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Using Family Inheritance to Invest Sustainably




The Impact Investing Institute is an independent, non-profit organisation with the goal of making capital markets fairer and work better for people and the planet.


In a new case study, they speak to RS Group, a mid-sized family office based in Hong Kong founded by Annie Chen with the aim of using her share of a family inheritance to invest sustainably. It subsequently led to the creation of the Sustainable Finance Initiative – a platform to encourage and help other private investors in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia to invest for impact.


The Impact Investing Institute talked specifically to Joan Shang, RS Group’s senior associate.  


Tell us briefly about the creation of RS Group

RS Group came into being in 2009 following a desire by Annie Chen, family member of a leading Hong Kong property developer, to more meaningfully deploy her share of the family wealth. This led to the creation of RS Group, as a family office that could pursue both philanthropic and impact investing strategies. 


How did Annie land on this impact approach – what were her motivations?

Annie began her investment journey with the traditional mindset of growing the family wealth so it could be passed on to future generations. However, after the 2008 global financial crisis, Annie became increasingly interested in what wealth could do in the world and questioning the role of investing. Beyond pure philanthropy, how can capital be deployed into a way that does not damage our planet or people – but actually contributes to their well-being? Is it possible to ‘do good and do well’ at the same time? By talking to others who were asking the same questions, and with the support of Bonny Landers, then-CEO of the family office, RS Group was born. 


How would you summarise the aim of RS Group?

At its heart, RS Group believes that every investment it makes must be a constructive, values-based act that not only delivers positive financial returns but also contributes to the world’s collective and sustainable well-being. We call this ‘investing through a values-based lens’. In practice, this can range from setting specific criteria for companies and stocks to invest in to seeking out opportunities that offer clear positive social and / or environmental impact. The aim has always been to take a ‘total portfolio management’ approach where all assets are used to advance the mission and goals of the group through both investing and philanthropic giving. 


Just as importantly, rather than being trapped within the ‘impact first’ vs ‘finance first’ dichotomy, RS Group adopts the concept of ‘blended value’ — the idea that positive outcomes can be optimized when the value we seek to create is being viewed through a holistic, integrated lens. 


A key milestone for the RS Group was the publication of its Impact Report in 2016, which sought to inspire and empower other potential impact investors in Asia by documenting your process. What effect did that report have? 

Our intention with our 2016 Impact Report was to share the story of why and how RS Group has chosen to live its values. In particular, we wanted to show through practical, real-life examples of our own activities that it is possible to be an Asia-based impact investors, and encourage other Asia based-investors to also demand impact-themed investments. This was particularly important, given impact investing was more nascent in Asia compared to impact trends in the US and Europe. 


The report was very well received and we received a lot of enquiries from other Asian asset owners wanting to explore a similar approach. However, we also discovered that helping other investors to develop their own thinking and strategy demanded highly hands-on support, which we were not equipped to deliver as a family office.  


Therefore, we looked to incubate a platform that could support asset owners and build advocacy for impact. That’s how the Sustainable Finance Initiative (SFI) came into being in 2018, led by RS Group’s director of investment, Katy Yung, which has helped to create a community of asset owners across Asia looking to build real impact into their portfolio.  


And you have done more incubation projects since then? 

Yes. After incubating SFI for two years, the organisation became independent. We then shifted our focus to addressing climate change, which we have always had a focus on. However, given the scale and urgency of the climate crisis facing us, we wanted to increase the speed and level of our resource deployment. In particular, we wanted to focus on unleashing the potential of natural capital, which has the second-greatest potential after renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions. However, natural capital is very underfunded in Asia and have yet to achieve a scale enabling larger funders to participate.  


In light of this, in 2019/2020 we began collaborating with Convergence Blended Finance, the Canada-based social enterprise, to build a blended-finance window for nature-based solutions in SE Asia. By providing seed capital and supporting efforts to scale solutions, we hope to build a pipeline of natural capital projects to interest other funders, and for natural capital to eventually develop into a full-fledged sector.  


To read the rest of this interview, head over to https://www.impactinvest.org.uk/case-study/rs-group/



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