Pride: Identity and Investing

By Julius Tapper, TD Bank Group

Julius TapperAs you may have noticed, there’s a theme to this issue of GreenMoney. As I write this article, featured as a “millennial voice,” I can’t hide a small smirk of irony. I grew up hating labels. Or, more diplomatically put, I had a strong aversion to them – especially my own. As a kid, my labels made me uncomfortable; black, gay, nerd. By definition, they were accurate, but they didn’t seem to fit. They felt limiting and prescriptive; they came with baggage that wasn’t my own. I felt my individuality, my identity, was undercut by my group affiliations.

My perceived stereotypes of “gay” and “black” were incongruent with my desire to be socially accepted and professionally successful. Inhabiting my intersection of race and sexuality was also difficult; Jamaica (where my parents are from) has a notoriously homophobic culture. In response to the tension between my identities, I retreated from them. When I stopped running from – and turned to examine – my ascribed labels, I found community, culture, and stories with personal resonance. I came to acknowledge that my individuality is enhanced by the intersectionality of my identities, and the history they bring. Frankly, I’m now quite proud of my labels, and they are an active and living part of who I am. Maya Angelou’s recent passing, for me, reinforced one of her most poignant lessons: “I go forth alone, and stand as ten thousand,” and I call on those tribes often.

Having been called on as a millennial to share my story for this article, I’m a little less suspicious of the label, and a little more interested in exploring what it means to me and what it might mean for the investment community. All of this talk of identity may seem a little sentimental for an investment publication, but I argue that identity will be a critical consideration for the investment community going forward.

We millennials have experienced a lot in our short lives. As Jed Emerson, and many others have noted: “[we] have experienced major boom and bust periods, including the prosperity of the 1990’s dot-com frenzy, and the financial markets’ collapse in 2008 and subsequent recession… [we] witnessed 9/11, the Arab Spring, long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple terrorist attacks, and dramatic political division…” I’ll throw in climate change for good measure. Amid this external turbulence and uncertainty, the existential “quarter-life crisis” is a cultural trope of the millennial generation.

I expect a lot of change in my life. For me, the search for stability turns inward, trying to sort out conceptions of meaning, purpose and values to distill some sort of personal terra firma. Though this exercise is self-reflective, it is also social. My most memorable and engaging conversations have often been about these issues. It’s also interesting to note how often these abstract conversations become very concrete – what do I want from my career, how do I want to spend my time and energy – how do I want to invest my resources?

In 2009, I started my career at TD Securities, TD Bank Group’s capital markets division. It was a dynamic time to begin my training as a banker. Not only were regulations changing, but also expectations; how could the industry be different, how could it be better?

After three years in traditional finance, I was looking for something different from my career. Here, my identity played a pivotal role in my career trajectory. On May 17th, 2012, TD launched its “It Gets Better” video contribution to combat homophobia. TD strives for a culture where you are encouraged to bring your full authentic self to work; the video brought this to life for me in a very visceral way (read tears). I appreciated the power of bringing yourself to work, but it also drove me to bring my full self to my work. I wanted to carry personal authenticity and alignment across my life, and I wanted to make intentional decisions in pursuit of those ends. For me, it was the decision to make a transition to a career more focused on ‘impact’ – positive social and environmental outcomes.

As I prepared to leave the traditional finance sector, I realized that I could leave the bank, or I could bring it with me. I began to think about how a bank could offer unique contributions to social finance. I appreciated that finance was a powerful industry, and I began to think about opportunities to direct that power towards the problems that crawl across our screens every day. What would it look like to adapt existing and powerful infrastructure, and bring that explicit intention to banking?

Let’s look at social finance as a blanket term for investment approaches that incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into decision-making. The big goals of social finance aren’t timid: social finance is about reframing how markets identify opportunity and risk, and recognize value. It’s about reimagining efficient markets, and redefining good business. I developed a business case for social finance at TD, and pitched my ideas to a circle of mentors.

I left my job and secured a contract role to dedicate myself to building the pitch. I worked across the organization to recruit a diverse team and rally them around the ideas. Our pitch was successful, creating a full time role allowing me to develop our strategy, test pilots, and build towards big goals. A year and change later, I am glad to report some progress. With TD, we’ve successfully issued a $500 million green bond, offering more mainstream product with explicit intentionality to the market. It’s been fun, it feels right, it’s working, and I want more.

I share my story (hopefully) not to navel gaze, but to offer my experience and provide some context around my preferences and decision-making. At the top of the article, I said that that identity will be a critical consideration for the investment community going forward. I won’t claim to speak for millennials, but as one, I’m happy to elaborate on what I mean.

I’m not interested in compartmentalization. According to Wikipedia (how appropriately millennial), compartmentalization is “used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves. Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgement and interaction between separate compartmentalized self states.” I don’t want to have a personal self, a work self, an investment self-etc., and I certainly don’t want them to be in conflict with each other. I want to be proud of them all.

Identity is important for the investment community, in that I want my investment partners to know me and what’s important to me: e.g. no matter the yield, I’m probably not interested in holding Russian government bonds. I want my investment partners to help me identify, acknowledge and address potential cognitive dissonance in my portfolio. I may not be able to construct a perfect-for-me portfolio of perfect-for-me companies, but where gaps exist, I want to have a discussion about it. I also want the opposite: where I may have a personal affinity for an investment opportunity – let’s call it cognitive resonance – I certainly want to hear about it, and I want it to play a role in portfolio decision-making. This I can get excited about, and that’s where an investment professional could add unique value.

Along with identity, I believe that community is an important opportunity. My best experiences have centered on collaboration, community and building. We’re all trying to figure this out, creating affinity groups and space for sharing and co-creation will be valued and valuable. The experience matters – we like having fun and playing with others, investing is becoming more about our connected humanity – as human interaction has a role to play.

Much has been, and will be, written about millennials and investing, and it will be interesting to watch the investment industry continue to evolve and grow in response to emerging trends and conditions. I’ve discussed identity, alignment, intentionality, and community as things that will impact the space — but very simply, I’m most excited to see how deep “know your client” diligence, the bedrock of the industry, will continue to shape its course.

Note: This content represents the thoughts of the author and does not necessarily represent the position of TD Bank Group.

Article by Julius Tepper, Manager of Social Finance at TD Bank Group, where he is leading the development of TD’s social finance and impact investing strategies, recently coordinating the launch of TD’s inaugural $500 million Green Bond. Julius also helps manage TD’s venture philanthropy and financial literacy initiatives. You can find Julius on Twitter @juliustapper

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