The thing about financial services is that one good year tends to be much like another.
As financial planners, there's lot of things we're obliged to do and often these fall at the same time each year – a client’s formal review meeting, Bed and Isa transactions, submission of FCA reports, and so on.
2020 was of course the year when nothing was the same as before. At Cornerstone Asset Management, we chose to use this as an opportunity.
In the first weeks of lockdown one, we formed sub-teams and were tasked with developing a new initiative that would potentially improve the business.
For me, this was the perfect chance to renew our focus on our Responsible Futures investment proposition.
This is a suite of portfolios that invest for the benefit of people and planet, and are underpinned by the United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals.
I'm lucky that my like-minded colleague Ellie Maletto, who is a trainee paraplanner and executive assistant, shares my enthusiasm for living and investing sustainably.
Between us we've spent many hours on Teams and Zoom working on launching our FourWord Thinking podcast, which features discussions on all things sustainability.
The podcast and the associated social media activity were a new venture both for Cornerstone and for Ellie and I.
We've been delighted that the business has been prepared to back us, hiring a digital marketing assistant and a podcast technician.
Our work so far
Cornerstone first started proactively recommending responsible investment portfolios in 2019.
We were inspired by the belief that our typically older clients would find this appealing when saving money for children and grandchildren, investing for a healthy planet and fairer society as well as a financial stepping stone.
We appointed discretionary managers with expertise in environment, social and governance investing (ESG) and impact investing.
They then built us a suite of risk-aligned multi-asset portfolios, as we wanted our responsible investors to benefit from the same level of expertise and risk management as our traditional clients.
These new portfolios have proved popular among both advisers and clients, and the trends, themes and innovation that underpin them make for an interesting conversation.
The more you learn about the need for change, the more it makes sense to invest in companies whose activities can solve problems, rather than contribute to them.
It's now almost a year since Ellie and I started working on our podcast, which as well as hopefully being an informative listen, continues to be a fantastic way of networking and building relationships.
With the first series complete, we were chuffed to learn recently that we've made the shortlist in the Best Adviser for ESG category in the Professional Adviser Awards.
It's great to be among some highly respected firms on the shortlist, and it's a nice pat on the back for us a firm. I'm grateful that we've been encouraged to follow our passions in this way and to apply these for the benefit of the business.
The big picture
2021 marks a big year in terms of global efforts to tackle climate change.
The next UN conference (formally, the 26th annual session of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, aka COP26) is all set for November. It's also taking place down the road from our Glasgow office.
It's being held at a time when individuals, governments and industries are being urged to make commitments to reduce carbon emissions, and attention is focused on the role that financial services has to play.
A year ago, then Bank of England governor Mark Carney launched the COP26 private finance agenda which aims for every professional financial decision to take climate change into account.
At Cornerstone we've been inspired by Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change.
She talks about combining the personal with the local and the global in the transition to a low carbon economy. That's something we'd like to work towards as a business.
As well as perhaps the more obvious step of offering responsible investment portfolios for high-net-worth clients, we believe there is so much more we can do.
At the end of last year, we pledged our support to the Global Ethical Finance Initiative’s (GEFI) 'path to COP' campaign.
GEFI is a Scottish-based not-for-profit which works to use the positive power of global finance to deliver the UN's sustainable development goals.
While many big Scottish finance firms have also pledged their commitment, we still believe our relatively small advice firm has an important contribution to make.
On our own path to COP26, we're keen to offer more than just investment products.
Through the podcast and other networking, we're starting to build a community of people who want to see change, and to have trust that our profession can be on their side.
We're hopeful that this year we'll able to bring forward bigger and better initiatives relating to communication, education and inclusivity within responsible investment, and really align with people’s personal values.
We'll definitely be cheering on the positive steps made by others, but we'll also be keeping an eye out for the dreaded 'greenwashing', and those simply jumping on a bandwagon for personal or commercial gain.
They say the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow this November. I also believe that the eyes of the world should be on the financial services industry and all of us who work in it.
We have the perfect opportunity to make headlines for positive reasons, and to use our privileged position (particularly after the ravages of the pandemic) to make significant changes.
Ultimately, this will benefit people and planet at all levels. It's why for me, there's never been a more exciting and rewarding time to work in our sector.