12 October 2021

Why sustainable finance is the future with Jessica Robinson, CEO of Moxie Future

Jessica Robinson is a world-leading expert in sustainable finance. She advises institutional investors, think tanks, governments and companies on green finance, climate change and ESG. Formerly Head of Asia for the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, CEO of the Association for Responsible Investment in Asia and a leader in the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, Jessica is an important voice at a time of great change.
Interview with Jessica Robinson (CEO of Moxie Future)

In her spare time, Jessica runs Moxie Future – a platform that helps female investors grow their wealth through responsible and sustainable investing. She’s also written her first book – Financial Feminism: A Woman’s Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future. Described as a practical financial guide for women, Jessica is using 20 years of financial services experience to build an inclusive movement. 

What do you do and, perhaps most importantly, why do you do it?

In a nutshell, I’m an expert in sustainable finance, responsible investment and ESG. I’ve been in that space for 15 years now which makes me an old-timer given how new the industry is. I work with regulators, governments and institutional investors to help them understand ESG and really implement things on a day-to-day basis. I’m very fortunate to have lived and worked all over the world. I’m from London, have spent a number of years in New York, Beijing and Hong Kong, and am now based in Dubai. 

On the side, I’ve just published my first book called Financial Feminism – A Woman’s Guide to Investing For a Sustainable Future. It’s a true passion of mine to engage with women as investors and think about how to embed sustainable investing within their own personal portfolios. I’ve been doing that for the past five years and run a blog called Moxie Future. It’s about getting the dialogue moving in terms of what sustainable investing means for women when they make their own financial and investment decisions. 

I woke up to the environmental crisis 15 years ago while living in Beijing. I saw the visible impact of air pollution and it coincided with me becoming a mother myself. I had two babies and was thinking: what are we doing with this world? I’d been in financial services and consulting for a number of years and thought there has to be a different way to do things. 

Our capital markets have to be built fit for the future, but clearly something is going wrong. So, why I do it is really to give my positive contribution to the world and hope that we can think through ways of doing things better. I believe in the greater good and that we all have a contribution to make. My skillset happens to be around this area of sustainable finance and I’m really trying to contribute as positively as I can to the future. And also, as it goes, inspire my children. I often say to them it’s your job to make the world a better place than when you arrived – I’m trying to do the same.

You do so much fascinating work – What is the most fun part of your job around money? 

I really like the fact I have a global perspective. We’re only going to solve problems of a global nature such as climate change and gender inequality if we figure out global solutions. For me, one of the most fun aspects is having that perspective across different regions, geographies and markets. I enjoy coming up with solutions that fit the world overall. 

I also love writing – that’s why I put pen to paper with the book. It was a passion project and I realised there is so much we can do and help women with. I’ve really enjoyed bringing all that information together for women to start thinking through sustainability in their money decisions in the form of an easy-to-read, accessible guide. It was painful at times, but overall the whole experience was phenomenal.

You’ve written about how financial institutions are failing to connect with female customers at every stage of their journey – from advertising to advice to product offerings. On a personal level, what's the best piece of money advice you’ve ever been given?

I find the finance and investment industry quite frustrating from a personal perspective. I’ve experienced first-hand patronising conversations a financial advisor might have with you, assuming you don’t understand money or money decisions. I think the world is changing, but when I started investing 15 years ago there was that sense of ‘money’s for men!’ ‘women don’t get involved!’. The best advice I’ve been given is: get involved, start small and start doing it. The longer you put it off, the more you're putting off the opportunity to learn how to invest. Getting stuck in is really important. 

The great thing with many of the investment apps we’re seeing coming up is that it’s now possible to actually start to invest with smaller amounts of money. Investing isn’t just for the super-rich. I say the same thing about sustainable investing. Five years ago, on a retail level, a lot of people felt like sustainable investing wasn’t an opportunity for them. That’s very much changed now – we’re seeing sustainable-linked ETFs. We see apps that are coming up again with a sustainable investment focus. There are many ways individual investors can start getting involved. In particular, I hope that younger generations are starting to see this and start at an early stage. Don’t put it off until your mid-40s.

What’s some of the worst money advice you’ve personally received and that you also see women receiving?

