What was your first job?
I started as a graduate in the HSBC Private Banking scheme and did three placements in Miami (Latin America Relationship Management), London (Office of the CEO, working on strategy and competitor analysis) and Sydney (Hedge Fund analysis). Over those three years I built my corporate tool-belt and learnt how to navigate a large organisation with different cultures, kingdoms and personalities.
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
I really got into math at the end of high school and was always interested in macro economic topics and international development, so I decided to do economics at uni – I thought it would be more interesting to have the bird’s eye view and there was also some business studies as part of the degree.
I like numbers and analysis, they help you tell a story and you can use them as very productive tools. The jump into the grad scheme (above) was then more of a decision to build good corporate foundations as generalist (which might have also attracted me to work in business as there are so many different opportunities).
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
When I was working in the office of the Chief Investment Officer at HSBC Private Banking someone from LGT Venture Philanthropy reached out through my Swiss uni connections (St Gallen) and wanted to find out whether HSBC was interested in impact investing – one of the Merlin banks who provided start up capital to BSC but not much direct activity beyond that.
I remember he shared with me, or recommended, the JP Morgan ‘Impact Investing – An Emerging Asset Class’ report, which is still one of my favourites to get a good grasp. It was love at first sight seeing my desire for social impact (international development, making the world a better place) and finance/business come together. How do they say? The rest is history….
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
We have our eyes on contributing a little bit to solving the home ownership puzzle through shared equity, working with Ys Housing, Habitat for Humanity Victoria and Head Start Homes to support more disadvantaged cohorts, both economically and socially. It’s a wicked problem, especially against the backdrop of the general economy and property market system here but we are looking for alternative structures to open up another model as part of the housing continuum in our country.
We won’t be able to completely solve it but we are looking to create pockets of opportunity to reduce intergenerational inequality of wealth; it may be seen as an impact investing zebra rather than a unicorn [and we at Sefa think that instead of waiting for the next unicorn to emerge behind the acacia tree, you can revel in making ground across the vast plains alongside many beautiful zebras…].
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
I sometimes think one deal doesn’t make the cut or change the world, it’s when there is a portfolio of activity led by a certain organisation to achieve a ripple effect and really drive system’s change. I have been watching and participating in GLS Crowd, the crowd-lending platform spun off by the German social bank GLS and they have been able to pull off some very large deals of around $2m within 24-48 hours which is fabulous.
And we have LendForGood starting here in Australia with deals primarily in SEA and overseas. It would be great to get this type of impact investing product more prominently in domestic capital stacks – using the power of community where more institutional impact investors cannot go and blend different forms of capital to achieve the desired outcome.
Name one high impact company (globally) that investors should keep their eye on?
Last year we met the team at Veritas Health Innovation Ltd, trading as Covidence. I was fascinated by the fact that this is a different type of tech-based social impact that is using artificial intelligence and machine learning for good – and looking to fight misinformation. In our current news world, this is such a refreshing assurance because certain decisions should be made based on evidence, not based on opinions. I know that the team around Julian (CEO) and Sid (Chief Revenue Officer) has big plans for this unique NFP next FY and have supportive partnerships with both government and philanthropy to drive these valuable insights.
(for full disclosure Sefa raised a $2m syndicate from six impact investors to support the speed of Covidence’ impact and growth)
Veritas Health Innovation Ltd (Covidence) is a SaaS platform that uses artificial intelligence for good: a systematic review system that scales the (1) currency – easier and faster – as well as (2) trustworthiness of academic research with a focus on medical and health from around the world, turning it into streamlined scientific knowledge that is readily available for improved collaboration. Covidence provides free access to users in low-income countries and those participating in COVID-19 research.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
Managed returns instead of market-based returns. Returns that manage risk and impact to drive change.
The concept of market-based feels out of date. Isn’t this the market and the world that we consider to be broken in some parts and that we drastically need to build back better? We need to be able to live with uncertainty and embrace failure when we experiment. We need to attribute value to both financial return and social return. Sometimes we can have it both but after ten years of doing the doing, more often than not there are trade off, or sustainable management of both.
My dream would be to have a [new?] foundation in Australia only do impact investing via their granting arm, i.e. utilise the full power of program related investments in the form of loan guarantees, subsidised loans, outcomes payment, investment readiness and general capability building to catalyse the market and be the glue to get other impact investor hooked along the journey.
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