From High Finance to Impact Investing: Q&A with Kate Storey

Tuesday September 25, 2012
Camille Jensen, Axiom News
Kate Storey has seen both sides of the financial spectrum having worked at a large Canadian investment bank, and now joining Renewal2, which invests in businesses at the forefront of social and environmental innovation. We caught up with Kate, who was attending Social Venture Institute (SVI) Hollyhock, to hear more about what she’s seeing in impact investing, and what she’s learning from a gathering of 140 social entrepreneurs.

Kate Storey provides feedback to a case study presenter during SVI Hollyhock. Photo: Sara Dent
Kate, what made you move from a large investment bank to Renewal2?

I started doing some pretty heavy soul searching in the fall of last year. I wanted to find a career model that fit with my passion and interests. I was not in a job where I felt I could reach my full potential and it wasn’t the right atmosphere.

It’s very difficult in North America to align ones environmental and social values with a blossoming career in the capital markets.

Renewal2 was the perfect fit, a firm where I could help investors allocate capital to businesses at the forefront of social change and environmental innovation. It’s been a truly rewarding and nurturing workplace for me. It’s much different then the traditional corporate culture – there’s no glass ceiling, there is a glass elevator.

We are actively looking for women-led businesses to invest in. We are actively looking to fund businesses that will cause a paradigm shift in the way resources are used and people are treated. I feel so privileged to work with the colleagues, investors and entrepreneurs that I do.

What could help accelerate a shift where more people move their money into impact investing?

One of the reasons I joined Renewal2, is I truly believe that in the long run businesses that are both environmentally, socially sustainable and profitable will outperform businesses that are not effectively pricing in the negative consequences of their externalities.

Our investment committee at Renewal2 is very balanced in ensuring the companies we invest in have both a strong environmental and/or social mission, as well as a healthy growth and profitability curve.

I think with the credit crisis and sluggish economy over the past few years, investors are seeing that the public market traditional asset classes (stocks, bonds, commodities) aren’t giving them the types of reliable returns that were once expected. An investor who’d invested in a TSX Index five years ago would be down more than 10 per cent from their original investment.

The dearth of public market returns creates an opportunity for investors to re-evaluate their current portfolio and shift their wealth to an industry where their money can not only make a good, steady return but can also make a positive impact in the world and change the way people live their lives.

First time at SVI?

Yes, it's been an amazing experience for me. It’s just such an overwhelming feeling of support, collaboration and raw, unbridled entrepreneurial talent.

Some of the group bonding exercises (singing, dancing) push my comfort zone, but this retreat has been so inspiring and is allowing me to look introspectively at what impact I want to leave on the world.

What’s struck you about SVI?

On Bay Street, often one’s wealth and status is improved at the expense of others. What’s really struck me here is the amount of supportive capital, experience and wisdom that shows up at SVI.

I didn’t realize there would be such an outpouring of resources whether financial or skill based. Successful entrepreneurs who have already grown and sold businesses come to SVI to both invest in social/environmental mission businesses and offer coaching and mentorship. They’ve made their mark on the world and now, they feel, it’s time to give back.

Hearing stories at the Women’s Circle of female entrepreneurs who have built beautiful families and are also achieving career aspirations and satisfaction in social change businesses is also inspiring. I’d like to see more women at the top of our fastest growing and largest companies, and on more boards, helping to make decisions that shape Canada.

What are you taking home?

Some serious inspiration about how I can have an even bigger influence in the world for change outside of my role as part of the Renewal2 investment committee. I’d like to incorporate more community involvement and support initiatives into my personal life.

I have a very strong personal passion for making finance more accessible to women. The financial industry is still largely male, and banks have a very male energy.

A lot of brilliant women find finance – financial lingo and even speaking to their financial advisors very intimidating. I’d like to help take down that initial barrier and provide an open place where women in non-finance careers (doctors, lawyers, media, arts, retail, etc.) can come, feel safe to ask basic questions openly, to learn about the gamut of investment and savings options available to them.

Women are increasingly responsible for large amounts of discretionary wealth and I don’t think the financial industry is yet catering to their needs.

I think, I will start by offering a finance 101 workshop for entrepreneurs when I get back to Vancouver.