Jennifer recently joined CoPower as Manager of Impact Investing from RBC Global Asset Management. With a ten-year career in investment banking and portfolio management at some of Canada’s largest firms, she brings a lot to the table.
Chances are if you’re planning on investing in our Green Bonds you’ll end up emailing or on the phone with her at some point. And when you do, take advantage! She’s a self-described investment geek whose enthusiasm for finance and spreadsheets (actually) is surpassed only by her desire to get others engaged and interested in their investments too. Check out my interview with her below.
Q: How did you get into finance and investment banking in the first place?
Jennifer: I’ve always loved math. My best subjects in university were finance and economics, and the idea that I could build a career around building financial models was appealing to me.
Q: And was getting into impact investing a particular goal of yours?
Jennifer: It’s funny, it seems that most of the staff at CoPower started out their careers with the goal of helping bring about social change. I started in a different place, but I believe my background in traditional finance is a huge asset. Understanding how major investors operate, how decisions are made at large institutions, what goes into a $100 million dollar investment deal, is the sort of expertise we need to bring impact investing into the mainstream.
Q: So what prompted the change? Leaving a leading traditional investment firm to join a startup is not a common career path.
Jennifer: Yeah, definitely uncommon. When I handed in my notice in July, most people were excited for me, but I did have to field questions from a few senior managers who were slightly baffled by my decision, although they very graciously congratulated me as well.
Impact investing was never consciously part of my plan, but looking back, it makes sense. When I started in investment banking at BMO, I specialized in energy and utilities. My team actually worked on submitting tenders for companies in response to the Ontario Government’s second call for renewable energy project proposals in 2005, and that’s when I became hooked. Later, I actually ended up taking a break from work for a year to do an MBA at Cambridge, specializing in energy and the environment.
Then, when I later started working at RBC Global Asset Management, I got into ESG & Responsible Investing. RBC had recently signed on to the UN Principles of Responsible Investing, and I supported managers in integrating ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors into their investment process.
I also saw the growing demand for investments that offer positive social and environmental impact for retail investors. I was regularly asked by investment counsellors from RBC’s retail branches if we had any investment options beyond our one fossil free fund.
It didn’t all come together in my mind though until I heard Trish (our Chief Impact Investment Officer) speak at a conference last year.
Q. Way to go Trish! Was it anything in particular she said?
Jennifer: She talked about how CoPower’s model is based on decentralized energy -- helping get small-mid sized projects off the ground through lending and helping individuals invest those projects. Having started my investment career specializing in energy, I’ve watched the trends carefully, and everything points toward mass decentralization. I saw CoPower as well positioned in this shifting energy landscape and started following the company.
Q. What did you learn in traditional financial roles that you think are most valuable to CoPower and people working in impact investing?
Jennifer: What I really want to bring with me from RBC is the gravitas of the work. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to work with very experienced senior portfolio managers who gave me a deep respect for fiduciary responsibility. Our clients were major investors like pension funds so the stakes were high. People’s pensions and retirements depend on your decisions. I learned how important it is to truly listen to your clients and understand their needs. No one knows their needs better than the client.
Q. You’ve been with us three months now. Is it a huge culture change? What’s your favourite part of the job so far?
Jennifer: It is different but in a really exciting way. I see this role as an opportunity to help investors understand the impact they can have as well as how our bonds fit their financial objectives, and that’s where my previous experience comes in.
And as a finance and investing nerd, I love to see investors become interested in their investments as they discover products they are excited about. The highlight of my day is listening to investors describe how they’ve been looking for an investment like CoPower and how it aligns with the way they want to live their life.
Q. Tell us something fun! What do you do in your spare time?
Jennifer: I’m one of those people who can’t stop moving so you’ll often find me out for a run along Lake Ontario or on my bike. I’m on an all-female cycling team and we recently competed in a 160 km race in Collingwood called the Centurion. CoPower sponsored us so we decided to dub ourselves the CoPower Megawatts. We came dead last (shout out to Constable Sue Devine who stayed past her shift in the sweep vehicle to make sure we finished safely), but it was a blast and I got to talk to lots of people about CoPower when they asked about our name and jerseys.