Role & Organisation: Founder and Managing Director Seven Advisory
What was your first job?
I grew up on a farm in the Western Districts of Victoria, Australia, about 2 hours drive from Melbourne. My first job – although unpaid – was working on the potato harvester. This is really manual work and looking back now probably no place for a child!
I am the youngest of seven children and we were all expected to do our part to the best of our ability. It was hot and dusty work and primarily involved separating the clods of dirt from the potatoes along a conveyer line. The harvester was attached to the back of tractor that moved up and down the neatly planted rows of spuds turning the very fertile ground as it did so.
We farmed not only potatoes but other vegetables occasionally including peas and corn. I was young but I can still conjure the feeling of dust on every part of your body, the physical exhaustion of manual labour and the taste of fresh peas picked directly from the paddock!
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
I’ve had a love hate relationship with finance all through my youth, tertiary studies and beyond. Growing up as I did, I learnt the scarcity approach to personal finance but I was really privileged that my parents valued education above all else and made the necessary sacrifices for us all to have the education opportunities we wanted. They were also very open to discussing the role of the marketplace in these sacrifices – if the price per tonne of potatoes was good that year we might take a little holiday, if not – then we went without.
I struggled in my study of the macro-economic forces to fit this very basic life experience into those lofty theories but eventually found an acceptance that finance is an enabler, that knowledge of financial systems is power to make change.
My working life in finance was accidental though, as a 20 something I thought I would make change from the outside – more an anarchist than a Board Director! I was working to travel and landed a temporary contract role with the Australian Stock Exchange, and I loved it. It was a place I learnt so much from and showed me how the movement of capital on a massive scale actually takes place. From there, I knew that if I could master those concepts and understand the ecosystem I could take a progressive approach and move capital to create fair outcomes.
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
It’s hard to recall one moment, my family has always been involved in community organisations and government at various levels, I feel like I have watched the Impact Investment conversation mature all my life from philanthropic roots to the sophisticated approach of trying to incentivise social outcomes and financial returns.
I really understood Impact when I increased my international network through working in an industry super fund. Through that we tried to catalyse the Australian impact space with a degree of success but there’s still so much more that can be done.
In late 2021 I finished a short course through the Said Business School at Oxford University on Innovative Finance Structures for Impact investment, it’s the marriage of institutions and private offices that interest me to really move social outcomes with money.
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
It’s too hard to pick one development! I’m seeing a lot of opportunities in verification of impact through the use of blockchain technology – so watch this space! To attract institutional money into impact investments and then scale those opportunities we need to constantly strive to find efficiencies. Distributed Ledgers – or Blockchain can deliver efficiency and transparency.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
During my time at HESTA we put together an opportunity with an aged care provider to build Australia’s first of its kind dementia care village. It’s a small house model and tailored participant matching process which will have great outcomes for the residents living with dementia.
Beyond that though, this is a good example of innovative social outcomes. The village provides a study on how this model of care can improve the quality of life for participants, improve the quality of care provider jobs in a rural township and how institutional money can be employed in this manner and produce the right returns for the fiduciaries. The challenge now is one of scale, can the next similar opportunity be bigger? Employ more capital for greater outcomes, present less risk given the model has been proven. It’s an exciting path to tread and the humans involved in the care will have a more dignified existence as a result.
Name one purpose-led company (globally) that we should all keep our eye on?
I love the Provenance.org platform for supply chain impact. Out of the UK and hopefully about to take the world by storm, I’ve never seen anything like it. The emerging consumers will increasingly demand to know where their chosen products have come from and will insist for claims to be verified. Any company that can capture the conscious consumer’s soul is one to watch.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
I’m focussed on bringing more innovation and sophistication to the impact first approach of portfolios, either at the institutional level or in smaller wholesale investors like foundations and family offices. The Australian market has such an enormous opportunity to catalyse impact investments that blend philanthropy, foundation money and institutional investment.
I imagine a space where organisations and investors have holistic impact plans not just a part of their business or portfolio set aside to do good things while the rest of the business undoes that in their day to day operations. I imagine that impact investing is one tactic used by all manner of participants to pursue the change they want to see in the world – what a happy place that will be!