Clean Yield Analyst and VCLF Board Member Karin Chamberlain Talks About Impact Investments and a Powerful Partnership
The year: 1983. The place: a neighborhood get-together in Stannard, where acquaintances Doug Fleer and Rian Fried came to discover their common interests in social justice, the environment and financial markets. Fried & Fleer Investments was launched not long after. F & F eventually became Clean Yield Asset Management and was soon blazing the trail in the emerging field of socially responsible investing.
The long-standing relationship between our two simpatico organizations was taken to another level when Elizabeth Glenshaw, then President of the VCLF Board of Directors, joined the Clean Yield team as their Managing Director in 2009.
In 2014, Clean Yield’s Impact and Community Investment Analyst Karin Chamberlain joined the VCLF Board herself. She’s now Board Treasurer and serves on several working groups including the Retirement Committee, Finance Committee and the Environmental Task Force. Chamberlain (also a competitive endurance speed skater; see link below) was generous enough to give us even more of her time recently to talk about the Loan Fund, Clean Yield and the growing interest in impact investing.
VCLF: Why do you think the Vermont Community Loan Fund is a popular choice for many of your clients?
KC: VCLF is the most popular impact investment among our clients and is a gateway investment for many of our clients into the field of impact investing. We recommend VCLF to our clients because of your mission, reputation and success, and the fact that many our clients live in Vermont or have close ties to Vermont.
The Loan Fund’s flexible terms, long track record, history of 100% repayment and substantial loan loss reserve make it suitable for almost any client. Over the last few years, Clean Yield client investments in VCLF have increased at a rate of over 5% a year, with a 9% jump in 2015, which pushed us across the $1 million mark in total investments in the Loan Fund. Included in that amount are three investments totaling $38,000 in your Food, Farms & Forests Fund.
What do you think is the most attractive aspect of investing with VCLF?
The real impact that VCLF has on the local economy and community. Many of our clients can actually witness the impact of their investments. When people can see, concretely, the evidence of what their money is doing, they become very excited about it. VCLF is well-regarded in the community.
Clean Yield and the Loan Fund share similar values, supporting investments in economic development that have a positive social and environmental impact. They are different in that Clean Yield is a for-profit business that also does traditional stock and bond investing (in line with the values of our clients), but philosophically we share the same core values and underlying belief that money and investments can have incredible power for good.
What do you see as the upcoming trends in socially responsible investing?
Fossil fuel free investing is a trend. Clean Yield has managed fossil fuel-free portfolios for over 30years, but the divestment movement driven by 350.org has really taken off in the last five years. And now, in his recent annual address, Governor Shumlin said Vermont should take action against climate change in 2016 by divesting public pension funds from fossil fuels.
Impact investing and community investing are also trending, driven by the JOBS Act and new State legislation that allows smaller investors to get into impact investments. Many investors, disillusioned by Wall Street, look to invest their money closer to home where they can see the impact of their money at work; the Loan Fund can be a natural fit for them.
In what ways are Vermonters unique in their investment habits and interests?
Because the working lands play such a key role in the economy of Vermont, I would say that Vermonters are uniquely focused on food, farm and forestry. One of the benefits of investing in working lands enterprises and value-added products is that you can actually taste or use or see the quality of the product you have invested in.
What brought you to Clean Yield, and to the world of socially responsible investing?
In 1997, I started grad school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I had just landed back in the US one week before school started after serving as a livestock production volunteer in the Peace Corps in Ecuador for 3 ½ years. I needed money to support myself so I applied for an internship at Trillium Asset Management. Upon graduation, I spent the next 14 years in Boston working in the field of socially responsible investing. In the fall of 2013, I saw a position open at Clean Yield Asset Management which combined my background in farming with socially responsible investing. So I can say that my career has taken me from farming to finance to financing farming.
What advice do you have for those interested in socially responsible investing?
Do your research. Think about what your core values are and where you will not compromise. When it comes to public equities it is very difficult to find a company that checks off every item on your “want list” and that passes with flying colors every item on your “do not want” list.
Since I first landed in the field of socially responsible investing almost 20 years ago, the definition of SRI has changed and evolved. Higher bars for impact are constantly being set as certain sustainability metrics become the norm. Product offerings have expanded to make SRI more accessible…but at the same time, it’s become more challenging, as each fund or product defines and interprets social responsibility in its own way. This is where first laying out your goals will help you find the best match – one that meets both your personal values and your financial goals.
Learn more about Clean Yield Asset Management at http://www.cleanyield.com
For a glimpse of Karin speed skating, look for her in this clip of the 2012 Montreal 24-hour Skate, where she came in 3rd in the solo category! She’s pulling the pack, eleven seconds in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdRiao5SpHU&list=PLqVJYN63rAE7tT-G9rHKPWGYHyka126w7