A key step in growing your money and aligning it with your values is finding the right support. A great financial advisor can serve as a trusted educator, thought partner, and valued confidant. Selecting an advisor who can meet you where you are—at your level of knowledge, confidence, and wealth—is an important choice. An advisor who is tuned into your needs will be able to integrate your hopes, fears, and life goals into a financial plan and investment strategy that will give you peace of mind. They'll also help you find ways to invest your values across your entire portfolio.
A good advisor should be able to build your confidence and make you more comfortable with risk. They should help you get to the point where you trust that you're financially stable and on the road to financial fulfillment. Wouldn't it be great to be in a position where you knew that in your bones? You should be able to count on your advisor to be transparent, respond fully to your questions, and provide you with regular updates on both the financial and impact aspects of your portfolio.
You have the right to believe that you and your money are being well cared for by your financial advisor. You also have the right to feel empowered by them and to enjoy working with them. You shouldn't settle for less.
The point at which you move your assets into greater alignment with your values is a perfect time to reevaluate an existing relationship or to consider hiring a new values-aligned investment advisor. For example, you may want to consider hiring a financial advisor when:
A financial advisor can act as a neutral third party who can place events in perspective for you, whether that's instilling confidence in your plan or helping you manage your emotions during times of uncertainty and instability. You might be surprised at how helpful this can be, particularly in times of market turmoil.
The term “financial advisor” is a bit of a catch-all phrase that describes individuals who offer a range of services—not all of which will be right for you. Generally, advisors who focus on financial planning can support you with budgeting, risk management, and basic investing. They can also help you prepare for major purchases, such as buying your first home. Investment advisors assist with a broader array of investment services, including asset allocation, investment selection, due diligence, and ongoing portfolio management. Wealth managers go even further by helping you set long-term philanthropic and legacy goals. They can also coordinate or manage a broader team of professionals, such as estate lawyers and tax attorneys. Since there are no hard-and-fast rules, a specific advisor's services may incorporate aspects from any of the generalized categories shown in Table 12.1.
TABLE 12.1 Financial Advisor Service Comparison
|Financial Planning||Investment Advice||Wealth Management|
To increase your likelihood of a successful relationship with an advisor, you might want to spend a bit of time thinking about the types of services you want before you start your search. I wish I had done that. Over the course of 10 years, I've had four different impact advisors. While I don't recommend you switch that often, I did learn from the experience and will be sharing some of that with you in this chapter.
One of the first things I learned in my own journey is that it's not just about the advisor. It's also about their firm. When I decided to shift my money into alignment with my values, I hired my first financial advisor. I selected him specifically because of his reputation as a leading thinker in impact investing. When I signed on with his firm, my new advisor recommended that I sell a significant portion of my stock so we could reinvest my assets with more impact. Super-eager to move in this direction, I did that. Unfortunately, that was a big mistake!
Although my advisor had experience with impact investing, the firm he worked for did not. As it turned out, my advisor had other priorities and did not have the time to work with me as promised. I was passed onto a junior advisor with virtually no impact experience. My advisor kept promising that he would have time for me soon. So my money sat in cash while I waited. After nine months of watching the stock market tick up, I realized his “soon” was never going to happen, so I pulled my money and moved on to my second advisor.
Chances are that at some point in your relationship, your advisor will leave their firm or move into another role. When this happens, your account will most likely be shifted to another advisor. So it's important that you feel comfortable with both the advisor you are selecting and their firm.
When you're deciding to stay with your current advisor or to hire a new one, there are seven attributes that will help you determine whether they—and their firm—have your best interests at heart. These attributes will help you determine if they're committed to values-aligned investing and whether they adhere to an investment philosophy that resonates with you or not. These attributes are as follows.
When I was younger, I thought all financial advisors believed pretty much the same thing. I was in my early 30s the first time I talked to a finance expert. Since I didn't have enough money to warrant an advisor of my own, I spoke to my mother's advisor. He met with me, on occasion, as a favor to her. At the time, I pretty much believed whatever he told me.
