As advisers, we are in a position of real privilege. Virtually alone amongst all professionals, we get to learn about our clients’ innermost thoughts and feelings. We are truly kaitiaki – guardians – of so much about them.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we are kaitiaki of our clients’ money. They come to us because they generally have one of two problems. If they are working up to retirement, they want to know when they can “make work optional” – that point in life which they could stop work if they chose to, knowing they could fund the rest of their life. They want us to help them clarify what retirement might look like and how much they might need to fund it.
If they’re already retired, the key problem is “Will my money last?” They want to know they won’t run out.
Common to all is the desire to have their funds invested wisely.
Secondly, we are kaitiaki of their dreams. Money, after all, is just a means to an end, and for our clients they will have a vision of the ideal life as well as one or more things they want to achieve along the way. Our job is to treasure those dreams, to help make them more concrete and achievable, and invest the funds in a way that will do that. Often, they share with us dreams and aspirations that hardly anyone else knows – and it may be something they haven’t even thought about themselves. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be part of my clients’ journeys of exploration and achievement, perhaps the most satisfying part of my job.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are kaitiaki of their values. What’s important to one person will often be different to someone else, but it drives everything that they do, what they want and how they want to achieve it. Two people could have similar investment amounts in similar goals, but have different values. Increasingly, this means investing according with those values – in other words, ethical investing.
While ethical investing is full of jargon, and many views, in our experience most investors will have a few things they want to avoid where possible (typically things like tobacco and gambling and increasingly fossil fuels). This is where ethical investing started and still has a lot of meaning for many people. However, were also seeing more and more that people want to actively support companies trying to be sustainable and making the world a better place. This demand is real – according to a 2022 Mindful Money survey, 73% of those surveyed want the funds to be invested ethically. 63% want to make a positive difference in the world.
We as a business are also kaitiaki of our stakeholders’ expectations.
Our most important stakeholder is of course our team. Being sustainable and kaitiaki of their values means we can attract great people to work with us, and inspire them each and every day. As the te reo saying puts it, “what is the most important thing” he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – it is people, it is people, it is people. We don’t pay the highest salaries – far from it – but work tirelessly to make sure each team member loves coming to work, each and every day.
Our clients, too, have expectations that we be sustainable. Any business reflects the values of its founders and shareholders, and Ethical Investing New Zealand is no difference. Our purpose is simple: “to make a sustainable difference to our world”. To keep us focused, we changed our name in early 2021, so we can rightly say “it does what it says on the tin”.
Our sustainability extends to simple but powerful things. For example, in 2020 we refurbished our offices in conjunction with our landlord. Where possible, we used secondhand or recycled furniture. In fact, I have great delight in pointing out to visitors to our boardroom that with one exception, everything they see in that room is either secondhand or has been recycled. It’s a powerful expression of our values in action.
In our dealings with the wider world, we choose suppliers whose values we share. We are proud members of the Sustainable Business Network, and actively choose its members were possible as suppliers to our business.
And finally, of course, we are kaitiaki of our founders and shareholders’ dreams. As my wife and co-founder Val put it, whatever happens there are two important things: protect the vision, protect the staff.
None of this emerged fully formed when I founded the business back in 2014. It’s been a journey, a journey of learning as much as anything. Perhaps the most important learning for me has been seeing the power of an idea to inspire the Ethical Investing team to take ownership and drive it themselves. After all, they’ll need to do that when the founder shareholders are no longer part of the business!
Kaitiakitanga – stewardship – is not in what you say. It is in what you do, and how the people around you – staff, clients and the outside world – respond. I’m delighted that so many people share our values and entrust the future to our kaitiakitanga.