APRIL 19, 2022
The conversation about values-based investing has changed significantly since the early days of Bill Cook’s career. Now a Senior Wealth Advisor at Valley First, his conversations with members about investing choices that have a positive impact on society and the environment isn’t just part of Bill’s workday, it’s part of his own greater purpose.
When asked to describe the evolution of ESG-led investing, he reflects on how ethical investing blossomed as he grew in his own career. “Back in the beginning (around 2007) when I started with another financial institution, there weren’t any ‘ethical’ investment products to even talk about at the retail level. In 2016, I began getting phone calls from NEI introducing their responsible investing platform. And that’s when I started to see great momentum behind the shift to values-based investing.” Bill says his clients suddenly wanted to look under the hood and know what their money was doing in a greater sense. Today, their conversation is often centered around the categories of environment, social and governance (ESG) impact. “It’s still up to individuals to determine what is ethical to them at the end of the day. But when I’m talking to members, I always remind them that values-based investing is about taking the business hat off for a minute and think about what is meaningful to them and what kind of impact that they want to make.” These are conversations that Bill thrives on having as an advisor.
Being an ESG-focused organization brings a lot of meaning to his work. Bill describes “diving-in” to conversations that help members understand these ESG investing options. “I find our members are very passionate about their views and tastes for investing. They often have their own agenda about what they would like to exclude and areas they want to support. I look forward to being that financial coach and working with people to plan ahead in a way that feels good and manage through the ups and downs. My job is to churn up thoughts that guide to a decision the member is most comfortable with.”
The evolution of responsible investing happened naturally for Bill in many ways because of the community focus that is already a deep part of First West’s purpose. As a credit union, this sets us apart and is one of the ways we do good. Responsible investing simply adds more meaning behind that purpose and Bill believes that the easiest way for people to enact their version of ESG-thinking is to shop with their dollars in that values-based way. In his life he looks for everyday decisions and little choices that can add up to a big impact over time, even when on vacation.
“I was recently fortunate to escape on a vacation to the Bahamas, and even though it’s a more expensive place to go—and being an investment advisor I’m naturally very frugal—we hadn’t travelled in a long time, like most. There was one funny little excursion we really wanted to do because we’d been watching it on social media for years: swimming pigs. The story goes that a shipwreck many years ago stranded some pigs on an island in the Exhumas. The local residents had started feeding the pigs, and eventually they became a tourist attraction and a sustainability project! Today, local Bahamian food establishments donate all their perishable food scraps to a government program that feeds the pigs that swim out to meet the boats every day. It’s all recycled food and, for a wild animal, the pigs are pretty well looked after.
“We chose to kayak out to see the pigs, a frugal (we saved $400 US!) and environmentally-friendly way to observe this unusual interaction. We hadn’t planned to reduce our energy consumption, but that’s how ESG is starting to show up for me more and more these days, as a default option for our regular activities—and as the default for our investing decisions.”