Since then, I've learned that advisors have their own investment philosophies as well as their own beliefs about asset allocations, preferred investment vehicles, and impact. Recognizing an advisor's point of view and biases is critical in choosing someone who's going to be a good match for you. In fact, I think it's one of the most important elements of a strong advisor-client relationship. A deep commitment to achieve both financial and social return should be a core tenet of an impact advisor's investment approach.
One way to uncover an advisor's philosophy is to gain some understanding of your own. You might want to spend some time examining your own beliefs about investing. For example, are you wary of the stock market, or do you embrace it? Do you have an opinion about the relative value of active versus passive funds? Do you have strong beliefs about specific impacts you want to make with your money? Are you excited by the thought of investing in private deals and other alternatives, or does the idea scare you? And do you want philanthropy to be integrated into your investment landscape?
If you don't know the answers to these questions or have an investment philosophy of your own yet, don't worry. These are questions you can revisit as you learn. They'll become clearer over time. You can use the process of interviewing prospective advisors as an opportunity to listen to different perspectives, gain more knowledge, and further your own views.
Almost half of Americans believe that all financial advisors are legally obligated to act in their client's best interest.1 However, that isn't true. Different types of advisors have varying levels of obligation to you. Advisors that are fiduciaries have a legal and ethical responsibility to prioritize your interests over their own or their firms'. Regardless of the type of advisor you select, confirm they are a fiduciary.
Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), one of the most highly regulated types of financial advisors, are bound by law to be fiduciaries. And most, if not all, robo-advisors are registered as RIAs.
Broker-dealers are another type of financial advisor. Also referred to as brokers or stockbrokers, they can provide investment advice to clients just like RIAs. However, they also promote and sell financial products they receive a commission on. In June 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforced new reforms that require brokers to perform in the best interest of their clients. This new requirement brings brokers closer to the fiduciary role of RIAs. Today, if a broker offers you an investment they receive a commission on, they have to disclose the commission they will be paid as well as any conflict of interest.
An advisor can be both an RIA and a broker-dealer. Before you hire an advisor, ask whether they are affiliated with a broker-dealer or could receive commissions as a result of their relationship with you. If an advisor can receive commissions, spend some time considering why they would be preferable to an advisor who only works on your behalf.
In addition to their core services, a values-aligned advisor should also be able to discuss the selection criteria or impact lenses they will apply to their investment decisions. They should be able to talk to you about how they'll report on the impact your investments are having and be able to show you sample reports. You should also learn the extent to which they engage in shareholder advocacy as well as what will happen to your proxies.
In a discretionary relationship, you give your advisor the legal ability to buy and sell investments on your behalf without asking you first. In a nondiscretionary relationship, your advisor will suggest investments to you, but you have to approve those recommendations before securities are purchased.
While a nondiscretionary approach provides you with more control, it will take more of your time. It requires you to be more educated about asset allocations, portfolio strategies, and investment options. If you're willing to commit the time, a nondiscretionary relationship can provide a wonderful opportunity for learning, especially if you choose a financial advisor that takes your education seriously and considers it a part of their job. At this point, most of my assets are self-managed or nondiscretionary. However, I have given discretionary power to the manager of a separately managed public equities account I'm invested in because she trades more frequently than I want to be involved and I trust her decisions.
While you may provide discretion to your advisor to buy and sell securities on your behalf, they should not have the ability to withdraw your money from your accounts. So when you are interviewing an advisor, confirm that your money will be held with a third-party custodian, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, or Schwab.
You should pay either a flat fee for service or a percentage of the assets an advisor is managing on your behalf. Percentage fees tend to be deducted directly from your account and are often on a sliding scale: The higher the investment, the lower the fee. An advisor might charge 1.25% to manage assets of $500,000 or less, then drop to 1.0% for assets of $501,000 or more, dropping again to 0.090% after the first million invested, and so on.
Don't assume the only fees you are paying are the fees you pay your financial advisor. Most likely you'll pay additional fees for any funds, private investments, or other assets your advisor is managing. These fees can be quite low, as is the case of index funds (0.15% or less), or quite high (1.5% or more) in the case of actively managed accounts or private investments. It's good to know all the fees you pay on your investments because what you don't know could hurt your returns.
