Two years ago, the NAACP partnered with Impact Shares—a nonprofit fund manager specializing in socially conscious, ESG-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs)—to develop a novel investment product.
While the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing movement was already gaining a foothold in the world of finance, both organizations noticed a notable gap—funds that target, and reward, companies with policies promoting diversity and racial equality.
“Impact Shares was looking for an organization that could help frame the ‘S’ [in ESG] for them, and we’d been doing corporate scorecards for 25 years: looking at data, scoring and ranking companies, and providing that information to our constituency,” Owens tells Fortune.
The result was the Impact Shares NAACP Minority Empowerment ETF (ticker: NACP), which tracks nearly 200 large- and mid-cap companies on the strength of metrics measuring their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equality. That includes everything from their employee hiring, pay, and promotion practices, to the nature of their products, services, and supply chains.
“As it relates to issues impacting people of color, there is no better sector specialist than the NAACP,” according to Impact Shares CEO Ethan Powell. While the NAACP helped develop the criteria on which the ETF is based, the screening and composition of the fund itself is handled by Morningstar and its ESG research subsidiary, Sustainalytics. Meanwhile, Impact Shares donates net proceeds from the ETF back to the NAACP, to help fund the organization’s social advocacy work.
The goal for investors, Powell says, is to unlock what he terms “social alpha,” or “superior social outcomes relative to your area of concern.” With the killing of George Floyd having unleashed a wave of historic protests across the U.S. and put a spotlight on the injustices faced by people of color, the ETF and its concerns are more relevant than ever.
“Now, two years later, here we are in this moment in this country, and it’s an interesting time to raise the questions that this fund was created to raise,” Owens says.
Today, the fund has more than $4 million in net assets under management, with large-cap stock holdings across all 11 industry sectors tracked by the S&P 500. Among its biggest holdings include Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet, Johnson & Johnson, and JPMorgan Chase. As of Thursday afternoon, the ETF was up 1% this year to date.
While some of its holdings aren’t the first companies that come to mind when one thinks of policies and practices promoting social justice, Owens notes that these corporate behemoths are often the ones with the scale and resources to pursue the initiatives with the most impact. Powell adds that they’re also the ones that “prioritize reporting” and transparency of such practices.
“What we found is that these larger companies are represented in the fund because they have diverted resources to working on these issues,” he says. The ETF has “opened the door” for the NAACP to “engage those companies in conversations we’ve not been engaged with in the past, Owens adds. Meanwhile, other companies not included in the fund “now want to be included” and have reached out to the NAACP to open a dialogue, he says.
Myriad companies reacted to Floyd’s death, and the subsequent protests, by releasing solidarity statements and announcing initiatives championing diversity and equality. As such, it would appear that the ranks of those that would qualify for the ETF could well grow in the coming years.
In fact, Powell believes that this moment in American history will prompt “changes that hopefully render some of the [ETF’s] screens obsolete because they are ubiquitous.” At that point, the fund will “continue to raise the bar”—revising its screens and setting higher standards for those included.
“Our hope is that some of the basic policies and practices that you would think would already exist in corporate America are no longer a point of differentiation,” he says.