Tom McGillycuddy, CEO of tickr (now CIRCA5000) on how impact investing can help you make a difference (as well as money)

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A lot has changed in the world of ethical investing. When I first started out as a stockbroker for King & Shaxon, almost twenty years ago, ethical investing consisted of huddling around a Bloomberg terminal for morning conference calls, chirping in with potential investment opportunities may or may not fulfil ethical investment criteria. Caring about the environment, which was once a fringe form of investing, is now very much mainstream. The days of bear raids and greed is good are long gone, these are the days of investing with a clear conscience.

Being an ethical investor isn’t enough, though. The latest generation of ESG investors, just graduating from University, who are dipping their toe in the investment landscape are looking to make a proactive impact and invest in companies that make the world a better place.

Enter tickr, an App that only offers “impact investment opportunities”.

Here we hear from the tickr CEO, Tom McGillycuddy, about why tickr was set up, who it’s for and how they are trying to make the world a better place through impact investing.

Why did you decide to set up tickr and where does the name come from? 

I started working in financial services in September 2011, moving to London from Wigan where I’m from. I met Matt Latham, the other founder of tickr, on my first day on the Barclays grad scheme, and we bonded over being the two northern grads on the scheme (he’s from Liverpool). We are the first people in our families to go to university, work in finance, and move to London, and we both felt like outsiders straight away. Initially we were blinded by the shiny lights and buildings in Canary Wharf and felt like we were stupid and way behind our peers.

As we spent more time in the industry, we started to realise we weren’t stupid at all, it’s just that finance had been designed to make normal people like us feel stupid. It was also evident that what we were doing – shuffling money around and skimming fees off the top – had no real purpose.

I left Barclays to join Wellington Management and was introduced to the concept of impact investing – investing for financial and social & environmental returns – as soon as I joined. I knew straight away that this is what I needed to devote my life and career to, combining my desire to go something with meaning with my skills in finance. It was the sense of purpose I was looking for.

Along the way, Matt and I realised there was no way for us to invest our own money in the way we were doing in our day jobs. We were investing money for wealthy families and rich institutions, but it wasn’t accessible for people on the street. Again, it felt like normal people were being excluded.

We also realised that you don’t have to be in financial services to care about the themes that underpin impact investing, like the climate, housing and education. My Mum cares about all of these, and she hasn’t got a clue about investing. Impact investing speaks to people from all backgrounds, and as outsiders in the industry, this lit a fire in us.

We set out to build something for first time investors, using the narrative of impact investing as the hook to bring them to the table. The future of our business will be based on the stories of the companies that we invest in, and the families that are impacted around the world. Bringing investing to life, in a way that has never been done before. We are also huge advocates for financial education, having never received any ourselves, and see it as our duty, as founders and as a business, to plug this gap in our education system. If we can use impact investing as the tool to get people to invest for their future and educate them on their finances in the process, our impact as a business can multiply.

The name (which is actually the third name. A story for another time) comes from stock market ticker symbols. We are really cool, so removed the e.

How does tickr differ from traditional impact investing? In other words, why should people use tickr rather than just buying ethical ETFs, funds or shares through their stockbroker?

Firstly, ethical and impact investing are two entirely separate things. Ethical investing is largely about excluding companies that are deemed to be “bad” (like gambling and tobacco companies for example). This kind of investing has been around since the 90s and is outdated and old fashioned.

Impact investing is about proactively identifying companies providing solutions to environmental and social problems through their business models. It starts from a position of what problems need to be solved, and what companies are solving them. As a result, ethical and impact portfolios look completely different under the hood. We are the first to market impact investment platform in Europe. Others do ethical, but not impact, and the distinction is so important when thinking about the underlying product, and what users actually want.

As to why someone wouldn’t just buy shares in a company or a fund on a brokerage: we build diversified and balanced portfolios for people that are new to investing, and fundamentally care about their money doing good things around the world. Our users do not buy single line stocks because this requires homework, experience, and time that they don’t have. They don’t use stock brokers, and have never invested before, and wouldn’t feel comfortable logging on to a brokerage, opening an account, and picking their own investments. We do this for them. With us, you also get impact reporting and data, curated for your specific theme choice, and this is something that sets us apart from just buying a stock or fund from a brokerage platform.

How do you decide what investments are available on tickr?

The starting point for us is what are some of the big world problems, and are they investable. From here, we use data to identify companies that have significant revenue exposure to solving these problems, so that the core of their business is dedicated to the issue.

What’s been the best parts of running the business so far?

I would highlight two things. First, building the team that we have today. We all believe in the mission and vision of the company and are all pulling in the same direction. I fundamentally don’t believe we would have the team that we do today, without the social mission that underpins us. If we were just another investment app, nobody would care. But, if we scale and get anywhere near our goals, we can divert the course of capital markets and build a better future.

The second is meeting our users. We have just started to host our first wave of community events, where we invite our users to our office to discuss the future of the company and product, get their feedback and learn from them, Hearing what they want is invaluable, but I love discussing how they heard of us, and what utility they get out of what we have built.

And the worst part?

Matt and I refer to running a startup as “Good hour, Bad hour”, and sometimes its more like “Good minute, Bad minute”. Things get thrown your way randomly at any time that you have to deal with and figure out a way around. But, you get used to flexing that muscle, and it keeps you grounded, knowing that something is just round the corner.

What’s your ultimate goal for tickr?

We have 3 explicit 5 year goals at tickr:

  1. To get millions of people investing with impact every month
  2. Channel billions of capital to impact companies around the world
  3. Provide financial education to millions

More long term, we want to impact a billion lives. If we get the first 3 right in 5 years, it’s a natural extension of what we will achieve, by diverting the course of capital markets for the better.

And finally, what would be your top three resources (other than tickr of course) that you think can make people more ethical investors?

Again, I would change the word ethical to impact first…

I think being a good impact investor is just being a good investor, so some of these are just good investment resources.

1. Investment tips from one of the greatest investors ever: Ray Dalio…

2. Impact VC – Bridges Ventures – explains the “Spectrum of Capital” (the landscape of impact investing, and what all the terms and categories mean)

3. Global Impact Investing Network (the epicentre of everything impact-related)

Fundamentally, being a good impact investor, like being a good investor, is thinking long term, investing regularly, and investing in a diversified way. Impact just adds on a specific focus: what kind of world do we want to live in in the future? Let’s invest in that.

Tom McGillycuddy is CEO and founder of tickr an app for impact investing

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