The last attribute relates to the process an advisor will use to work with you. An advisor should be able to explain how they will develop their relationship with you as well as share a complete roster of their services, including what you can expect in the earlier phases of your engagement as well as what happens over time. When searching for an impact advisor, be sure to get clarity on their approach by asking questions such as:
These seven attributes can be turned into a set of questions that you can ask any advisor to help you decide if you want to continue working with them or hire them. Since the questions about investment philosophy and relationship style are the most complex, they're last in this list. If you aren't happy with the answers you receive to the earlier questions, you can end the conversation before getting into the meatier topics.
As sustainable investing becomes more mainstream, you'll find that a growing number of financial advisors claim expertise. But when you dig a little, you find that sustainable investing is not central to their business. While these firms may suggest investments in ESG stock funds, their ability to help you with a broad range of impact investments is often limited, as is their deeper knowledge of the field. If an advisor tells you that values-aligned investing is not profitable in most asset classes or just too hard to achieve, keep looking.
An advisor for whom values-aligned investing is essential to their business should be able to speak to you about it in detail—across asset classes. They'll recognize references to industry organizations like B-Corp, US|SIF, Confluence Philanthropy, Toniic, or GIIN—and may even be members of one or more. They should be able to point you to investment opportunities in virtually any asset class. And if they cannot help you directly, they should be able to point you to resources that can. Many will be involved, at some level, in shareholder advocacy. The following seven questions can provide insight into the depth of an advisor's knowledge with values-aligned investing.
After leaving my first impact advisor, I went back to the drawing board and interviewed a few advisory firms that specialized in values-aligned investing. This time, I interviewed the head of the firm as well as the person who would be my personal advisor. When I settled on a firm, our philosophies seemed aligned, and I liked some of their ideas about where they would move my money. There was also an opportunity for my stock to be used for shareholder advocacy. And they passed all the basic hurdles: They were fiduciaries, took no commissions, and charged industry standard fees. I hired them. True to their word, my assets were moved into fixed-income and public equity investments that were as socially responsible as possible at the time, and I was getting a solid return. I was happy for a while.
Regardless of where you are in your journey with financial advisors, there are values-aligned options for you. Robo-advisors can be a great low-cost option if you're new to investing, have limited resources, or have a simple asset allocation plan. Investment firms, such as Vanguard and Fidelity, provide another relatively inexpensive way to get advisory support, although they're less likely to offer deep values-aligned assistance. Assuming you already have an advisor, if you really love them, you may be able to work together to bring values alignment into your portfolio. However, if you aren't that happy with your current advisor, you may be ready to move on.
The point at which you shift to an impact-investment strategy can be the perfect time to switch advisors or hire a new one. Whatever your situation, you can explore ways to move forward to a more fulfilling relationship with an investment advisor that will help you grow your wealth and change the world.
Due to their ease of use and low fees, the appeal of robo-advisors is increasing, particularly among younger generations. As Table 12.2 suggests, these firms have strengths and weaknesses that you should consider to determine if they're right for you.
TABLE 12.2 Robo-Advisors: Are They for You?
Some well-known robo-advisors, such as Folio, Betterment, and Wealthsimple, provide values-aligned financial products on their platforms. Newday Impact, OpenInvest, and EarthFolio go even further. As shown in Table 12.3, these robo-advisors were designed with values alignment as a core part of their investment strategies.
TABLE 12.3 100% Values-Aligned Robo-Advisors
|Company||Fees and Minimums||Investment Strategy|
|Newday Impact||$100 minimum; 0.75% annual fee||Certified B-Corp. Investors have a choice of impact themes, including climate action, sustainable agriculture, animal welfare, and fresh water; 5% of revenues donated to nonprofit partners. |
Option to invest in portfolios from HIP and Nia Global Solutions
|OpenInvest||$100 minimum; 0.50% annual fee||Public-benefit corporation. Investors have a choice of more than 15 impact themes; you can also invest in individual stocks and use an app to vote your proxies on your phone. |
Option to invest in portfolios from HIP
|EarthFolio||$25,000 minimum; 0.50% annual fee||Member of US|SIF. Investors choose among a group of funds that are classified as sustainable or responsible in their prospectus. Provides easy access to financial and impact reports. Managed by Blue Marble Investments, an impact advisory firm that has been around for more than 20 years.|
Ellevest is a very unique investment platform. The platform was built from the ground up by women for women. Their algorithms take women's longer life expectancy, earlier peak annual earnings, and increased time out of the workforce into consideration. Their site also includes an online “magazine” filled with information targeting women's financial concerns and needs. In addition to online portfolio management, which you would expect from any robo-advisor, Ellevest offers financial advice through a digital offering and in-person support from a team of female professionals.
