As a passionate animal welfare activist Genderbuzz CEO Natasha, was blown away when she met Vegan investing professional Claire Smith. Claire is the CEO and Founder of Beyond Investing an investment advisory company with offices in London and Switzerland. Through her company, she is blazing a trail, not only in the world of ethical investing but also, in the relatively unknown world of Vegan Investing. In our interview we will find out what Vegan investing means and what motivated Claire to start Beyond Investing.
Welcome Claire, let start with your ‘WHY, when it came to setting up Beyond Investing.
Claire: I set up my own Vegan Investment firm after finding it extremely difficult to identify investment products for myself that were in keeping with my principles of non-animal exploitation. I was also concerned about climate change and interested to get my money out of fossil fuels. My pension provider at the time had put my own funds from a workplace pension into a basic index fund, which was balanced across equities and bonds. I started to look at the policies of ‘ethical funds’ and while some did have constraints on animal testing, none of them avoided animal exploitation completely.
I was able to find some funds with positive impact such as investing in sustainable trade finance deals for crops and renewable energy, but it was extremely difficult to achieve what I wanted to with what was on the investment market at that time. So a little thought nugget started to nestle in my brain of creating a Vegan fund. As the Vegan movement began to gain strength I started to recognise that no animal exploitation might become an investing requirement for a lot of people, and that gave me the courage to start a Vegan investing platform.
Natasha: So, how did you go about setting up your Vegan investing platform?
Claire: I started to go to Impact Investing conferences where discussions were being held about pro- actively investing in the solutions to tackle climate change and such as renewable energy and plant-based food companies and removing animal exploitation. I found partners for both the impact investing piece and the ethical screening and started to work with them to put that research together into an investment proposition.
Natasha: Tell us about who’s in and who’s out of your Vegan Index
- The US Vegan Climate Index screens out animal products and seeks to have zero animal exploitation of any kind. We based it on the Solactive US Large Cap Index which is very similar to the well-known S&P500 index, and removed those companies that did not comply with our standards. We knew we needed to create something that was well diversified to appeal to the broad range of investors, both large and small. We do a lot of pre-screening before a company can be part of our index to see if they meet our criteria.
- It is not just about avoiding the obvious, like animal agriculture companies or restaurant chains such as KFC, we look at each individual companies very carefully for evidence of animal harm, so no armament companies because animals are sadly used as target practice by the military and no companies that make hunting rifles for example. Our Index doesn’t contain tobacco manufacturers either as they still use animals in experiments and no basic plastics manufacturers because of the pollution of our oceans. The Index does not contain carbon stocks, as we’ve never come across a Vegan who was a climate change denier. The fact is that is that if you’re concerned about wildlife then climate change is one of the biggest threats to their habitats
- We re-balance the Index every six months and not only to adjust for price changes but also to review compliance with criteria and bring new companies into the index. We’re a very dynamic index in the sense that we will account for new policies at companies.
Natasha: How many companies are in the Index?
Claire: There are around 300 companies in the Index. They mainly come from the Large Cap cohort but as the only energy companies in the Large Cap Index are fossil fuel companies, we will go into the mid cap space to find renewable energy companies and plant-based companies and promote them into our index. We also anticipated that these stocks are likely to grow given the need for their products.
Natasha: Where can investors find your Vegan Index?
Claire: Our US Vegan Climate Index has been live since June 2018 and is calculated by Solactive, and independent index provider. It has a quote on Bloomberg and Reuters and the Frankfurt exchange has a live feed of our index. We back tested it for five years prior to the launch and as a result, we feel very comfortable with the risk and return of the index.
Natasha: Tell us about the new ETF product that you are launching
Claire: We’re launching an ETF to track the US Vegan Climate Index which will be listed on the NYSE. It will mainly be aimed at U.S based customers, but we’re also getting a lot of interest from Canada, Australia, and the U.K. It was important to us to list on an exchange so that it is accessible to any investor anywhere with an online brokerage account-just like regular stocks and shares.
Natasha: Do you see more women than men interested in investing ethically, and if so, why do you think that is?
Claire: Yes, we do. Women and compassion are tied – we tend to put our money into things we believe in, and statistics show that more women than men are vegan or vegetarian. It’s actually very interesting how these things are linked together. As part of Project Draw Down where scientists, NGOs and experts ranked the top 100 solutions to Climate Change, two in the top ten solutions related to women and girls – Family planning and Education for women and girls. Why? – because women who are educated, have fewer children and when women and girls are educated, they tend to spread education to their whole family. Whereas when men are educated they tend not necessarily to bring that back into the home. As more women control more wealth, we believe it will mean that more investment decisions will be ethically grounded.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Vegan Investing, visit Claire’s company website here