MARKET COMMENTARY

5 Questions with Jeff Finkelman

06.30.2021 - Jeff Finkelman, Vice President, Sustainable Investing

We recently sat down with Jeff Finkelman, Vice President, Sustainable Investing, to learn more about his background and passion for building values-based client portfolios. Jeff joined Fiduciary Trust International as part of the firm’s acquisition of Athena Capital Advisors in March 2020.

1. What do you find particularly interesting about building portfolios for clients?

There are a lot of factors that influence the construction of a traditional investment portfolio, but at quarter-end, when statements are prepared, the measures of success are simple: risk and return. The challenge (and excitement) of sustainable investing is that success is measured along multiple dimensions and rarely are they the same for each client. As a result, my team has the privilege of exploring a wide range of investment opportunities, across asset classes and sustainable investment themes. It creates endless opportunities to learn.

2. What led to your career in sustainable and impact investing?

After college, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa, where I spent two years working as part of a girls’ education and empowerment program. Peace Corps Volunteers will often say that they gained far more from their host communities than they ever could have given during their service. That was certainly true for me.

Living in Togo gave me a first-hand look at the complex challenges of international development. Though my remit was to focus on education, so many of the problems young people faced in my community were connected to a general lack of economic opportunity. An entrepreneurship and microfinance project I completed in partnership with a local non-profit sparked my interest in the role private capital can play to promote inclusive economic development. Ultimately, that experience guided me towards the field of sustainable investing.

3. What has been one of the more fulfilling projects you’ve completed during your career?

Shortly after I joined Athena Capital Advisors (acquired by Fiduciary Trust in March 2020), I was tasked with helping Lisette Cooper, founder of Athena and Vice Chair of Fiduciary Trust, and several of our colleagues, complete a journal article on what we referred to as “Post-Modern” Portfolio Theory. It offered a new way of thinking about how to maximize the efficiency of an investment portfolio so that it delivers the best combination of financial and “social” return per unit of risk.

That paper was the start of an ongoing impact reporting effort that has been one of the more rewarding projects of my time with the firm. Sustainable investors tend to be highly collaborative, particularly when it comes to impact measurement and reporting. We all want to know that the capital we deploy is ultimately generating the kind of positive social or environmental impact we are targeting. Our team’s approach to reporting has progressed considerably since we published our article, thanks largely to what we have learned from our partners in the field.

4. What is the hardest part of your current role?

Sustainable investing offers endless of opportunities to learn, but that means there an endless number of things to cover. At times it can feel like we are building the airplane as we fly it. Sustainable investing is a rapidly evolving field. Best practices in areas such as ESG integration and impact measurement are still taking shape, but the social and economic problems that  clients want to help address are not waiting. Staying on top of the latest developments in the field, sourcing compelling investment opportunities, all while refining our own sustainable investing policies and practices is a difficult balancing act.

5. Have you received a piece of advice that has been particularly useful over your career?

“Take the CFA exam.”  Those may not have been her exact words, but the guidance I received from one of my first bosses to pursue a CFA charter was critical to my career progression. Though my interest in field grew from a desire to contribute to positive social change, sustainable investing is still investing. For those sustainable investors determined to earn a market-rate of return, or better, there is no substitute for a rigorous investment process. But even below market-rate investments, which often have the potential to generate the deepest levels of impact, benefit from thorough financial analysis. To paraphrase an industry peer, it’s important to understand whether an investment is earning a low return because it’s generating a high-impact or because it’s just a bad investment.

We recently sat down with Jeff Finkelman, Vice President, Sustainable Investing, to learn more about his background and passion for building values-based client portfolios. Jeff joined Fiduciary Trust International as part of the firm’s acquisition of Athena Capital Advisors in March 2020.

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