The company was founded in 2014 by Sallie Krawcheck. Once considered the most powerful woman on Wall Street, she recognized the investing industry had traditionally been “by men, for men,” and she wanted to change that. With Ellevest, Sallie set out to help women realize that if they are going to achieve financial success, they need to be investing.
The Ellevest platform makes investing easy and possible for as little as $1 per month, so any woman can participate. The site offers women the opportunity to use their money to make an impact on the issues that affect them and their children the most. The company's private wealth philosophy includes getting more money into the hands of, and in support of, women. The female-centric focus and range of services that Ellevest provides makes it a standout choice for women.
Just because you aren't working with your current advisor to integrate values into your investments doesn't mean they aren't prepared to help you or that they aren't willing to learn. If you love your advisor but are now ready to build positive impact into your portfolio, it's worth checking in to see if that's an area where your advisor would be willing to work with you.
You might be pleasantly surprised and find they're ready to help. This happens sometimes because advisors can be reluctant to introduce the topic of impact investing. Instead, they choose to wait until their clients initiate the conversation. If this is what happens to you, congratulations!
Another possibility is that your advisor doesn't know much about values-aligned investing but is willing to learn. In this case, you have a number of options.
As a first step, consider sharing this book with them. You could also introduce them to industry forums, membership organizations, and educational websites that can help them build their expertise.
Your advisor could also partner with impact providers, such as Aperio, C-Note, Ethic, HIP Investors, Nia Capital, Just Invest, and OpenInvest, that have investment products or platforms that your advisor can leverage to access more values-aligned opportunities for you. There are even a few consultants who can work with advisors to help them bring ESG and other impact-oriented financial products to their clients.
Perhaps when you spoke to them, your advisor warned you against investing with your values. Perhaps they said you'd have to give up financial return to achieve positive impact. If that was the case, ask them why they believe that. Question their beliefs to see if there is room for compromise. If you ultimately realize that your advisor can't—or won't—help you become values-aligned, then you may want to consider moving on.
There could be a number of reasons you decide to move on from a current advisor. Perhaps you just never clicked with them. Or maybe you aren't seeing a lot of enthusiasm when you mention your values-alignment goals. Or possibly, like me, you've simply outgrown their abilities or interests.
As I gained confidence with investing, I was ready to take more risk and wanted to start investing in private equity and alternatives to diversify my portfolio further and achieve greater impact. I was excited by the possibility of engaging my money in new ways, and I wanted to support some of the amazing female entrepreneurs and positive social change businesses I was hearing about. Unfortunately, my second advisor wasn't engaged in this type of investing and had no plans to move in that direction. If I wanted to pursue investments beyond stocks and bonds, I was going to have to find them myself. Since I didn't have the time or experience to do that, my search began for yet another advisor. To be fair, my second advisor had been the right pick at the time, but I grew, and they didn't. So I needed to move on.
Letting anyone you work with go, for whatever reason, is often difficult. The hardest part is preparing ourselves mentally. We can feel uncomfortable, possibly even guilty, when we have to dismiss someone. This is particularly true with longstanding relationships. It's even more challenging if you feel conflicted or unsure of your decision.
I've found that one of the best ways to prepare myself for a difficult conversation is to be extremely clear about why I am making my decision. It helps me to write down my reasons. I include the things that I need, or want, that my current relationship is unable to deliver. I recommit to the goals I set, the decisions that I made, and the reasons I am ready to step away. I used this technique when I realized I needed to fire my old CPA. Gaining clarity made the process so much easier. My old accountant understood—and agreed with—my rationale. As a result, we had a very amicable parting.
