GreenMoney Interview Series: Community Investors
Welcome to the GreenMoney Interviews series. This issue features two Women of Color who are emerging leaders in SRI and community investing: Kimberly Jones of Self-Help Federal Credit Union interviews Nicole Middleton Holloway of Natural Investments.
Find their bios at the end of the interview.
Kimberly Jones opens: When I was approached to write this article, I knew immediately that I wanted to speak with Nicole, to get her take on the impact that community investing has on communities of color, particularly now in the aftermath of the country’s response to the pandemic and the civic unrest that has occurred over the past year and a half. We had a spirited and lively conversation about impact investing and her own personal journey within this sector. Let’s begin…
KJ: Hi Nicole. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this and let’s just jump into it. From your perspective, as a wealth manager, what does community investing mean to you and why is it important?
Nicole Middleton Holloway: Community investing is an investment in a targeted community based on impact and need. It is typically an investment that doesn’t have market rate rates of return, because the point of the investment is to uplift a certain community need. It can be for a variety of different areas, from funding entrepreneurs and micro enterprises and other small businesses to focusing on specific communities, like low income, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities. It can be focused on healthy food systems, affordable housing, or wherever there’s a need. The investment can be an investment note or a CD, which is something that we, at Natural Investments do quite often through places like Self Help Credit Union or Hope Credit Union.
And they are so important because of the need for community institutions or funds, who are trying to address real critical social needs or divestment in these communities, as well as the systemic barriers that these communities have experienced for decades. There’s so much wealth disparity and those individuals, families, and institutions that have wealth and the ability to accept and incorporate community investing into their overall portfolio can have real impact. And at certain levels, for some clients, this is their primary focus area.
I’ve personally seen the benefit of a community investment as an entrepreneur and woman of color business owner. The ability to grow my business and my practice came out of the support that I received as a result of these funds invested into CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions.) So this is very personal as I come from a community that had been disenfranchised. But I also get to see how it’s exciting for an investor to be more engaged with their wealth and see that engagement with a community instead of just investing in a regular mutual or index fund.
KJ: Are your clients who do community investing basing it on their own values and interests or are you pushing them to explore ways to have an impact?
NMH: I would say it’s both. From the beginning of a client relationship, there is definite interest from clients wanting to invest for impact. But they don’t always know what those opportunities are, so they come to advisors like me or my team, because we have the knowledge base of what’s possible. They also work with us because we assess their financial needs and know what is appropriate for their level of risk tolerance. I certainly have clients who are really passionate and very vocal about things, like coming to me and asking, “how do I implement a reparations-based investment portfolio?”
KJ: Say more about that. The pandemic and the civic unrest after George Floyd’s murder highlighted inequalities that have historically taken place in communities of color around the country. What role does community investing play in addressing these issues?
NMH: The impact investing community needs to be front and center in investing in solutions to solve the issues that came from the 2020 pandemic and the uprisings about police brutality.
We don’t want investors to respond like I’ve seen it done with philanthropy, where there’s this hot issue of the moment and then a couple years later the priorities or focus changes. So, I often remind investors about the intersectionality of issues when creating an impact investing portfolio — how they can address these issues as a whole or as a theory of change and to really look at their entire investment portfolio as a catalyst to address issues systemically.
KJ: This is a good segue into my next question. We’ve recently seen a spate of investments primarily led by white high net worth individuals and institutions. However, they don’t appear to “walk the talk”, as it relates to incorporating DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) into their policies, their fund managers, their advisors, etc. What are your thoughts about this and what should the industry be doing differently to be more inclusive?
NMH: Yes, this is great. In terms of increasing the ranks, having more people of color and more women of color and BIPOC individuals in leadership positions is really key. The impact investing industry has a real problem in the fact that it doesn’t make itself well known in communities of color. For instance, they’re not showing up in places, like the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) or other organizations where people of color who are new to the finance industry can find out about the job opportunities or professional development that is available in this sector.
