Events this past week again brought to the forefront the social injustice that continues to plague our country. More than ever, I have been compelled to do my part to help our communities and am determined to make this pursuit a focal point of my career. I was fortunate earlier this year to find an incredible opportunity to do just that at IMPACT Community Capital.
To be sure, leaving my prior firm, BlackRock, after 16 years (and just as the COVID-19 crisis hit) was an incredibly difficult decision. However, I wanted to use my skillset to further causes important to me.
As a Board member of the Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF), for instance, I have been especially interested in working towards the economic advancement of women. It’s often overlooked, but developing affordable housing is directly aligned to this cause, as women (who experience much higher poverty rates than men) represent roughly 75% of affordable-housing residents.
Intentionality was also an important factor in my decision. There is no shortage of opportunities to get into ESG investing, but I was interested in strategies that were more active in social change – the “S” of ESG -- than those that deploy a negative screen or embrace a “do not harm” philosophy. By making affordable housing available at scale, IMPACT contributes to a material social benefit that can be quantified and measured. This level of impact was an important consideration -- first, in helping define a purpose, but also because it speaks to the firm’s value proposition across the ecosystem within which it operates.
Finding Common Ground
I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of starting from scratch and forfeiting the institutional knowledge I had accumulated. At BlackRock I was part of a team responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with leading insurers across P&C, Life, and Health business lines.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these constituencies face new challenges as it relates to both their operations and investment strategies. Life insurers typically invest with an objective for income and were already contending with the challenges of a low-rate environment. Property & Casualty insurers face their own challenges, ranging from increases in claim activity for travel insurance to an anticipated loss of premium income.
The team at IMPACT are no strangers to the nuances of investing for insurers, as the company was founded and continues to be owned by leading U.S. insurance companies. They have an innate understanding for the need for fixed income alternatives that provide direct support to our communities and do not compromise potential income or asset preservation.
Like any investor, I scrutinize performance. In the impact investing space, investments need to achieve intended impact alongside market returns. Strategies that can successfully achieve both objectives are well positioned to appeal to new investors and endure across market cycles.
Affordable housing presents a unique market opportunity to achieve these objectives due to a severe undersupply nationwide. IMPACT has been investing in this space for 20 years and has found that this consistent demand for affordable housing produces “acyclical” characteristics in this asset class, a low correlation to corporate bonds, and attractive long-term yields relative to the underlying risk (themes we will be discussing in more depth in a future thought piece).
Amidst the current COVID-19 crisis, affordable housing has remained relatively resilient and we are cautiously optimistic that this resilience can be sustained. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic and this time of social unrest, I am thankful to have joined IMPACT when social impact strategies are needed more than ever. By focusing on alignment of purpose, deep familiarity with client objectives and a history of investment expertise, I’m left with the remaining question, which is what my commute will look like when it’s time to “return” to the office for the very first time.
Melissa Maquilan Radic, CFA, CAIA joined IMPACT Community Capital in 2020 and is responsible for relationship management and the delivery of investment solutions to IMPACT’s institutional clients. Prior to joining IMPACT, Melissa was the head of BlackRock’s insurance business for the West Coast, where she managed insurance client relationships. Melissa received her undergraduate degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering from Princeton University and an Executive MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Melissa currently lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two sons.