Realize in advance that your advisor may counter with arguments about why you shouldn't leave, or they might offer to do better. When that happens, be prepared to stand your ground. Regardless of the feedback you receive, listen respectfully and stick to your decision. Thank your old advisor for their service, let them know what you'll need from them during the transition period, and move on. Be prepared to pay any final management fees to your old advisor, some of whom charge in arrears.
If you're leaving your advisor because they aren't able to help you align your money with your values, please let them know. If advisors start to realize they are losing clients because of their inability to offer values-aligned services, they'll be more motivated to educate themselves about the field and to pressure their firms to support them in offering these services.
When you're ready to hire an advisor with deep impact knowledge, look for a firm that has integrated sustainable investing into its investment philosophy from the start. Why settle for less?
There are a growing number of firms that meet this bar. Examples include Abacus Partners, Robascotti & Philipson, Veris Wealth Partners, and Zevin Asset Management, all of which have been providing values-aligned investment services since their founding. Other contributors such as Cornerstone Capital Group, Figure 8 Investment Strategies, Nia Impact Capital, Promethos Capital, Syntrinsic Investment Counsel, and Uplift Investing are newer entrants, but sustainable investing is also core to their models. What's more, all of these firms are either run by women or have women in prominent positions.
Almost every financial advisor who contributed to this book is steeped in impact investing. You can find more information about them on the “Meet Our Guides” tab of our companion website. You can also find values-aligned financial planners and investment advisors in the Financial Services Directory on the US|SIF website.2 Another resource is the B-Corp directory, which lists companies that have built their commitment to sustainable and equitable business practices into their bylaws. As of this writing, there are almost 70 investment advisors listed as B-Corps.3 You can search by city and state to find an advisor near you.
Once you select an investment advisor, you'll want to build a trust-based relationship that can last for many years. You will lay the foundation of that relationship at your very first meeting and build upon it over time. Success is dependent not only on your advisor, but also on how you show up and communicate your needs and concerns. A trusting relationship requires both parties to be fully engaged.
To be as helpful as possible, your advisor will need to know about your current financial situation, your aspirations, and the challenges you're facing. If your money is comingled with a spouse or partner, it would be a good idea for the two of you to have conversations about your financial aspirations before meeting with your new advisor. It's also a good idea for both of you to be present at any meetings so you can be equally informed, share perspectives, and discuss options.
In addition to your dreams and aspirations, you should also bring financial information with you to your first meeting. The most important pieces of information are your cash flow and an accounting of what you already own. Make this as thorough as possible. A cash flow document should show from where and how much money is coming in and going out each year. If some of your expenses are particularly large, you might want to highlight them.
Even if your advisor will be overseeing only a portion of your assets, it will be helpful for them to have a view of your entire financial picture so they can understand how the portion of your assets they'll be managing fits into your broader financial landscape.
At the end of a successful first meeting, you should understand how your relationship with your new advisor will unfold over the next three to six months as well as the steps your advisor will be taking to bring your investments in alignment with your financial and social goals. You should have discussed a written document that articulates the services your advisor will be providing, how they will be building impact into your portfolio, the reports you receive, and the frequency of meetings you can expect. This is a document you can reference, as needed, going forward.
Expect to spend a significant amount of time with your advisor as they develop an investment and transition plan that will move your existing assets into a new value-based portfolio. Be sure you allocate enough time to be a reliable and engaged partner. Your advisor won't be able to develop the best plan for you without your input, thoughts, and consent.
You can also use this time to get to know your advisor and deepen your trust. Fostering trust requires an initial investment of time for the advisor and the investor. If you don't put in the time required to prepare and meet with your advisor, then you may not have a high degree of trust around their decisions. Trust is a two-way street that requires active and considered participation from all parties.
After you and your advisor have established a plan and transitioned your portfolio, you should fall into a pattern of routine engagements that consist of receiving regular financial and impact reports and having regular meetings.
