Cameron Barsness is a principal and shareholder of Kutscher Benner Barsness & Stevens in Seattle, Washington where she is the lead planner on many client engagements. Drawn to the “financial coaching” aspect of the business, Cam leads the conversation with many clients around values, goals and the integration of these facets into their investment portfolios and financial lives. This work includes discussions of charitable giving, impact investing and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues.
Cam possesses a rare combination of proven expertise, intelligence and a willingness to help others that makes her stand out. Through my role on the Pax Ellevate team, I have personally seen Cam in action demonstrating these qualities in industry forums and have been struck by her commitment to her profession, but also to making a difference in the lives of other women in the financial services industry and in her community.
I recently spoke with Cam about implementing an impact investment strategy and best practices for introducing impact and gender lens investing to clients.
How did you become interested in sustainable investing?
Early in my career, my interests naturally pulled me towards socially responsible investing as it was known then. A philanthropic client expressed interest in impact investing and I heard someone say, “Well, you can’t do both – you invest your money in one place and then you give to charity in another.” While this is one school of thought, and certainly a fine option, I hoped that there was a way to express your values through your investment portfolio. The more I researched this type of investing, it just made more and more sense to me. Over time, I’ve worked hard to increase awareness of this type of investing to other clients at our firm who we thought would be interested, and eventually, I became the go-to person on our team for charitable giving and sustainable investing.
Why are you a champion of gender lens investing?
I have been a feminist since I was a young girl. When I was 7 or 8, I remember looking at a toy catalog and noticing that all the kids’ toys were blue and green for boys and pink and purple, and covered with ballerinas, for girls – so I wrote the company a letter about how I thought their catalog was flawed! I’ve always cared about this issue – I’ve always wanted to be treated equally and have the same opportunities as my male counterparts.
Honestly, when I first was introduced to gender lens investing, I didn’t really know if it could be pulled off. So, I did my research and, again, found out that investing with a gender lens does not have to mean giving up market returns or performance. In fact, in some cases it can even be correlated with outperformance. The concept behind the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund – advancing women in leadership – is something I have always firmly believed in.
I personally invest with a gender lens because it’s how I live my life.
I want to be clear, it’s not simply the advancement of women into leadership roles that makes a company better. And it is not that women are inherently better. It’s about diversity – that more diversity of thought, management style, and decision-making processes can make for a better overall management team or board of directors.
How do you approach your role as a financial advisor?
My role as a financial advisor is to be an educator to our clients on broad investment themes – from what’s going on in the markets, all the way down to specific investments and mutual funds. I think it’s critically important to empower your clients and create a true partnership with them. If clients just hand over the keys to their finances then every move you make as an advisor can be second guessed. I think it’s important to have your clients help you make decisions – they’ll care more and hold more responsibility for their own money which, ultimately, is what we want.
What are some key takeaways you would point to for other advisors who are interested in incorporating ESG investing into their practice?
Start small. Try to start on an asset class level instead of a total portfolio level. There are asset classes where it can be easier to incorporate ESG, so do your research and fill your asset class buckets first.
It’s not one-size-fits-all. What issues are most important to your clients? Try to narrow it down to specific themes. Are they passionate about protecting the environment? Gender equality? Once you have that information, you can help them choose specific ESG products that align with their values.
Listen. Listening to what your clients say is truly important to them. Our client retention has been very high because of moments when we have listened and tailored specific investment decisions to what that client said, while still maintaining their asset allocation targets and overall investment policy.
Think outside the box. When you’re categorizing ESG funds, don’t be afraid to get creative. For example, the Pax Global Environmental Markets Fund is categorized by Morningstar as Global, but it is also focused on more efficient use of natural resources, so it could fit in a natural resources bucket and offset more traditional commodity investments.
How has your involvement with the Ellevate Network and other women’s groups made an impact on your career?
I started getting involved with the Seattle Chapter of the Ellevate Network about a year and a half ago because I saw the value of bringing together women from different industries to make a difference. It’s a fantastic platform for women leaders that gives us a bigger voice and access to a broader global network.
One of the things I value most about Ellevate Network and other women’s groups that I’m part of is the opportunity to ask questions and gain information – there is always so much more to learn and having a network of people to tap into is a huge resource. For example, I had a client who needed a certified public accountant (CPA) and wanted to work with a female accountant. I looked at my roster and didn’t see one, so I sent out a request to a financial advisor group that I belong to and within 15 minutes I had an inbox full of referrals. That’s how we can build women leaders – by being part of a collaborative group where we’re not competitive and fearful of each other – it’s about supporting one another.
What excites you as you look ahead?
I am excited about getting the message out about ESG investing and how this type of thought process, meaning companies doing good work and being responsible members of society and stewards of the environment, is becoming more mainstream. My hope is to open the door beyond those that already feel passionate about this type of investing and really bring it into the mainstream. I love to talk about how listening closely to our clients and responding to their desires – whether that be sustainable investing, charitable giving, intergenerational wealth transfer, etc. – has helped us build our business and retain our clients. That’s a message that I believe all practices can benefit from regardless of size.
For more information about Kutscher, Benner Barsness & Stevens, please visit: http://www.kbbsfinancial.com/
Effective February 26, 2018, the name of the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund changed to the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund.
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