KJ: Some may say that if the money is getting into the communities that need it, what difference does it make who is placing the money? In your opinion, why is DEI important for this sector?
NMH: At Natural Investments, we do a lot of impact investing and we have structures in our due diligence process which are really helping to maintain a diversity of perspectives on investments or a due diligence committee evaluating a new fund. There are barriers that get overlooked or due diligence processes that need to be updated. So, we’re trying to analyze that and address that, but it really helps if you have people with different perspectives, different expertise, or different backgrounds to help someone assess things such as risk; as opposed to doing what they’ve always done.
KJ: So what has been your experience as a Black woman in this sector? Has it helped or hindered you in any way?
NMH: My experience in financial services in general, especially when I first started, was maybe not as positive and thank God, I found the SRI or community investing industry because otherwise I probably would not be doing this work anymore. The SRI industry tries really, really hard and I appreciate the efforts and the willingness to have conversations to examine the way things have been done. And yes, there is acknowledgement that the SRI industry has not done enough, right? I do get frustrated and as a woman of color, I want the industry to go further.
As for being supported as an advisor and my career within the industry, I’ve felt very much supported. The advisors that I work around, both within Natural Investments and outside our firm, are really, really, intentional about trying to support my work, learning, and development as a professional. I am glad that I decided to get a lot of education and get my CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certificate because they have helped me be more confident as a professional. It’s also just been great that other advisors are raising my visibility and acknowledge me in the industry. For example, I got nominated for the young advisors to watch list through Financial Advisor magazine. I think those things really can help to uplift women of color advisors or people of color professionals in this industry to be able to be in this for the long haul.
KJ: Well, I have one final question and that is; what do you see as the future of Community Investing? Or better yet; what impact would you like to see?
NMH: Hmm…What I would like to see is more of a real influx and even greater amounts of capital flowing into community investments and into community investing in general. I would very much like the greater financial services industry within its various types of advisor roles to be more knowledgeable about community investing, because, you know, right now still, we’re a small segment of the industry. We need to be bold and brave and more diverse. I especially want to see more women and women of color led-funds, as I think there’s a huge difference when there’s female leadership at these organizations. And even though there are now more women led-funds in the community investing space then before, there’s still work to do. So, I’m all for that…I want to see more of that!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kimberly Jones, Manager, Investor Relations, Self Help Federal Credit Union. Kimberly Jones’s professional career spans both the nonprofit and community development financial services sectors, with expansive senior leadership roles in arts management; business and resource development; community relations; and corporate philanthropy. Currently, she is an Investor Relations Manager with Self-Help Federal Credit Union, where she helps individuals and institutions align their banking and investments with their mission and values, helping to maximize their social and financial returns. Kimberly has held leadership positions that advanced the missions of creative organizations and community development financial institutions seeking to make a difference in communities in their footprint. She has been a founding board member of mission-driven organizations that support the growth and development of young artists, creatives, and professionals in the nonprofit sector. In 2015, Kimberly was selected to be a PLACES Fellow with The Funders Network, where she explored the role of philanthropy through an equity lens in low to moderate income communities. She has served as a grant/award reviewer for organizations that championed organizational excellence, community development, and environmental sustainability. Kimberly has a BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota-Morris and an MA in Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management from Columbia College Chicago.
Nicole Middleton Holloway, CFP® Nicole is a Certified Financial Planner TM, co-founder and CEO of Strategy Squad, an independent, family-owned wealth management firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area and an SRI advisor with Natural Investments. Her personal mission is to support women and conscious investors as they take confident steps towards financial independence, and help them live abundantly and make a positive impact with their wealth. Nicole was recently named one of the Young Advisors To Watch in the May 2021 issue of Financial Advisor magazine. Nicole is a proud mother and an Oakland native. She holds a Master’s Degree in Financial Planning from Golden Gate University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Southern California.