She built it, will they come? Investment analyst veteran shares the ‘Why’ behind ESG
Advisors and investors continue to have increased interest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing. To help shed light on this “new-but-old” option, we talked with investment analyst Jennifer Boxberger, who leads ESG investment initiatives at UMB. In this personal Q&A, Jennifer shares details about her career history, her ongoing journey in the ESG investing space, and key considerations for investors.
Tell us about your career history? How did you become an analyst?
I love working with investments! I grew up thinking I wanted to be an accountant, but when I was in college, I didn’t enjoy my accounting classes. During my final semester, I ended up taking five finance classes, including several focused on investments, and absolutely loved it.
I began my investment analyst career right after college and have now been working in this world for nearly 20 years—and I still love it.
What brought you to UMB?
I wasn’t looking for a new job when the opportunity to work at UMB landed at my door. One of my previous colleagues introduced me to my current supervisor who was looking to build out UMB’s investment product research team. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was ready for a change and to learn more and grow professionally.
Shortly after I joined, I was presented with the opportunity to lead our ESG investing initiatives, which has been my primary focus ever since.
What has it been like for you to build the ESG portfolio from the ground up?
It has been a learning curve, digging into a new way of thinking around investments—doing good with your investments and making money at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some extremely interesting people in the socially responsible investment eco-system. And, it has been more fulfilling than I ever could have dreamed.
To have the opportunity to create something that not only helps investors meet their financial goals, but is also values-based, is incredibly rewarding.
Why did UMB decide to focus in this area?
UMB has provided faith-based socially responsible investing for our clients for more than 20 years. So, a values approach to investing is not new—but it has evolved. Part of what my team focuses on is industry trends, and in 2015, we saw an interesting opportunity. There was a significant amount of research highlighting the current and upcoming large wealth transfer to women and millennials, and specifically that both groups are interested in ESG investing. And given our focus on ensuring we provide relevant and meaningful products and services to our clients, we decided this was an investment option worth more research.
This included constructing a full suite of ESG portfolios that span across risk tolerances and asset classes. My team spent more than two years conducting due diligence and finding the right partnerships with ESG firms to include in these ESG portfolios.
What are three things you would share with someone who wants to learn more about ESG investing?
- Work with an advisor who is knowledgeable in the space. There are hundreds of options and fees can (and should) be in-line with other portfolio selections.
- There are many ways you can invest in ESG funds. Whether that is finding a total portfolio solution like we have created at UMB or screening individual equities to align with your specific values, there are options for all types of investors.
- Ask yourself ‘Why not?”: If aligning your investments with your values is important, and you don’t have to give up performance, then why wouldn’t you invest in ESG investments? I love telling people they can invest in socially responsible investments without giving up performance and being able to prove it with research.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice (or additional perspective) before starting this process, what would it be?
I would tell myself to throw the narrower demographics out the window. While the research pointed to women and millennials as being the primary people interested in socially responsible investments, we’ve found it really encompasses most people. So, while some demographics may be more interested in ESG investing than others, just like anything else, everyone has their own preferences. We don’t believe those interested in ESG investing are clearly separated by gender or age.
What is next for ESG at UMB?
First and foremost, it’s educating people on ESG investing and how we’re approaching it at UMB. We have a strong research team that has developed a diversified ESG solution, and we will continue to share and communicate our message so people know this is an option and can determine if it’s right for them.
The wealth management and investment arena is a crowded space, but I believe we have built something that will truly resonate with people, from both an investing and purpose perspective. When all is said and done, most people want to do good whenever they can—and we’re giving them another way to do so.
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