Tony is just beginning his own sustainable finance journey, and he’s learning more with each investment he makes. A passion for giving back to society more than makes up the lack of expertise or strategic focus of his investments.
Tony Yeung is still learning how to be a sustainable investor. He has not yet adopted the lingo of the trade and he takes an ad-hoc approach when using his family’s wealth to create change. But he is passionate about encouraging people to design new solutions, try new things and take risks, and sees a role for private investors such as himself to make a difference.
Tony’s family has long been active in philanthropy, and he recognises that it is now his generation’s turn to use the family wealth for good in more innovative ways.
“We just want to find better and more efficient ways to help people and the world, and to make it a better place. Part of the drive to do it is simply that makes me feel like a better person,' Tony said.
He points out that most Hong Kongers share his mission to do good, and do such things as selling stamps on the sidewalk during the weekends. However, he thinks it is impactful when people with higher skill sets and resources can utilise those strengths to drive exponential social impact.
“Private capital allows us to take bolder steps, try new things and not be afraid to fail. Governments, listed companies, foundations and charities naturally have to have a higher level of accountability and processes which hinder the flexibility to support unproven concepts which could become new models for society. Family businesses have the network, entrepreneur experience, financial resources and flexibility to find entry points to make impact investments.”
Learning Along the Way
Tony, a member of SFi’s Investor Circle, is honest about the ad-hoc approach his family takes to sustainable finance. They have not made public commitments to divestment or taken a strategic approach towards sustainable finance — something Tony modestly attributes to his lack of expertise in impact investing.
“We’re very similar to the traditional Chinese family business in how we are focused on growing the business. ESG is not yet a formal family investment strategy but we are learning. We allocate money for charity as well as for impact investing, but we have not yet formed a broader sustainability strategy for our entire business activities.”
“On climate, if we can help, we do. With poverty, if we think there’s a solution that works, we’ll invest, and of course we support education. We’re always looking for new ideas. As investors we like to back those that show inspiration, commitment and passion.” Tony said.
Climate change became a less abstract subject for Tony, and other Hong Kongers, in September. Typhoon Mangkhut caused significant damage across Hong Kong, took lives in the Philippines and brought a wide swath of Southern China to its knees. Scientists say climate change results in more erratic and violent weather, producing storms such as Mangkhut.
“As a private investor we can take bolder steps. try new things and not be afraid to fail.”
“The first thing I thought of when that storm appeared was climate change, especially when I watched it unfold on Facebook, with the pictures of the damage and all the plastic washed up on the shores.”
“If there is a good thing to come from this storm, maybe it is that people are realising that this is real and action needs to be take. It is no longer other people’s problem as the plastic, fallen trees can end up in your door step. ”
“This has been a very difficult time for many people in Hong Kong, but the pace of recovery in Hong Kong is encouraging and impressive. It says a lot about who we are as Hong Kongers.”
A Hong Kong Journey
Tony grew up in Canada and was educated in North America, but his career, and his discovery of sustainable finance and impact investing, have taken place in Hong Kong. He returned to Hong Kong after university to join Peterson Group, the family’s property and investment company.
Then, a few years ago, he was introduced to Green Monday, a social enterprise that tackles climate change and global food insecurity by promoting a low-carbon and sustainable lifestyle, and became an executive committee member. He also became a board member of Social Ventures Hong Kong, which incubates and invests in social start-ups that address local urban social challenges. He also became a board member of Asian Venture Philanthropy Network.
Those three organisations opened his eyes to how his capital could bring about positive change, but his journey of discovery is far from over.
Confucius taught that, “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
Tony, who is 40 years old and has three children, cites that advice from Confucius to describe his own journey.
“For my first 15 years in the family business I worked on learning how to run the company, then I focused on my own family, and now in the last few years I’ve started finding ways to help other people. I still have the challenge of running our main business, but I always try to carve out time to learn more about sustainable finance.”
One of the greatest challenges of being an impact investor in Hong Kong is finding investment opportunities that combine impact with a solid business foundation.
There are still many misconceptions around impact investing, in part because it is a broad term with many interpretations. The sustainable finance spectrum spans from pure charity to profit-driven investing — nuances that some younger investors find themselves struggling to explain to family patriarchs.
“It’s difficult for those that who are not actively investing in a sustainable way to understand the terminology and methods,” Tony said. “My father still doesn’t see this as investing. To him this is charity, because he’s old school.”
But his father, an active philanthropist, fully supports Tony’s sustainable finance journey because he sees it as the next chapter of the Yeung family’s community involvement and legacy.
“Our family has always believed in giving back. My father and grandfather faced many hardships along the way as they built this company, so we still appreciate what we have and our ability to contribute.