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The fight for a greener (financial) world

29 June 2020 at 8:08 am
Maggie Coggan
As the director of distribution at U Ethical, David Brennan is aiming to give everyone the option and knowledge to invest ethically. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 29 June 2020 at 8:08 am


The fight for a greener (financial) world
29 June 2020 at 8:08 am

As the director of distribution at U Ethical, David Brennan is aiming to give everyone the option and knowledge to invest ethically. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

While Brennan has always been attracted to the idea of green and community-minded finance, it isn’t a concept that until recently the broader finance sector, or everyday consumers have picked up on. 

Jumping over to U Ethical two years ago, Brennan is now in charge of working with clients to solve their complex financial issues in a way that can have a positive impact on the world around them. 

An autonomous social enterprise of the Uniting Church, U Ethical has grown to become one of the largest ethical investment managers in the country, with over $1 billion under management. 

The organisation is also one of a few investment firms to have been certified as a B Corporation, which verifies that they meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

In Brennan’s ideal world, every investment firm would be investing ethically, even if that means he would be up against a little more competition. 

For his work, Brennan was recently named one of the Australian Financial Review (AFR) BOSS Magazine’s six Young Executives of the Year.

In this week’s Changemaker, he discusses how his passion for finance and the community started at an early age, the future of ethical investing, and why he loves his job. 

Why did you make the decision to work for a financial social enterprise such as U Ethical? 

It was a no brainer for me. I’ve always been interested in finance from a young age and have been attracted to being able to provide solutions to clients’ sometimes very complex problems. Providing a solution that’s good for them and for people and the planet made sense to me. It’s really satisfying to make an impact every day. U Ethical has a really unique proposition too – it’s a pioneer in the ethical investing space, offering professional investment management across $1.2 billion of assets as well as being a registered charity and social enterprise.

What are you trying to achieve in your job? 

My main role is focused around our clients. Communicating with them, working with them to meet their challenges (financial and otherwise) and also to show them how by investing with U Ethical, they are making an impact. Not only through the way we manage their money and invest in areas that are beneficial for people and the planet while avoiding harmful sectors and companies, but also the way our surplus goes to a community contribution – with over $60 million granted since 2005. If I know that a client sleeps well at night knowing their money is in U Ethical’s safe hands and that it’s making a positive impact, then that’s very satisfying to me and my team.

What does your day look like? 

Given COVID – a little hectic. I’m a very early morning person and now it’s winter it can be a struggle when I wake up and head out running. I find I have the most energy and focus in the morning, so I usually try to tackle the late night emails and more complex projects I have on first thing. As we’re all now meeting digitally, I find myself having up to 15 back-to-back meetings a day. But to make sure I maintain my energy throughout I always plan breaks in my diary so I can have some thinking time. I’m usually on calls with our clients, so have found it useful to go out walking while speaking to them if I can to try and multi-task, which I’m terrible at. My late afternoon and evenings are usually for reading longer documents when it’s quiet and I can take the time to re-read and absorb things.

How would you like the finance and investing industry to change in the next 10 years? 

I think that ethics and sustainability are more important than ever before when it comes to making decisions about how and where to invest. It may sound odd but I would welcome more competition for U Ethical, with ethical investing becoming the default way to think. As investment managers increase the application of ethical overlays to the decisions they make, we need to make sure it’s genuine, as there does tend to be a lot of rhetoric rather than substance in the space – sometimes referred to as “green washing”. Whether its climate change, modern slavery or animal cruelty, there is always a way to make a difference when choosing where to put your money. So with some luck, time will see greater opportunity and more options to make the right choice.

What do you love about your job? 

Without a doubt, the diversity of our clients and the variety of things it involves. My day might involve working with a university to review their strategic asset allocation one meeting, the next might be speaking with the CFO of a health-related charity about where their organisation’s risk and income needs lie. Getting to know organisations on a deeper level is really interesting to me and working with the people within them has always been rewarding. The moment you move from their investment manager to their trusted partner is the most satisfying part of my job.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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  • Howard Whitton says:

    It is good to see the emphasis on ‘making a (positive) difference’ front and centre. The Uniting Church certainly has a role in the post COVID19 world, and beyond, reminding us what is really important in business and society.

  • Steve says:

    “….over $60 million granted since 2005.”

    Ha ha. That’s a good one.
    I’ve been in ethical finance work since before 2000. Rarely heard of the church doing ethical projects till now.

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