Align17 launches in Davos

07 February 2018

Davos holds a special place in our hearts at Align17. It was there that the idea of Align17 was first introduced to the world in UBS’s 2017 white paper, Mobilising Private Wealth for Public Good, having been conceived by members of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders community.
 
So it was with great joy that we officially launched there last Wednesday at a WEF-affiliated event hosted by UBS. Our CEO, Georgie Benardete, was joined by Martin Blessing, President of UBS Wealth Management, Bob Moritz, Chairman of PwC, Gideon Moore, Managing Partner of Linklaters, and Katherine Brown, Head of Sustainable and Impact Investing at the WEF on a panel moderated by Hubertus Kuelps, Head of Communications at UBS. PwC has been supporting Align17 on the critical area of assessing impact.
 
We were honoured to be joined in person by an influential crowd of 75 people (no mean feat for 7.30am on a snowy Davos morning) and the event was live-streamed and watched by 7,000 people that day (in case you missed it, it is available here).

 

 

Align17 LaunchLeft to right: Gideon Moore (Linklaters), Martin Blessing (UBS), Georgie Benardete (Align17), Bob Moritz (PwC), Katherine Brown (World Economic Forum), and Hubertus Kuelps (UBS)

 

The turning tide on purpose and profit

During Davos week, we had been struck by the profound awakening to the imperative of sustainability in commerce. It is not only that sustainability is not inimical to capitalism; it is integral to its very survival. As Gideon Moore observed, “the idea that you can run a business and ignore environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors is a thing of the past”.

The accelerating shift of attitude is at least in part due to stakeholders uniting around the common framework of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They have given visibility to a number of global challenges, for which finding solutions is now ‘not optional’, in the words of Katherine Brown. The Global Goals have proved particularly powerful amongst private industry, which has traditionally had a narrow focus on short- to medium-term profits.

But it is not only business leaders that are waking up to this reality. Increasingly, holders of private wealth are seeing the status quo as a dead-end and want to direct their investments towards the future they want to create. According to research by UBS, over 60% of global family offices are either already active in impact investing or seeking to become involved. And, as Martin Blessing noted at our panel, it isn’t restricted to any particular geography; the desire to invest for a better future, is “a global phenomenon”.

Designing for scale

The onus then is to create the mechanisms that will allow these shifting attitudes to translate into actual investments and realised impact on a massive scale. As Bob Moritz noted, “we are looking for outputs here, not inputs.” Georgie identified the three principal challenges to achieving impact at scale and described how we are tackling each of them.

Firstly, it is necessary to bring visibility to the universe of impact investments available to high net worth individuals (HNWI). We are doing that by creating a single independent platform to aggregate relevant opportunities.

Secondly, investors need assurance that the investments offer true impact and are not subject to ‘green-washing’ or marketing spin. We have tackled that challenge by working closely with PwC to create an accessible and transparent impact framework measuring potential for direct impact, potential for systemic change, and the confidence the impact will be realised. Built on the principles of the Impact Management Project, we hope to see this framework adopted by others in the industry to create a standard and reduce friction.

Thirdly, there needs to be a mechanism to dramatically accelerate the formation of trust between private investors and the institutions with whom they co-invest. We have addressed this by working with Hamilton Lane,a private funds investors, to conduct a thorough due diligence on all of our investment partners and to give them a rating, thus giving private investors confidence that they are putting their capital alongside top-tier investment professionals.

Achieving ‘17’ - Partnerships for the Goals

Once these mechanisms are in place, we will need more partners to come to the table. We have had incredible support so far, from UBS, PwC, Hamilton Lane, Linklaters, our tech partners at Delio Wealth, and all of our co-investment partners. But if we are to enable the solutions that the world so desperately needs, we need to reach a scale that can only be achieved by industry-wide adoption. A number of the panellists stressed the importance of the open architecture of the platform, but perhaps Martin Blessing put it best:

“We need to scale it up. We need to get momentum. And I think the more people and other financial firms join and promote it into their client base, the better it will be for the project.”

We couldn’t agree more. The ‘17’ in Align17 refers to the 17th SDG, Partnerships for the Goals. We recognise that we cannot capitalise on the opportunities that the SDGs present by working alone. It is only through partnerships and, yes, alignment, that we can hope to crystallise the turning tide of sentiment into the solutions that we need.

To all of those who have supported us thus far, with deepest gratitude, thank you. We couldn't have gotten here without you. To all of our future partners, we look forward to joining forces with you in the future to create impact on a global scale.

Thank you for reading.

Béla Hanratty
Investment Director and Co-founder, Align17
Twitter - @belahanratty / @align_17
LinkedIn - linkedin.com/in/belahanratty