What’s the Best Way to Talk to Clients About ESG?

Jacqueline Kimmel has a problem with the “use it once, then toss it in the trash” mentality. “It absolutely boggles my mind that we – people collectively – will go to extreme lengths and expense to drill, transport, refine and produce petroleum products only to use them once and throw them away… to sit in a landfill!!!”

Her personal conviction became a cornerstone of her wealth management company’s practices.
At evolve Financial Planning in Harrisburg, PA, you won’t find single-use plastics. They have a big water cooler rather than individual water bottles. Instead of a Keurig, Jackie opted for a Nespresso machine because the pods are recyclable.

At home, she raises backyard chickens, tends to the beehive, stirs her compost pile, and contemplates the many small things she can do for the planet that add up to something bigger.

Jackie had already booked her trip to the United Nations for the first ESG investing summit when she started thinking about how to tell more people about it. It was 2019, and at that point, she’d been talking to clients about ESG investing for several years. Her explanations of ESG had been in one-on-one conversations. This train trip to the U.N. helped spark the idea to create a video that could get her ESG message out at scale. “It was a very easy leap for me to make the video. It’s where my heart is.”

Approach #1: Facts + Figures

In a Facebook Live post from the U.N. (watch it here), Jackie started the conversation about ESG investing. She went on to create a more highly produced ESG video that mixes startling facts and vetted performance statistics.

She began by quoting environmental impact research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “It’s estimated by 2050, we will have more metric tons of plastic in the ocean than fish.” Jackie felt that the imagery of the ocean full of plastic and the Merrill Lynch statistics on ESG investing outcomes helped put the concept into perspective. She wants her clients to know they can align their portfolios with their core beliefs and values.

Here are a few stats to have at the ready for your own video messaging:

 ●89% of investors consider ESG issues in some form as part of their investment approach,  according to a 2022 study by asset management firm Capital Group.

 ● 31% of European investors say ESG is central to their investment approach, compared with 18% of investors in North America, Capital Group found.

● Bank of America, NVIDIA and Microsoft took the top 3 spots in nonprofit research organization JUST Capital’s 2023 rankings based on ESG metrics.

Approach #2: Bring in an Expert

Advisor Jim Williams has a calming demeanor about him. His voice is soothing, and his delivery is rarely rushed. He found himself relying on his calming nature when the husband of one of his clients came to him pretty worked up. “He thought ESG was going to somehow take money from his pocket by controlling how companies operate,” Jim remembers. It’s not an uncommon idea that has been fueled by manifestos from pundits like Glenn Beck (who claims EST is anti-trust and is trying to get lawmakers to ban it).

For Jim, it was a tipping point.

He decided then and there to record a video about what ESG is … and what it isn’t. Williams Wealth Management in Lancaster, PA had been offering clients values-based investing options for several decades, but it was time to clear things up.

To build a case to combat the manifestos, Jim brought in a guest to feature in his video. “I relied on a subject matter expert who gave a generational voice of experience with tackling ESG issues.” In the Q&A style video he produced, Melisa Baez-Snyder, CEO of ELUME, explained the history and benefits of ESG investing.

Baez-Snyder talked about how companies are scored and introduced investors to resources that rate large companies and small businesses. When the video was done, Jim shared it with his 400 clients in an email blast. “Roughly 75% of the feedback has been positive and appreciative that I took the care to have the topic better explained.”

Approach #3: Go Deeper

You might run across Laura Webb biking or hiking around Asheville, NC. Laura says it’s hard to ignore the beauty and the natural resources of her hometown. In fact, her great-grandfather played a key role in getting the rolling hills of Western North Carolina designated as a national park.

Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home for 20,000 species and is the most visited national park in America. Laura says preserving and protecting nature is part of her heritage, which was the first reason she’s incorporated ESG into conversations with clients of Webb Investment Services.

Client demand was the other reason.

As early as the ‘90s, people began asking Laura how to exclude certain types of companies from their portfolios. “One of my earlier clients wanted to implement that practice so I began looking for options.” Over the years, she’s watched ESG evolve from excluding companies to a more integrated strategy of investing.

In her short video message on the subject, Laura made sure to take an empowering “you can” approach. Because she considers ESG an important part of her company’s services and products, she planted that video on an information-packed landing page on her website. The page gave people who wanted to learn more the opportunity to “dig” into the details while the video brought her message to life.

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The feedback on her video and landing page has been positive, says Laura. “For those who knew a little bit and had heard all they myths, they learn that it is not a niche, that you are not giving up performance by choosing ESG investments and most importantly, that you can have an impact during your life, not just by philanthropy but by the investment choices you make.”

Laura Garfield’s article originally published for Rethinking65.

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