When Christopher Knapp spoke at the InvestmentNews Global ESG Summit in May, one of his goals was to advise other financial professionals on how to talk about sustainable investing to clients. One thing he and others agreed on is that ESG shouldn’t be presented as anything more complicated than a way to do good while also earning a profit.
Knapp, who joined Robertson Stephens Wealth Management in February, told attendees at the event that ESG is about “meeting people where they are and understanding that sustainable and green investing are fiduciary issues, not political issues. The greatest opportunity for all of us here is realizing clients are not always paying attention to what’s in their portfolio.”
That’s the kind of strategy Robertson Stephens likely aimed for when it hired Knapp as managing director and principal of the San Francisco-based firm’s new Houston office. Knapp brings a wealth of experience in ESG and impacts investing to Robertson Stephens, having previously worked at Houston’s Collaboration Capital, a wealth management and advisory firm focused on impact and ESG investing. Knapp founded Collaboration in 2016 after stepping down as CEO of Houston-based money management firm Chilton Capital Management.
His experience in both community banking and impact investing has allowed him to see firsthand how ESG has evolved from a niche market to one that now boasts many trillions of dollars in assets under management around the world.
“ESG is now in the mainstream, while five to six years ago it seemed exotic,” Knapp recently told the Financial Advisor website. “People love to do studies on wealth creation and wealth participation, and why families go from shirtsleeves to shirtless in three generations. A lot of the reasons that family wealth dissipates is a lack of a cohesive investment philosophy that can be shared across generations.”
Knapp, who grew up in a family of community bankers in Houston, got introduced to ESG early in his career at Brown Brothers Harriman, where he met faith-based investors and other groups who wanted portfolios vetted for socially responsible investments. In 1996 he co-founded Chilton Capital Management, a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) which now has more than $1.7 billion in assets under management.
A socially conscious client Knapp met at Chilton introduced him to microfinancing and microlending, which opened up even more doors into ESG.
“I landed on a team of guys who were lending to women in emerging markets, who showed that you could build a scalable, core process microlending model, and that became my first move from traditional office investments to ESG,” Knapp said. “When (the financial crisis of) 2008 and 2009 happened, this happened to be one of our best performing investments during that period. The default rate was zero. That was my personal epiphany.”
On a more personal level, Knapp began to develop an interest in urban green spaces and parks. He came to realize that the process of creating and maintaining them required a collaborative effort involving professionals in numerous fields, from government and science to finance, health, design, and construction. This focus on collaboration led Knapp to found Collaboration Capital, a management and investment firm whose ESG strategies depended on input from a wide range of professionals with different areas of expertise.
When Knapp joined Robertson Stephens earlier this year, he brought aboard more than $200 million in assets from Collaboration Capital, as well as four of his former colleagues. Robertson Stephens also saw an opportunity to expand its own ESG program.
“Today, the investment opportunities we recommend to clients must demonstrate not only strong fundamentals but also an ability to address the values and beliefs of our clients,” Robertson Stephens CEO Raj Bhattacharyya said in a press release. “Christopher’s expertise in impact and sustainable investing will result in the broadening of our investment offerings to include an enhanced ESG framework and will align our capabilities to address an increasingly important dynamic for our clients.”