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As Wealthy Millennials Take Control Of Family Fortunes, Impact Investing Is Set For A Big Boost

More than a quarter of ultra-net-worth “family offices” are now putting money into social and environmental areas–and that number is rising.

As Wealthy Millennials Take Control Of Family Fortunes, Impact Investing Is Set For A Big Boost
“We need a bit more education out there because some people feel they are engaged in impact investing, but they don’t really understand the definition of it.” [Image: StudioM1/iStock]

The world’s richest families are increasingly investing their money in good causes, giving a boost to the growing, if still challenged, impact investing space. More than a quarter (28%) of ultra-net-worth “family offices” are now putting money into social and environmental areas. And, as younger generations take the reins, that percentage is likely to rise significantly in the years ahead.

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Campden Wealth, a specialist U.K. research group, and UBS, the Swiss investment bank, surveyed 262 family offices with average assets of $921 million. Two-fifths (40.4%) expect to increase their allocations toward areas like education, environmental and resource efficiency, conservation, agriculture and food, and healthcare and wellness in the next decade or so.

“This is an area that’s really worth watching. While we’re at 28% now, we could see a significant shift in impact investing over the next 10 to 15 years as the next generation takes control of the family wealth,” Rebecca Gooch, Campden’s director of research, tells Fast Company.

The research echoes several other analyses. Morgan Stanley’s “Sustainable Signals” report, released in August, found that millennials are twice as likely as other investors to seek out impact-type returns alongside financial ones. And they’re going to have plenty of money to play with. Millennials will inherit up $59 trillion between now and 2060, the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history, according to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

As yet, impact investing faces several obstacles. About a quarter of the 262 families cited a lack of available deals, or difficulty in measuring and quantifying social impact, as major challenges. The immaturity of the sector was cited by another 15%. “We need a bit more education out there because some people feel they are engaged in impact investing, but they don’t really understand the definition of it,” Gooch says. (Confusion around responsible, sustainable, and impact investing is well-documented and sometimes deliberate.)

The super-rich families generally had a stellar year, easily beating standard stock market returns. Only 4% of the 262 families lost money (10 in all); 22% said their wealth stayed about the same; 74% saw an improvement. The average return was 7%, compared to just 0.3% the year before. Gooch puts the gains down to higher-risk illiquid investments, particularly in hedge funds and private equity deals. “The family offices took a gamble and it paid off,” she says.

Luckily for the rest of us, philanthropy is also on the increase, the survey shows. The number of family offices giving to environmental causes climbed 9.4% to 41.7% last year, while the proportion donating to poverty alleviation climbed 7.0% to 41.7%.

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The ultra rich are certainly making bigger proportional gains than ordinary families. Median U.S. household incomes hit $59,039 in 2016, according to the latest U.S. Census statistics, barely rising from $58,544 in 1999 (adjusted for inflation). Between 2008 and 2016, the top 10% of earners saw an average income increase of 10.6%, while the bottom 10% of earners saw only a 0.4% jump. As ever, it pays to be rich.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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