Many wealth advisors offer impact investments, but few have taken the extra step to become certified B Corporations (or B Corps). These are for-profit companies that have been certified by B Lab, a non-profit based in Berwyn, Pa., as meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
“We want to walk our talk,” says Casey Verbeck, a director at San Francisco-based Veris Wealth Partners. In 2010, Veris became one of the first U.S. advisory firms to obtain B Corp certification. The firm currently manages $1.1 billion, all in impact strategies. Verbeck says B Corp status enhances his firm’s credibility with clients. “They really appreciate it. It shows we’re operating as a sustainable, thoughtful business.”
While any firm can claim to treat employees fairly, reduce its carbon footprint or support charitable causes, B Corp certification gives clients objective verification.
“It’s a great third-party validation of how you operate your business,” says Verbeck.
For much the same reason, Colorado Capital Management, a Boulder, Colo.-based registered investment advisor (a firm that I have worked with as an independent consultant) became a B Corp in 2013. “It was important to build our credibility by getting a third-party certification that we’re truly committed to social responsibility and that we weren’t just giving lip service to impact investing,” says Steve Ellis, the firm’s president.
Another factor that led Ellis to pursue B Corp status was that some of the advisory firms he admired, such as First Affirmative Financial Network, held the certification. “That was the class of company I wanted to be in,” he says.
A firm’s B Corp certification also helps it recruit top talent. “We’re attracting phenomenal people, particularly young people, who are the future of our company,” he says. “I think it’s in large part because of two things—doing impact investing and being a B Corp.”
A third benefit is the support of the B Corp community. Verbeck says he appreciates attending events where like-minded firms can gather to share their experiences and collaborate.
Because RIAs act as fiduciaries to clients, their business models are already fairly well-aligned with B Corp principles, making it relatively easy for them to complete the rigorous B Corp assessment and obtain initial certification. Remaining a B Corp eventually requires a firm to change its legal structure to become a public benefit corporation in the state where it’s incorporated.
Known in many states simply as “benefit corporations,” these relatively new for-profit entities exist to produce a financial return and one or more public benefits. While traditional corporations must typically place “maximizing shareholder wealth” ahead of all other considerations, benefit corporations can consider other stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers, the community and the environment. Managers of benefit corporations are legally protected from shareholder lawsuits, which gives them more leeway to place long-term profits and the needs of all stakeholders ahead of short-term profits and shareholders’ financial interests. Thirty-three states, including Delaware, one of the most popular states for corporate formation, have passed legislation recognizing benefit corporations.
As of mid-December, 54 U.S.-based advisory firms were B Corps, according to B Lab, of which 38 have completed the legal process to become benefit corporations. These firms are on the cutting edge of redefining business for profit and for good, joining the ranks of 2,356 B Corps globally, of which 1,108 are U.S.-based.
The First Affirmative Financial Network, Trillium Asset Management and the Caprock Group are some of the largest and best-known RIAs that have become B Corps.
By Leila Boulton, JD, MBA
Originally published January 2, 2018 in Financial Advisor Magazine