Where do you need help to make sense of ESG?

Blog post

At the beginning of 2021, we asked paraplanners where they’d like us to focus this year. ESG was in the top five topics requested by paraplanners. So, we ran an ESG special in August and included it in our national event, the Big Day Out of this World.

At both events, we were joined by ESG specialist, Rebecca Kowalski. Her passion and knowledge of the topic helped breath life into the subject.

Rebecca has since set up Overstory – a consultancy with the aim to equip people with the tools, materials and communications they need to have conversations about sustainable investing with clients.

Meeting so many paraplanners at the two Paraplanners Assembly gatherings this year, has given Rebecca food for thought and she shares her thoughts here.

Over to Rebecca….

From Outerspace to Overstory

I had a really great time talking to Paraplanners about ESG at the Paraplanners Assembly “Big Day Out of the World” in September.  Over the last couple of years, with my former employer, my career path has launched me to Planet Compliance and Planet Sustainable Investment and Paraplanning was beginning to seem just a distant star in the sky.  Talking of stars however, I have a lovely shiny one on my window sill, in the form of the Paraplanner of the Year Award 2008, which is how I first met Richard Allum. Yes, I have been orbiting in the Paraplanner galaxy for that long! There have been other awards since then, but that first one always shines the brightest.

But back to the present and the Sustainable Investment mission has in fact been so successful that I ended up on a solo journey and decided a couple of months back to launch my own business, Overstory Finance. Sustainable investing has really gripped me and after over 25 years in financial services, I have never been so proud and excited about what I do.  My former employer encouraged and appreciated my enthusiasm for the subject and noted how it made things happen in the business, rubbing off on colleagues and clients and bringing in recognition for the firm’s sustainable investment portfolios. We were in fact planning to go where no IFA had gone before with the proposition. However, ownership of the business changed and I decided to thank them for their support, wish them all the best and take a small step for the planet and a giant leap for my career development by steering my own ship into the unknown.

Reach for the Tree-tops

So, here we are on the good ship Overstory.  If you don’t know (as I didn’t, until my husband made me read his “tree book” earlier this year –  “The Overstory” by Richard Powers), Overstory means the forest canopy, the tallest trees that grow higher than the others to reach the open sky.  Given I have been affectionately called the office “tree-hugger” in my time, the tree theme appealed to me and also, all Paraplanners like to tell a good story, right?  I haven’t finalised my official business mission statement yet, but the unofficial version would go something like this:

“Determined to use our sustainable investment knowledge, experience and passion to make the biggest possible difference to the financial services industry, to client experience and to the world we all share. Feel good finance for a finite world.”

In practice, this means that I aim to share and put to good use all the hands-on experience I have had, all the huge amount of learning I have done and all the ideas I have chased around my head at midnight through the long months of lockdown.  I have spoken to a lot of FS people about the barriers that deter advisers from embracing sustainable investment and have identified a number of ways in which I can help remove these.   These services will all be listed on my web page which is coming soon.

The Overstory Guide to Sustainable Investing

An early chat with a very kind sustainable investment idol of mine, Kaisie Rayner, got me thinking about writing some training/ learning materials and this idea was re-ignited at the Paraplanners Assembly Big Day Out of this World. Getting the chance to speak to so many people in a small space of time, I realised that there was a real appetite for knowledge about how to do ESG, ethical and sustainable investing well among the Paraplanner community. This shouldn’t of course be any surprise to me, as I should know from experience that no-one likes to do things well more than a serious Paraplanner!

After taking a slightly hell for leather, scattergun approach to building expertise in sustainable investing and matters related to it, I think I can make it easier for people in the financial advice profession who wish to understand the underlying themes, the investment strategies, the regulations, key issues and debates and suitability and compliance considerations relating to sustainable investing.

Having studied and gained some useful knowledge from the CFA Certificate in ESG Investing, I am aware that its method of assessment is very much focused on the role of an investment manager or fund analyst. In my mind’s eye, I see the Overstory guide to sustainable investment advice (don’t worry, a better title will evolve) as focused on the knowledge and practical skills necessary to understand, apply, and explain the theoretical concepts related to ESG, ethical, responsible, sustainable and impact investing. It should cover how to be prepared for client conversations, how to build a robust sustainable investment proposition and how to meet compliance requirements. Crucially for me, it should also take a very honest look at things like greenwashing and the authenticity of all the talk about how much finance can save the planet!  We should ask these questions of ourselves, before either a sceptical colleague or a client raises them.

Roots and branches

Following the Big Day Out of this World, I exchanged a couple of messages with Alyson Brooker of The Paraplanners and want to thank her for the insight she gave me into what type of learning would interest her.  It was really encouraging and informative. I have therefore asked the Paraplanners Assembly if they would help me connect with the wider paraplanning community to explore what you would like a text/ course / training to look like.  If we go back to my tree obsession, lets take a roots and branches approach and then we can all reach the canopy of sustainable investing expertise together.

I have already enlisted the help of Alan Whittle to work with me on delivering the learning materials and we are both keen to start on this rewarding project. Alan is a former Paraplanner and Compliance Officer who now works as a researcher, lecturer, trainer, and provider of external compliance support for financial planning firms.

We would be delighted to gather your thoughts on your learning needs and see what we can do to help meet them. Please answer 12 simple questions here 

Thanks Rebecca and good luck with your new venture. We’d encourage anyone interested in this topic to share their thoughts with Rebecca.

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