Nancy has a wealth of experience in finance as well as a passion for the environment and giving back to the community, but that hasn’t made her journey as a sustainable investor easy. She struggles with questions and doubts about what actions she should take, but she remains driven to have an impact.
The journey of a sustainable investor isn’t always a clear, linear path of inspired discoveries and investments that instantly make the world a better place. Sometimes it’s a messy affair where personal setbacks open the mind to new possibilities, but still leave the investor a long way from their goals
Nancy Liu came to sustainable finance with both a solid background in finance as well as a deep love for sustainability, the environment and giving back to the community. However, combining her knowledge of investing and passion to have an impact has not been easy.
“I’ve done a lot of study on my own, but I get frustrated. Sure, I use normal screens against tobacco, alcohol, and the oil industry, but sometimes I look at big conglomerates that are said to be sustainable and wonder, are they really?”
Frustrated in Finance
Nancy was raised in Nanjing, and came to Hong Kong at 12 years old to escape China’s Cultural Revolution. She went on to study in the US before entering a career in finance.
She worked for Bank of China, First State Bank, Merrill Lynch and Salisbury Securities in a variety of roles with a focus on equity trading.
“I was at Salisbury pre-1997 writing trade tickets but there was no meaning in it for me. I always felt unfulfilled.”
Nancy helped create RICE, Returns Invested in Children and Education, a philanthropic fund supported by the Asian alternative investment industry, which applies the ideas of returns and due diligence to philanthropy. She knew it was a step in the right direction for her, but it still fell short of satisfying her desire for impact.
“I always wanted more meaning than to just talk NAV, AUM and all those terms.”
In 2013 she was separated and eventually divorced from her husband. Despite the pain caused by the separation, she finally felt free to blaze her own trail.
“I decided that I should go find myself,” she says.
Nancy embarked on a global whirlwind of masters degrees, workshops, conferences and learning, immersing herself in Buddhism, charities, environmentalism and mentoring youth. She also attended the 2017 Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) Conference in Bangkok.
“It was in Bangkok that I realised that I did not waste 30 years of my life in finance, but that I can combine that experience with my love for mother earth, to pursue my original love for Gaia, and that I can do this in Asia. Finance is in my blood, even if I don’t want to admit it.”
A Confused Investor
Nancy’s epiphany at AVPN did not result in easy answers to all of her sustainable investing questions. She still questions the standards used to determine which investments are deemed sustainable, and remains wary of greenwashing. Impact is a personal journey and can be hard to measure, but pursuing it may impact returns.
But at AVPN she found her tribe, and has developed a deep appreciation for those leading the sustainable investing movement in Asia. The conference also introduced her to the B Corp movement, and she now plans to become a B Corp consultant herself, in order to assess the film production studio her daughter works for in London.
She became involved with SFi, and she is now a sponsor to SFi’s Investor Circle.
But despite all of the people she’s met and information she has gathered about sustainable finance, she remains doubtful and uncertain about what action to take.
“I would like to be able to brag to people, my portfolio is 100 percent impact, but I am skeptical.”
Nancy is not a woman to blindly follow advice. She has explored many of the most popular sustainable investing platforms, but struggles to square some of that advice with her own values. In particular, Nancy does not want to sell her shares in a famous American conglomerate, partly because they have generated handsome profits for her over the years.
“I believe in their way of investing, so one option is keep some allocations that generate higher returns, and in that way will fund my sustainability investing.”
She is gathering advice from a small group of trusted friends, from SFi to Small Giants (an Australia-based impact investment firm founded by Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman) and others in the Asian sustainable investing community, but in the end, she needs to make allocations based on her own convictions.
“No one can tell me exactly what impact means, so at this point in time I will use my own measure of impact.”
With her experience in finance, Nancy is very hands-on in managing her multi-generational wealth, and with her strongly held ideas she’s not interested in cookie-cutter private banking products.
“All of the private bankers hate me. I was a hedge fund manager, so I know how to do my own thing.”
But an unfortunate turn of events has made her worry that she needs to act faster. In 2017 Nancy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, an experience that has sharpened her sense of time and duty.
“It made me believe more and more in fate, and to focus on the here and now. I feel pressure to speed up my giving back to the community because I can feel my energy is not what it was. Time is running out.”
Although Nancy has built several small portfolios of publicly traded shares based on recommendations gathered at the many workshops and conferences she has attended, her private investment vehicle, Norman’s Fair Dinkum, has yet to implement a more comprehensive strategy. But she’s working on it, because she believes in building a more sustainable future.
“My goal is to make my portfolio 100 per cent impact, even though I am a bit skeptical. However, I’m willing to go on this journey.”