Spotlight: Meet Kristin Hull, Founder and CEO of Nia Impact Capital

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After spending years as an educator and classroom teacher, Kristin Hull launched Nia Impact Capital in 2013. Her goal was to bring activism and impact investing into the public markets.

In her professional and personal life, Kristin is dedicated to empowering individuals, families, and organizations to invest in alignment with their values. The ultimate motivation behind the founding of Nia was to help marginalized populations (women, minorities, etc.) grow their portfolios while investing in the economy they want to see.

Watch our interview below.


 


Resources 

To learn more about our On Purpose guest, please follow her on Twitter or visit https://www.niaimpactcapital.com/.


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Audio Transcription

Lauren Hong (00:00):

So Kristin, it’s really great to have you here. We're excited to hear more about your business and more about your passion as it relates to the space that you're currently working in. So let's go ahead and get started. And do you want to just share a little bit about your background, and we'll go from there.

Kristin Hull (00:21):

Sure. Well, thank you so much for having me Lauren. I'm happy to be here. I am Kristin Hall and I am the founder and CEO at Nia Impact Capital. Nia means intention and purpose. So we are here with intention and purpose, and we build purpose-driven portfolios in public markets, specifically investing at the intersection of environmental sustainability and social justice. And I came to this path with a very strong focus on really wanting to make a difference. I grew up in a trading firm. My dad actually started a trading firm in our garage as I was growing up, you know, as one does in California. And so I had a really early exposure to what it meant to buy low and sell high with high-frequency trading. And yet I went into the field of education because being a classroom teacher felt like an important place to play. It was also a really important place for me to be creative and really understand that change and growth takes place one conversation at a time. And so I'm now full circle. Having sold the family business, I was able to step back and really look at what is needed. And we were able to harness financial markets for financial gain really well. And so now at Nia, we actually have several hats and several lenses. We are harnessing financial markets for environmental sustainability and social justice, as well as financial gains.

Lauren Hong (01:58):

How did you get to that intersection? I mean, there's so many places within that. You could utilize your skill sets within the financial services space. Why that?

Kristin Hull (02:08):

You know, I was starting a charter school in Oakland with a team of co-founders and when we finished buying the building, getting the mortgage, getting loans from the city, working with the city about how to do a playground, adding in, you know, blood, sweat, and tears, as far as labor and building the playground and painting the walls and setting up classrooms. And I had helped work on that project a lot and people looked at me and they said, Kristin, how did you do this? When we were talking about a capital campaign, I realized that I was working with some really smart people. None of them had the financial background I had and I thought I'm really sitting on something. It was my responsibility to share those skills to others who didn’t grow up listening to put-in calls and commodities and options from the backseat of the station wagon. It's hard to just jump into this world.

Kristin Hull (03:09):

And so I thought, you know what, I want to make it easier for women and people of color in particular, but for everybody to be able to get their money out of the bad stuff and put it into the good stuff that will help grow their own portfolios. And then also help people invest into the economy that they want to see, because we really do get the economy we invest into. And so directing our dollars into solutions-focused companies. And in our case, all of our companies have some degree of diversity and leadership. And then we are active with each of our companies to help increase their ability to grow a positive and inclusive company culture. So providing that to the world we felt was really important. And so that's why I founded Nia.

Lauren Hong (03:57):

Well, one of the questions I was going to ask was really about kind of checks and balances and measurability, which I'd love to hear more about, but as you were talking about these companies that you've got that you work with, how are you vetting those and how are you determining if they're a good fit?

Kristin Hull (04:16):

Sure. So I developed six solution themes in 2012, and I worked on those really from systems thinking and just really asking the question, what is needed for people and the planet to not only survive, but to thrive? What are we going to need? And it's everything from renewable energy, because we need to stop extracting from our earth and extracting from our communities. We're also going to need healthcare. And at the time I was working on this in 2012, climate change was certainly on the table for those of us who cared. It wasn't everywhere in everyone's conversation or on the news we did that year. Japan had their first cases of yellow fever. So knowing that tropical diseases previously limited to around the equator, that band was expanding. So what did it mean for our entire planet?

Kristin Hull (05:12):

What would this mean? And so really addressing the solutions was really important. So healthcare, education, affordable and eco housing, sustainable transportation. So really just asking what is needed for people and the planet. So that's how we're vetting our companies. We're looking at their revenue sources to see if they line up with the economy and the inclusive world that we want to see. And then of course there's a lot more as far as the due diligence and getting to know them and do they have a team that can execute on these ideas? And of course we know from the research that diverse and inclusive teams can have more revenues, they can have more products based on innovation. That's one of our investment theses as well.

Lauren Hong (06:01):

Excellent. And then with those pieces, how are you ensuring that you're staying on track? That those companies you're staying with are staying on track to align with that mission? And how did you initially define if there would be a good alignment or not?

Kristin Hull (06:17):

Oh sure. So we have a research team. So we're watching, monitoring, listening to earnings calls, and then we also do engagement with every single one of our companies. And so we are reaching out to them, letting them know why we invested, what we're looking for as far as revenues, looking for growth and then asking them lots of questions. So last year with George Floyd events and everything going on in our country, we asked a couple of questions. We said either we noticed you've made a statement about Black Lives Matter, so can you tell us what you're doing both internally and externally in your community to show that black lives matter? And then if we didn't see a statement, we said can you tell us why there's no statement? And can you tell us what you're doing both internally within your own firms and then also in your communities? And sometimes they would say, well, we did make a statement; we put it on LinkedIn. And we would say, LinkedIn is not searchable and we need to see it prominently on your website. We also need to see it on the hiring page because this really matters. And this is part of the world we need to see. We almost coached a lot of our companies into what we thought as investors we needed to see from them.