That’s a really interesting question. I’d say the worst thing to do is to assume that if you’re in a partnership you should leave your partner to make the decisions for you. Personally, I’ve never shared a bank account. I’ve always had my own bank account and made my own decisions. I think that the whole concept of joint finance is slightly archaic. I encourage my teenage daughters to look for financial independence. If anyone tells otherwise, don’t listen to them.

Through your work with Moxie, you’ve shared fascinating data points including how 67% of women feel misunderstood by their financial advisors.

Absolutely. When I got into this work, there wasn’t a lot of data or research. At Moxie, we’ve done our own original research and surveyed women across the world, particularly towards how women perceive money and how it works for them. Women genuinely care about the bigger picture. This is a really significant finding. 

What we’re seeing is that women want to understand the non-financial impact of their decisions. They’re asking: how do we support companies that have a solid and transparent supply chain? Do we know what a company’s environmental footprint is? All of these issues are very, very critical. We clearly know that many women genuinely care about this. Part of my frustration with the financial industry is that it’s taken its time to understand how important this is.

Now, we’re going to put you on the spot. What does your wallet look like? Do you have any cash on you? Bitcoin? Cards?

I recently discovered Apple Pay and I love it. I’ve been an Apple consumer for so long and Apple Pay is my new favourite. I’m very much a credit card person, but I pay it off every month. I do have cash on me and because of my international life I have multiple currencies. To be honest, I’m a bit against the whole Bitcoin obsession. When I read the news and see behaviours of people I know, I think there’s that Bitcoin gambling obsession right now. People get very excited about how to make money quickly – that’s very much the antithesis to the work I do and the book I’ve written. 

Money is a social construct. It’s designed to help us allocate resources. What worries me about Bitcoin is the lack of economic value that sits behind it. At the moment, I’m a bit anti-Bitcoin.

In your opinion, what is the future of money? And, more specifically, how do you want to see the future of money evolving for women?

What we’re seeing now in 2021, and potentially in a post-Covid world, is that wealth and money in itself has to have an end. With wealth comes responsibility. When you look around the world at challenges like climate change, child labour and supply chains, the whole gender diversity discussion… The dialogue I’m trying to push for is around the concept of wealth. What does it mean? And what is our obligation to do something with that wealth? We can amass money and wealth, but we really are looking at how we transfer and build benefits when we invest. It’s not just about making more money, it’s about using that wealth to build benefits for other people and future generations. That brings us back to the topics of what we want the world to look like and how we leverage money to help us get there.

I talk a lot about climate risk in my work because we are sitting on the tipping point of climate change. When we invest, at an institutional and retail level, we need to consider how we price in climate and climate risk. For example, how do we price and value clean air? Our economies are still grappling with how to do that. When we look forward to the future of money, that’s where we’re really going to have to think more out of the box. The whole carbon discussion is integral to this. Tradable commodities like carbon trading are really going to transform things. Being able to use technological developments to make things more efficient and speedier paired with data will help us think through our investment and financial decisions. 

How has Covid changed payments and the movement of money? 

What worried me last year was that investors, both retail and institutional, became much more short-termist and therefore the flow of capital and money into sustainable investments would fall quite dramatically. The reality is that we’ve seen the demand and supply for sustainable investment products increase since Covid hit last year. In part, that’s a relationsation that we have global problems that have a ripple effect through our economies and our societies and that affects everyone. Covid has made us more aware of social issues within capital markets and that’s also changed the landscape. 

Is the world becoming more global? How do you see the movement of money across borders changing over the next 5-10 years?

Yes and no. We’ve seen interesting dynamics in money flowing from different regions. It’s been fascinating to sit here in the Middle East to see the flow of money and investing coming from China and into other emerging markets. I think partly the industry itself is becoming more global with things like Bitcoin being much more real-time. However, there are somewhat worrying trends in terms of regionalisation that may push back against more globalisation. 

Global problems need global solutions - that includes capital markets and how we deal with climate change. We need to be able to measure and transact on a global level. From the retail perspective, my hope is that women will become more and more engaged and empowered in terms of their investment decisions and push financial institutions to make more sustainable decisions. Women want more and more understanding and, therefore, products that address their concerns, whatever they may be. 

Lastly, what future money innovation are you most curious about?

The application of Crypto and AI towards the climate crisis is very interesting, but we need the right architects to apply that to the problems themselves and environmental goods and services. The media seems to be more obsessed with the rise and fall of Bitcoin – that’s the part that worries me. 

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