'Keeping it clean' with Sophie Burgis from Cyan Finance
The 6th installment of the ‘keeping it clean’ blog series, which features interviews with a variety of experts in the world of sustainability, clean technology and future mobility.
Sophie is an Investor Relations specialist who recently joined Cyan Finance The Specialist Green, Social And Future Capital Provider.
I can also confirm she is very patient, and shares my love of cocker spaniels, which was helpful when my ‘intern’ decided to bark through the first 10 minutes of our zoom video!
Maybe we can start of with you telling me a bit more about yourself?
I am an avid cyclist, rain hail or shine, even when going to meetings with investors, which can be amusing in the case of rain and hail! I am also ‘another Australian’ living in London, who thought they’d be here for a year, but have been here for 5!
At work I connect with investors who want to do well whilst doing good. Research shows that making sustainable investments doesn’t mean sacrificing profit. As we’ve seen recently, it’s quite the opposite! I help investors to direct capital towards industries that won’t simply be surviving, but thriving in the year 2050.
What spurred the move into sustainable finance?
This has actually been my life’s mission. I started my career at the UN Association of Australia where I did research on the rise of CSR and UN Global Compact. I was really interested in the space, but there were very few jobs in sustainable finance when I was coming out of uni, so I decided to move into philanthropy — a job that also helped me to catalyse positive change.
Whilst there is great work being done in the charity sector, the third sector simply doesn’t have the resources to prevent our planet from warming by a further 2 degrees. That’s why I knew that if I wanted to make a real impact in my work, sustainable finance was the sector for me. That being said, it’s a green washing minefield out there, so it was important to find somewhere that shared my values. The transition wasn’t easy, I went back to uni and was told numerous times that my charity sector experience didn’t fit. But if you know what you want to do, you’ve already won half the battle, it was just a matter of pig-headed persistence.
Who inspires you?
I used to say David Attenborough but now everyone says David Attenborough — but he is pretty damn inspiring!
Also, my mum — she has a strong social conscience. She’s a teacher and has worked closely with refugees. She instilled in me the idea that you should love what you do. For her that meant doing something good in the world — so I guess it rubbed off!
What a combo — my mum and David Attenborough… 😊
What were the highlights of your time at the British Red Cross?
Working in philanthropy meant I got to work with some amazing people. This helps to instil a sense of hope in the world — Philanthropists are making big changes, not only are they incredibly smart and successful, they also really care! Many people think that philanthropy just helps rich people to avoid paying tax, but I think philanthropists care more about the investments they make for impact, than for financial return.
Investors are often disconnected from the change that their money makes in the world. When percentage signs are swapped out for people’s faces, of course you start to care more. That ‘will to do good’ and make an impact is infectious.
What did you work on that was really close to your heart?
Recently, the Red Cross recognised the need to consider impact investing as a way to better support people in crisis and generate revenue. Impact investing differs from philanthropy in that funds aren’t simply given away, they are invested for both a social and financial return. These returns can then be reinvested, helping investors to magnify their impact. I believe that impact investing will one day eclipse philanthropy, so I helped to drive this agenda forward by engaging with senior leadership and designing and delivering training sessions throughout the organisation.
Can you share a bit about Cyan Finance?
Cyan are a green investment bank who are solely focused on directing capital into the green economy. We are dedicated to supporting authentically green and sustainable companies. There are two aspects to the business i) principal balance sheet deployment and ii) corporate finance advisory, including capital raising and M&A.
Cyan’s purpose is derived from the need to fund areas where there is market failure and where finance provision is insufficient. Additionality is a big area of focus. The impact derived from investing in a mature market pales in comparison to providing a young and innovative company the helping hand they need to scale.
This is why we provide capital to small and medium sized enterprises — they are not just driving the green transition forward but advancing it in leaps and bounds.
How do you decide what or who to invest in as a business?
Cyan is agnostic across the sustainability space, this means a simple check box framework doesn’t work — comparing an air purification company to an electric car charging business can be like comparing apples with oranges. For us, mission alignment is key.
We ask… Are they doing something good for the planet? Do they have a strong management team? Are they authentically green and sustainable? We seek to create long-term relationships. We look beyond the capital we provide, and think about how we can use our resources and expertise to help companies to be successful and create meaningful and lasting change.
How can investors make the biggest impact?
By deeply considering what kinds of green and sustainable vehicles they invest in. Is investing in an ESG fund of large-cap, listed companies really creating change? What would happen if you didn’t invest in this fund? Probably absolutely nothing. They won’t really miss your money, these companies will not fail, and the world will continue to warm. If you are seeking impact and returns, invest in young and innovative companies. For some, these investments might feel too risky, to that I say: we’ve recently seen big brand names and established industries crash and burn. Supporting the status quo is not risk-free. Seek out experts (like Cyan 😉) who are dedicated to working in this space and start putting capital to work on the right side of history.
What is your vision for the future of society?
I don’t think I can answer this question without addressing it within the context of the Coronavirus. COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge and we must draw parallels between this ‘new normal’ and life dominated by climate breakdown. Despite being isolated and putting the breaks on our economy, we’ve managed to adapt with agility; finding new ways to connect, show kindness to others, and move forward. I really hope that this empathy and increased awareness will carry through after lockdown ends. Humans have an incredible capacity to change and adapt. We need to utilise this ability to address the climate crisis. I think we’ve demonstrated that we’re capable, which gives me a hopeful outlook for the future. The next question is, do we have the will? I think so.
Connect with us to keep the clean discussion going… and if you would like to feature in the series, do get in touch! 🌏