It's very easy, in our busy lives, to let opportunities for regular updates fall to the bottom of the to-do list, particularly if paying attention to your money has traditionally been something you tried to ignore. However, each time you don't open the reports from your advisor, you're missing an opportunity to build your confidence. Every time you ignore a request for a meeting or you don't reach out to your advisor when you have a question, you're bypassing a chance to grow your knowledge. Instead, use these opportunities to learn, build your confidence, and take responsibility for your money.
It can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes to review monthly financial statements, and a bit more if they only come quarterly. Isn't staying abreast of your financial life worth that much time once a month or quarter?
Although your advisor is there to support and advise you, you have a responsibility to understand the details of your investments, including their financial and social return. In your financial report, be sure you're looking at returns net of fees and that your advisor is showing you how each investment is performing against its benchmark. In your impact report you should be able to see the results your investments are having and be informed of any shareholder advocacy efforts.
Don't be surprised if your advisor refers to the SDGs when they report on your impact. This practice is becoming more commonplace. As an example, Figure 8 Investment Strategies targets six SDGs, including health, reduced inequalities, and climate action. Their impact report articulates what their clients hold in support of each goal and what is changing as a result. Some advisors, such as Veris Wealth Partners, produce impact reports that are publicly available and can be downloaded from the web, while others provide updates through regular communications.
If anything in your reports makes you uncomfortable or you don't understand, ask. Reports are another learning tool and can add to the level of transparency and trust you have with your advisor.
Before the end of the year, it's helpful to get an update from your advisor on any dividends and capital gains your portfolio has generated in your taxable accounts. While it's true that tax gains can occur even in the last days of the year and you cannot know exactly what will happen in advance, you can get an indicative estimate in the October/November time frame. This gives you time to implement any tax mitigation strategies, such as accruing losses to offset gains and making philanthropic donations before December 31.
If you're really concerned about the tax implications of your portfolio, you might want to talk to your advisor earlier in the year to set a capital gain limit according to which your advisor can manage your portfolio throughout the year. This way there will be fewer surprises at the end of the year.
Over time, I learned from my earlier mistakes. My third financial advisor worked for a firm that was built on values-aligned investing. When I shifted to them, I was hiring both an advisor and the firm. One of their core strengths is private investing. They do a great job performing due diligence on private debt, private equity, and alternative investments—the services lacking with my second advisor.
About two years after hiring them, my third advisor left the firm and went into a different line of business. Remember when I mentioned this might happen? Since I picked the firm as much as the individual advisor, I wasn't overly concerned when I was assigned to another advisor. As it turns out, I really like her! She's a smart, savvy woman who provides good advice, serves as a thought partner, and can be very helpful when I'm considering new investments.
In addition, I still have assets with Vanguard and call them when I have specific questions about some aspect of investing. Although I do not have a dedicated financial advisor there, I almost always get an informed response to my questions. This provides a second source of information and perspective.
My financial advisor journey has been a circuitous one, but I think I have finally arrived at a point where I feel comfortable and supported. My hope is that this chapter has provided you with enough information that you can reach that state more quickly, regardless of your current situation.
Are you ready to own your relationship with your financial advisor? The specific actions you take will depend on your current situation.
If you have an advisor but aren't completely satisfied with them or unsure about key aspects of their investment philosophy, give them a call and ask them the seven foundational questions.
If you have an advisor you are happy with but would like them to do more for you in terms of impact, take the actions described under “Working with Your Current Advisor.”
If you are ready to find a new advisor, you can start by doing the research mentioned in “Finding a New Values-Aligned Advisor.” Narrow your list to the top three candidates, and then interview them. You can use the questions provided, or if you want a more comprehensive list, download the questionnaire on our companion website. You can modify it in whatever way works for you.
If possible, meet your candidates in person. If that isn't an option, consider meeting them online. There is nothing quite like looking someone in the eyes when you are asking them pointed questions.
When you're ready, hire your new advisor. Bask in the glory of knowing that you've made a huge step toward achieving your financial goals and building a values-aligned portfolio.
If you're ready to move on from your existing advisor, find a new values-aligned financial advisor first. Then, when you're ready, return to the steps in the “Moving On from an Advisor” section.
Whether you stay with a current advisor or decide to find a new one, try to follow the advice in the “Create a Successful Relationship” section.