Meet Teresa Orsolini, CMO Of Swell Investing
Teresa Orsolini is no stranger to social impact. Her family is from the Dominican Republic where water is a precious resource, so she grew up with an intense appreciation for environmental and social responsibility. Having spent a decade building consumer-driven brands that people fall in love with, Teresa is now applying her professional expertise building her deep social values at Swell Investing—an impact investing platform that helps consumers invest in high-growth companies solving complex global challenges. We caught up with Teresa to learn more about the impact investing industry, common misconceptions about return, and the surprising reality that it’s being driven by millennials and women, in particular.
Let’s start from the beginning. What exactly is social impact investing?
We define impact investing as making investments into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Many people think that you have to give up returns when you invest with your conscience and that’s just not true! We think the companies solving today’s greatest challenges will endure and grow in the long term, which can lead to greater returns for our investors.
It’s such a fascinating new space and we love the idea of betting on the long term success of the most sustainable and ethical brands. How did you end up in the industry?
Before joining Swell, I spent a decade building consumer-driven brands people fall in love with because they tap into rich human truths. I’ve always been passionate about building conscious brands that improve the world. My family is from the Dominican Republic where water is a precious resource, so I’m particularly passionate about our Clean Water portfolio. I’m also passionate about investing in emerging ideas and industries so when I learned about Swell through IDEO, the blend of purpose and profit resonated with me.
Social impact investing has grown significantly in recent years. In your experience, what is driving this growth and what other trends are you seeing in the industry?
Conscious consumerism is on the rise, but having a purpose is no longer enough for brands to build trust. They need to walk the talk in terms of how they make money. Consumers want to know more about the brands they bring into their homes; purpose is just as important as how they’re conducting business and making money.
I think about impact investing similar to the organic food industry. The organic food industry has been around since the early 20th century but it wasn’t until consumer groups began pressuring for higher standards of food production in the 1980s that organics experienced a tipping point. What was niche has now become mainstream because consumers have demanded higher quality and more transparent sourcing. Like organics, impact investing has a similar appeal to conscious consumers who want to invest for performance and purpose.
Swell’s social impact expertise uniquely positions the company to reflect on and be sensitive to different trends across end users. We’re curious, what do women demand differently from their investments than men?
Historically, women haven’t controlled their household finances and they haven’t earned as much as men, so investing was a second thought. All of that is changing, and actually we’re seeing research that as women control more of the world’s wealth, they are also earning better returns on their investments than their male counterparts. They’re also leading the way when it comes to socially responsible investing. We recently conducted a study with more than 2,200 Americans and found that 83% of Millennial women aged 18-34 currently invest in ethical investments or plan to in the future, compared to 73% of men in the same age group.
When it comes to our product and service, we actually think the pain points for all investors are similar. At Swell, our mission is to make investing simple and approachable for everyone.
Can you share more about how Swell has managed to build the values you prioritize in your investment portfolios into your marketing and brand management strategies?
Our approach with investors is focused on values. Our consumers’ lifestyles and values around social and environmental progress unites them. Many of our investors are in a relationship and beginning to plant seeds like buying a home, having their first child and investing for their future. So we identify people that are in the market to buy a home, doing renovations or landscaping, interested in parenting, news junkies who care about health and well-being. We focus on messages and content that emphasizes investing for a better future.
How are the needs and priorities of millennial investors changing the market? How is Swell responding?
We created Swell with millennial investors in mind; a demographic that is socially conscious and more connected than ever. Every day through social media they see the pressing social and environmental challenges that face our planet. They also shop consciously and are intentional about the brands they buy, which carries over into their decisions around investing.
Our research finds that nearly three in four (72%) Millennials who currently invest think it’s important that they are investing in companies creating a positive change in the world and with strong environmental and workforce/labor policies. This interest in conscious consumerism means we communicate with our investors where they are—on social media—and share the stories of progress from the companies they’re investing in.
This is also a digital-first generation of investors. They’re used to accessing everything through their phones, which is why we’ve optimized Swell’s web app for mobile and desktop. We also have a mobile app in the works which will be released later this year.
There is a common misconception that investors must sacrifice returns to prioritize social investments.What do you wish every young investor would know?
This is one of the most common misconceptions we hear, but there’s actually historical data confirming that socially responsible investments drive returns. The MSCI KLD 400—an index focused on companies with high environmental and social impact—has outperformed the S&P 500 for over twenty-five years, since its inception. Over the past year, four of our six portfolios have outperformed the broader market.
What criteria do you personally consider when choosing which companies to invest in?
When it comes to investment decisions, I always think: Where is the growth? I think about what will be in demand in the next 50 years and which industries stand to benefit from that. For example, global demand for clean water will outpace supply within the next few decades, yet we currently waste trillions of gallons every year. Our water infrastructure, treatment methods and data systems will play a huge role in meeting the growing demand for water. Companies conserving it, cleaning it up, and streamlining systems stand to grow as the demand for clean water around the world increases.
Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One K Creative. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.