Millennials move toward impact investing

Over the next several decades, as baby boomers in the United States age and transfer their wealth to the next generation, an unprecedented $41 trillion will change hands.

These young inheritors are, for the most part, Millennials — the generation born between 1978 and 2000. As it turns out, this group’s attitudes about social responsibility, private capital, and the intersection between the two do indeed appear to differ from those of their parents, perhaps starkly.

“Think back to the great philanthropists of years past who thought of making money in the first half of their lives and giving it away in the second half,” says Justin Rockefeller, a trustee and member of the investment committee at the $739 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund, great-great grandson of John D. Rockefeller, and, at 33, himself a Millennial. “Today, that view is still pretty pervasive, that there’s capitalism and making money on one side, and philanthropy on the other. I think the younger generation is seeing that as a false dichotomy, or at least something that will increasingly become a false dichotomy.”

Data indicates that he’s right: Millennials are more likely to embrace a philosophy that financial interests and social interests ought to directly overlap, thereby ostensibly benefitting both wallet and world.

In late 2011 Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu commissioned two surveys: Both surveys asked whether business success should be based on more than just profit — 92 percent of Millennials said it should, and 71 percent of current business leaders agreed. When each group was asked to describe the purpose of business, Millennials most often said “innovation” and “societal development,” while business leaders’ top responses were “profit” and “value.”

Over half of Millennials believed that in the future, more than any other sector of society, business would achieve the greatest impact on solving society’s biggest challenges. These are no longer abstract philosophical schisms for the wealth management firms and advisers who are overseeing the massive transfer of assets from one generation to the next — the schisms are practical, and they’re starting to force changes at firms and family offices from the inside out.

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