Impact Investing: An underrated investment opportunity for family offices and high-net-worth individuals


Family office and HNIs can be significant investors for social enterprises with their patient and flexible capital. Here’s a lowdown of reasons behind their hesitancy and what impact investing can bring to their portfolios


If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that the world can no longer afford to ignore social and environmental issues. Climate change, poverty, human rights, gender inequality are just some of the issues that are fast becoming central to mainstream business decisions. This paradigm shift towards people, planet and profit is a direct result of the growing understanding by global leaders that socio-environmental issues are agnostic in their impact on people’s lives, cutting across socio-economic levels and geographies. One of the solutions to solving these global issues is impact investing.


The impact investing ecosystem in India has rapidly grown over the last decade. According to the data from the Impact Investors Council (IIC), more than 600 impact enterprises in India now affect more than 500 million lives, attracting over $9 billion in capital. However, most impact capital comes from foreign donors and investors, be they development finance institutions, institutional investors, high-net-worth individuals or global foundations. While this inflow of impact-focused capital has helped build a robust ecosystem for impact investing, it continues to serve as a stark reminder that domestic private capital is still focused on conventional approaches to investment.


Indian family offices and high net worth individuals (HNIs) are important stakeholders in India’s investment landscape. However, investor participation in impact investing is still at a very nascent stage. According to ‘Unlocking Impact Capital: The Indian Family Office Edition’, a study brought out by Waterfield and the Indian Impact Investors Council, domestic family offices and HNIs make up only 7.5 percent of participants in impact investments in India between 2016 and 2020. The same study also shows that Indian family offices and HNIs have polarising views on impact investing. Nearly 52 percent of Indian family offices and HNIs believe that doing good can also generate market-linked financial returns and a near equal proportion believe the two must remain separate and distinct. Family Office and HNIs, with their extensive networks, can be significant investors for social enterprises with their patient and flexible capital. Coupled with the intent to align their wealth with their personal values (a trend which is developing amongst the NextGen), it makes family offices and HNIs perfectly placed to become an attractive source of capital for this ecosystem.


For family offices, impact investment opportunities address issues related to the masses—social enterprises that find solutions for India’s largely underserved but incredibly aspirational ‘next billion’. Some optimistic Family Office investors view impact investing through the same investment lens as they do for any other asset class. This is a definite win for the impact investing ecosystem as these investors function as evangelists, strongly advocating the ability for impact investing to provide commercial returns and impact. Equally, many family offices and HNIs continue to have reservations regarding the ecosystem. They repeatedly point out the industry’s inability to demonstrate measurable results. Moreover, a lack of common frameworks and a common language to measure the impact make greenwashing a real concern. To add to this, many families feel that impact funds and enterprises often lack skilled professionals with adequate on-the-ground experience to understand the nuanced challenges of these businesses.


Additionally, potential investors face product related barriers because of a lack of good quality investment opportunities across the risk-return spectrum. Domestic investors have not been sufficiently exposed to the wide variety of impact investing opportunities available in the country. They range from equity investments into funds and social enterprises to less conventional social finance models such as development impact bonds (DIBs), loan guarantees and pay for success models.


India is not lacking in socio-environmental issues and there is enough and more room for philanthropic, impact, and commercial capital to co-exist and complement each other in alleviating socio-economic issues. Wealth advisors to family offices and HNIs can help their clients contribute to real social change by earmarking ‘sustainable development capital’ in a client’s portfolio for the broader spectrum of grants, direct investments in social enterprises and blended finance. Exposing families to opportunities across this spectrum will help broaden the perspective and give clients multiple options to deploy capital towards social development. Equally important is to be able to create metrics for clients that enable them to measure, monitor and evaluate the “impact quotient” of their investments.


As India inches closer towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and climate commitments made at COP26, unlocking Family Office and HNI capital for sustainable development can be a game-changer. It will require a concerted effort amongst wealth managers to channelise domestic capital to the social sector. It will mean educating and training our relationship managers, working with partners to source investment opportunities, and being able to diligence social enterprises through both the commercial and impact lens. As investors, we applaud the unicorns that get created, but can we also applaud those social enterprises and impact funds that aspire to touch a billion lives.


Source: Forbes India

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