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Better Know a B: EQ Investors

EQ Investors is an award-winning wealth manager with over 60 staff in London and 2,000 clients all around the UK. They are one of the fastest growing wealth managers in the UK and are committed to being a staff owned business forever. We caught up with John Spiers, their CEO, to find out more.

Tell us a bit about the history of your company?

I’ve been in the wealth management business for over 40 years and a professional investor all my working life. I enjoy the different ways you can interact with clients and provide good services to them. But I’m increasingly concerned that within the industry a large number of shareholders are focused on maximising short-term growth at the expense of client’s best interests.

That’s why I bought EQ Investors in 2014, and made a commitment to ensure it will remain wholly owned by our staff. That means we can take long term decisions unhindered by the requirement to meet short term targets. And it means we can really get to know our clients and create investment strategies with their best interests at heart.

I’m also passionate about making ethical investing more widely available. This isn’t something you can force on people, but I’ve always believed in the power of giving people the choice. The more attractive you make that choice, the more likely people are to choose it. In my opinion, EQ’s Positive Impact Portfolios are a very attractive choice for investors who are looking for solid returns while making a positive impact on people and the planet.

Lastly, technology clearly has a key role to play in delivering low cost investment management and advice. I’ve never only wanted to offer a service that is of interest to rich people. That’s why we launched our Simply EQ online and telephone-based service. In doing so, we’ve also been able to offer our Positive Impact Portfolios to a wider market.

Why did you become a B Corp?

B Corp was recommended to us by a client and it resonated with me.

I’m wary of greenwash: it’s all too easy to talk about one’s ethical credentials. In our world, making a good investment decisions is about doing hard analysis, based on sound evidence and facts. Likewise, being a B Corp is a way for us to show that we walk our talk, based on a transparent, rigorous, externally validated assessment of our business practices.

It also gives us a framework to assess and improve our performance over time, so it’s a useful management tool.

What excites you about being part of the global B Corporation movement?

Sustainability issues cross borders and cultures and tackling them will require international collaboration. In any case, the human values that count are bigger than any one nation. ‘EQ’ stands for ‘emotional quotient’, a measure of our emotional intelligence. It’s the capacity we rely on to build strong relationships, and to work as a team.

B Corp is an international platform that we can share with other organisations to express our shared values, share our best practices, and collaborate to develop even better ways of working.

Can you tell us about the impact that your company is having in the world?

EQ’s Positive Impact Portfolios are a unique proposition for clients who care about how and where their money is invested. They are ready-made and professionally managed investment portfolios that are available to the general public via an ISA, a pension, or a general investment account. They only invest in funds that are screened to make a positive social and environmental impact. We look after the exact make-up of the portfolios, ensuring that they constantly respond to changing market conditions. They offer a range of different ‘risk profiles’ to suit more cautious or more adventurous investors.

We have also set up the EQ Foundation as a registered charity. The EQ Foundation is the grant-making charitable arm of EQ Investors. We make a small number of multi-year grants to organisations which focus on achieving positive social, economic and environmental outcomes and aim to deliver long-lasting benefits.

We run a volunteering programme for our staff, who are all encouraged to donate two days of their time each year to voluntary activities, and we operate a Matched Giving programme to help our clients and staff raise extra funds for their favourite causes.

Going forward, we are also interested in impact investment opportunities in social enterprises and mission-led businesses.

What benefits have you seen since certification?

Both clients and potential clients have taken comfort in our approach. I think they appreciate the transparency of the scheme. Being a member of the UK B Corp community has also given us the opportunity to meet other companies with similar values, which has been productive from a business point of view. In fact, we have started to help a few fellow B Corps with various aspects of their auto-enrolment requirements.

How did your other staff react to the certification?

Very positively. EQ is a relatively tight-knit team of 60 staff, based out of our London office. We shared information about the certification process widely, including the areas where we scored strongly in the BIA and where we want to improve. It’s been a great way to help people see how our values as an organisation play out in practice.

What has changed in your organisation as a result of taking the B Impact Assessment?

We were proud of our score (95/200) in the initial assessment. To us it showed that our values are aligned with B Lab’s, and with the assessment. I think staff are definitely more aware that we are considering our impact on different stakeholder groups when we make decisions. It will be interesting to see how we fair when re-certification comes around.

What does the year ahead hold in store for your company?

We’re very much hoping to be able to support more of our fellow UK B Corps with their auto-enrolment programmes. We think we have a lot to offer in this space, especially around ethical investment options. Please get in touch if you think we could help! We would be delighted to offer any B Corp a free, no-obligation meeting to discuss any questions they have about financial planning, including setting up an auto-enrolment pension scheme for their staff. Please contact Hayley Jarvis (on 020 7488 7141 or via the B Hive) for further details.

We’re also eagerly awaiting some movement, from the Government this time, around Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR). This is a scheme that is designed specifically to channel early-stage investment into social ventures. While it’s a relatively new programme, in many ways it builds the longstanding successes of the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs). You can learn more about these on our website: eqinvestors.co.uk. We’re looking forward to being able to advise on SITR as it becomes more widely available.

Lastly, we’re keen to make the Positive Impact Portfolios more widely available to clients who already have their own financial advisers via investment platforms. They are currently available on the Novia and Alliance Trust platforms, and will be working to bring more platforms online over the coming year.

Who is your B Corp crush?

Two examples I’d like to share here. One from our world is WHEB Asset Management, the sustainable investment house. We have a great working relationship with WHEB and have featured their funds in our Positive Impact Portfolios since March 2015. What we like about their approach to investing is their focus on companies that have a positive impact on both society and environment and are predicted to grow faster than the market. They focus mainly on four themes: environmental services, resource efficiency, safety, and health – all of which are globally important.

Another example is from a completely different world: COOK Food have inspired us with their approach to developing their staff, with their strong focus on self-assessment and developing peer-feedback practices – even providing employees with access to a personal coach to help them better articulate and achieve their dreams. They’ve been very generous in sharing tools with the B Corp community, and we’re actively looking at how we can learn from and incorporate some of these ideas here at EQ.

It’s 2020, 5 years since you certified as a B Corp, what does the movement look like?

We’d like to see 500-1000 UK B Corps, ranging in size from SMEs to a significant number of larger ones. Adoption by recognised UK household brands that get coverage in the mainstream media will make a big difference – there are encouraging signs of this already with companies like COOK and Ella’s Kitchen on board, but a flagship UK company like the John Lewis Partnership could make a big difference at getting the name out there. Just like Fairtrade coffee, or organic food, we see the ‘man on the street’ recognising the B Corp name and logo, and coming to expect it as a stamp of both quality and reassurance.

What is inspiring you at the moment?

I’m currently reading Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk.

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