Lauren Hong (07:40):

That's really impressive. I also love how you explained the meaning of the company that you founded and then how that meaning seems to be a direct alignment with your day to day, but not only that, who your partners are and how you're holding them accountable. So that whole on-purpose piece of it, driven by passion is something you don't see all the time. So I admire and have thought of what you're doing. I’d appreciate you sharing more on that, too. And then, what do you think is the most unpopular opinion in the industry, specifically in financial services, and how are you addressing it, since it sounds like you are hitting some of these challenging issues head on. You're holding some businesses accountable, for example, with the George Floyd incident, and you were specifically talking with them about that. That's not an easy thing to do to be able to hold those businesses accountable, and that may or may not be well-received. What kind of challenges or unpopular things are you seeing that are happening within financial services and how are you pushing up against the grain with that?

Kristin Hull (08:48):

Sure. So there's so many, I mean, we could count them by the day or by the hour. So just being a woman in finance, you know, there's so few of us and then being an asset manager, I don't know if you're familiar with the Knight study. So the Knight Foundation commissioned Harvard to do a study of diversity and asset management and found that women and people of color didn't even make up 1%. So they actually combined women and people of color asset managers to make us show up on a chart. And so combined women and people of color together are managing 1.3% of the over $70 trillion in our industry. And so we're few and far between, and I mean, it kind of says, look what we're invested into, look at the problems that we have in our economies.

Kristin Hull (09:42):

And doesn't it make sense to have just a few more voices at the table, a few more things. So there's definitely discrimination against women and people of color by this industry. So we're kind of bucking up against that and we're showing people that women and people of color can do this work, and can do it well. We're also talking to our companies, as I said, just about sustainability. We're also really investing into a very concentrated portfolio. So really helping clients move away from the index because the index is our status quo. And so meaning to invest in a little bit of everything, we don't want to be investing in weapons or fossil fuels or any of the huge global problems. Why? So we're trying to show that there's a different way to do this. And so that's something we buck up against, because it's still controversial in this country. I would say in others, particularly in Europe now where they're experiencing some floods as part of climate change, they are very much wanting to connect the dots and get their pension plans out of any status quo or incumbent economy and get them into the solutions. And in the U.S. we're still debating the merits of that.

Lauren Hong (11:00):

And then, because you are seeing things on such a higher level, what progressive changes are you seeing within the industry, whether it's on the business side or investment side. Are you seeing a movement of change?

Kristin Hull (11:18):

Well, that’s such an interesting question, right? So many of us in every industry are experiencing the patriarchy. And I think everybody in their own industry thinks they have it the worst, you know, certainly Hollywood, they think they have it really bad. And then when you get to financial services, we know we have it really bad. And so just trying to make it clear that this really is for everybody and that we really do need a balance. And so what is it going to take to move to progressive change? It's going to take more balance, definitely at the decision-making table, who's making investment decisions. Who's able to build investment products and launch them, et cetera. Some of the changes we're seeing, I mean, I would say the financial industry is so overripe for being disrupted that I'm surprised it's taken this long.

Kristin Hull (12:07):

We're seeing some interesting fintech solutions. I would say probably the innovation is still ahead of us actually in financial services. We're seeing a few things and definitely, I guess my fear is that we're not seeing actual change. We're seeing a lot of greenwashing and some relabeling of products from some of the larger firms actually constructing a portfolio of solutions-focused companies, they're renaming and rebranding. And so we're definitely seeing that, but I wouldn't call that progressive change. We need to see more actual portfolios constructed with the end in mind.

Lauren Hong (12:48):

Great. And then, what ways do you feel that you're able to stay relevant with all that's happening in the world and ensuring that your company stays relevant with the speed at which everything is moving?

Kristin Hull (13:02):

Yeah, I think what's actually interesting is that we were probably a little bit ahead. We were a little bit ahead of everybody and now, particularly in the social justice movement, and then also our environmental movement is catching up with us. And so we're becoming more relevant all of a sudden, which is really nice. So I'm making time to put out those thoughts and some of those thought leadership things. I think Nia was the first to put out a guide to racial justice investing. And we did that right after the George Floyd protest last year, because we had been investing that way a long time. So it was up to us to really articulate that and put it out in a guide for investors. I would say, similarly, we need to catch up a little bit, we're redoing our website to really make sure that the ways that we're investing are clear and accessible to everybody. And that will just make us that much more relevant.

Lauren Hong (13:58):

That's fine. This is very helpful. Is there anything else that you would like to share that you think would be relevant?

Kristin Hull (14:05):

Um, sure. I think one of our taglines is changing the face of finance, because we really need it and the world deserves that, and welcoming more women and people of color into this industry, as I've mentioned, we're really also welcoming everybody to see themselves as an investor. If you have a bank account, that money is sitting somewhere and it's invested. Women definitely sit on the sidelines more often because maybe they don't really like what's out there or they're confused, or maybe they've been left out of the conversation. So we're really hoping to be that voice, to get women in the game and to have them use their investor voice, because the industry does change with the more of us involved asking for what we want. So I’m hoping your listeners are all considering themselves as investors.

Lauren Hong (15:04):

Yeah. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time. It's very inspirational to not only hear from you, but then to see the work that you're doing and to be truly living out the company's mission and holding, as I said earlier, partners accountable. It’s like I said, it's rare to be able to see that and also to be able to hear firsthand. So thank you again for your time today. Greatly appreciate it.

Kristin Hull (15:28):

Thank you, Lauren, for having me.