Conference Grant Report: Scott McMahon ’22

Scott McMahon ’22 was selected to receive a Conference Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. With this grant, Scott traveled to Providence to attend the Future of Sustainable Investing Conference. You can read Scott’s reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.

On March 6, 2020 I had the privilege to attend the Future of Sustainable Investing conference (FSIcon) at Brown University in Providence, RI. The conference featured a myriad of speakers holding positions from CEO to founder to rookie analyst, all applying the power of finance to solve the world’s pressing sustainability issues. I hope to someday enter the field of sustainable finance, and attending this conference provided me exposure to some of the industry’s pioneers and most prominent current figures. The conference focused primarily on the financial side of the global climate and sustainability movement, the growing field of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing.

ESG represents a process of investing and financial decision-making based on environmental and ethical factors, and has proven to mitigate risk and increase returns on investment performance over long-term periods. Originating as a method of portfolio management for ethically-inclined individuals and interest groups (often religiously affiliated), socially responsible investing has since grown into a worldwide trend everywhere from boutique firms to bulge-bracket investment banks and Fortune 500’s. The environmental “E” portion of ESG analyzes business trends and elements of companies that may pose a climate or sustainability-related issue (i.e., the unsafe removal of an industrial firm’s toxic waste in a public setting). “S” refers to the ways the company interacts with the society around them, their clients and customers, and the general public (i.e., social media companies’ privacy violations and personal data-sourcing issues). Finally, the “G” describes internal structure and workplace culture of the company; the degree to which their employee and managerial relations follow workplace standards (i.e., mistreatment of an employee or gender inequality in the C-suite).

I attended the conference both to enhance my own career trajectory but also on behalf of the Wesleyan Committee of Investor Responsibility, a student group that advises the Board of Trustees on investment decisions for the Endowment. My fellow CIR members were unable to attend, and I’ve since presented a summary of the conference to them. The day began with an opening keynote from Benjamin Yeoh, head of global asset management at RBC, on the ever-growing importance of ESG integration in the financial world. From here we dispersed to attend 3 different panels through the afternoon, each hosted by a variety of analysts and associates from all different sectors (wealth management, investment banking, private equity, etc.) who deal with sustainability in finance. The day was capped off with a closing keynote from Mark McDivott, head of ESG at State Street, who explained that successful investing was about managing risk, and ESG is simply an ethical and long-term way of defining risk. Thus, it had always been prevalent in finance, and it always would be.

For those wanting to attend a conference but lacking the money, the Patricelli Fund is incredibly generous and definitely the way to go. For those interested in ethical investing or sustainability and think it might be the career for them, my advice is, START NOW. There is massive momentum behind this trend, and there’s no better time than now to start reaching out to professionals and people already in the space. Larry Fink’s (CEO of Blackrock) viral letter discussing ESG is evidence of this. If you send enough friendly emails and Linkedin messages, you’re bound to get a hit sooner or later, and in my experience, the people in this niche are much more open and willing to talk to you than others in the financial industry. The world needs people like us. Get on it. Feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll connect you to those I’ve befriended in the space. Let’s change finance together.