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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

An ESG Specialist Starts Partnering With Other RIAs

Reported by Neil Anderson, Managing Editor

An ESG specialist in New York City is starting to distribute its portfolios through other RIAs, too.

"We have actually begun to work with other advisors that don't have the expertise but have demand," Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group, tells MFWire. "It's still a little bit in its experimental phase."

Cornerstone, founded in 2013, has about $1 billion in AUM and primarily custodies with Pershing. The firm primarily builds portfolios out of separately managed accounts (SMAs), though they can use other vehicles, too. Cornerstone's clients include individual investors, endowments, and foundations, and Karp describes the firm as "purpose-built for sustainable and impact investing."

"Our clients are very progressive in their views. They want transparency, they want authenticity, they want progress," Karp says. "Most agree with us that you can get market rate returns and still have impact."

Karp describes Cornerstone as focusing on "the deep integration of environmental, social and governance practices" when doing due diligence on asset managers.

"We don't just look at the manager and the sources about the manager," Karp says. "We look to their whole firm. We look at their team. And most importantly for us, we are trying to understand how these managers think"

"We want to get to know the firm, and the level of commitment by the firm to the manager," Karp adds. "What we're looking for is insight, performance, and alignment."

Karp and her team currently use about 80 different managers, but they've done research on more.

"We've due-diligenced hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of managers," Karp says. "We don't think the opportunity set is limited by using ESG. We rarely have trouble finding something that our clients need. It's just a matter of time."

Karp specifically looks for active managers with deep knowledge of governance and corporate engagement issues. And she also wants to see focus.

"Don't ever pretend. Really be loyal to ... what your fund is about and what you know," Karp says. "We want to work with managers that are continuously learning. We want to see how their minds work."

"Any sort of hubris in a manager, it bothers the hell out of us," Karp adds. "We want to see learning managers." 

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