evolved into curiosity.
“Now we see advisors saying, ‘Oh, if this is something you’re interested in, we can actually build a portfolio that reflects how much you care about wildfires, human rights, or racial equality,’” he says. “This confidence has allowed these advisors to engage in that conversation and build deeper relationships.”
It’s for this reason that Ethic focuses on giving their partners and advisors everything they need to have that conversation. During COVID, for example, Lipman noticed that people were starting to recognize that these issues don’t operate in isolation.
“Whether it’s COVID-19 or climate change, it’s never just about one thing,” Lipman says. “It’s not a matter of saying, ‘I want to remove companies that aren’t supporting COVID measures in my portfolio.’ No, you have to look at all the interconnectivity between COVID and our lives. When we started talking to clients about that, they got really excited and wanted to learn more.”
Another change that Lipman has noticed is that advisors are now becoming storytellers. “There are really powerful stories that exist in our portfolios that connect to the things we see in the news, to who we are and to what makes us all individuals,” he says. “The more advisors feel comfortable telling those stories, the deeper the relationship they can build with their clients.”
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Caitlin Keating (@Caitkeating) is a freelancer at RIA Intel and based in New York City.