HomeSocial Impact InvestorsHow Meghan Lape-Lefevre of Conscious Impact Financial Planning Aims To Inspire An...

How Meghan Lape-Lefevre of Conscious Impact Financial Planning Aims To Inspire An Entirely New Approach To Socially Responsible Investing

Well I have to admit I’ve already started on this path with the financial advocacy movement. I don’t want to say I started the movement since I feel that it has always been in the background, but I did give it a name so that I could continue to educate others on its existence. I want to get rid of this notion that you have to be ruthless in business so then you can use your excess earnings to contribute to charitable causes. I want these businesses to be socially responsible in the first place so these charities are not needed. The financial advocacy movement is way to facilitate that, and in most cases, doing so without sacrificing the rate of return.

As a part of our series about “Social Impact Investors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meghan Lape-Lefevre, founder of Conscious Impact Financial Planning. As a proponent of the Financial Advocacy Movement, Meghan is dedicated to empowering others in transforming their finances into personal advocacy. Her firm is committed to the pursuit of socially responsible investing and prides itself on their mission of prosperity with a conscience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up I was always fascinated by mathematics. After finishing my education, I felt that becoming a math teacher would be a natural extension of my love of math. However, I abruptly discovered that loving math and teaching math are two very different things. So from there I switched my focus to financial education, counseling, and planning. I still teach math, but now it’s a one-on-one setting and I finally have a great answer to the question “When will I use this in real life?”.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I keep trying to think of a humorous mistake I have made while starting my firm, but in all honesty, mistakes in our field are far from humorous. A case of mistaken identity would generally be classified as a breech of security or mishandling of sensitive personal information. A miscalculation so large that it can’t be taken seriously still may cause irreparable financial damage. Miscommunication on any aspect of our work can cascade into clients feel disparaged or taken advantage of. So even if something happened that by all accounts would be considered funny, I don’t think I would see it that way. That is not to say that our office is humorless, but we have to keep a higher standard when it comes to the substance of our work.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I would have to say that my tipping point came when my new prospects were more a result of my networking and warm referrals rather than general marketing. Once that happened, I found that I was working with more quality clients that were likely to stay in the long term. I strongly believe that quality is far more important than quantity and encouraging this attitude within the firm has made for a better working environment.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person or mentor to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without a doubt, Doug Nelson is the reason I am here today in the social impact investing space. I met him as one of my professors in the Great Plains IDEA master’s program and he was the first person to introduce me to socially responsible investing as a concept. His guidance and ideas are what inspired me to expand from financial counseling and into financial life planning. Without him, I still would be happy as a financial counselor, but I would have never reached my full potential.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but are afraid of the prospect of failure?

My advice would be that it is ok to fail. I have to admit my first business attempt failed miserably 10 years ago. The more important part is what you do with the knowledge you gained in the process. I always remind myself that my life is finite, therefore so are my mistakes. I will make an unknown “X” number of mistakes in my life, so every time I make one I know that I have crossed one off the list. Being afraid and doing nothing at all is worse than failure in my opinion. At least with failure, you have experience and hopefully an interesting story to tell.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand social impact opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?

Some of the most effective programs that have created social impact opportunities for women, minorities and people of color have been through the work of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI’s). CDFI’s include institutions such as banks, credit unions, lenders and venture capitalists. So even if an investor does not have the assets to endeavor into venture capitalism, they still can support these communities by holding their accounts in CDFI banks and credit unions. This simple act helps fund the lending that goes straight back into providing social impact opportunities.

The other opportunity I personally believe will lead to greater equality is making financial planning accessible to all. At the current moment, the financial planning market is mostly composed of those who have significant assets and can put them under management. Unfortunately, the prevailing business model rarely gives us the opportunity to do much else unless we are taking on pro bono cases. My firm is currently refining a program that addresses this challenge. We believe that by scaling the financial planning process, we can make financial planning accessible to those that have limited means. Our efforts have been well met, but I believe it’s too early in the program to call it a success just yet.

You are an investor who is focused on investments that are making a positive social impact. Can you share with us a bit about the projects and companies you have focused on, and look to focus on in the future?

One of the most satisfying aspects of our approach is that our social impact work is client led. That is, we accept clients that are sincere in their interest in social responsibility and advocacy and focus our efforts on the topics that they are passionate about. With our current client base, the issues we focus on are diversity, gender equality, LGBTQA+ rights, workplace safety, animal exploitation, carbon emissions, deforestation, and exploitation in the migrant detention and prison industry. Our approach includes divesting in companies that offend client values, using proxy votes to support the board members that are initiating positive change, and petitioning for specific policy changes within investments that are currently held. Though this approach is quite unique within the industry, it is my hope that it is just the beginning, I hope it will inspire an entirely new approach to socially responsible investing.

What you are doing is not very common. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to focus on social impact investing? Can you share the story with us?

Though I did have an Aha moment, it was not from deciding to focus on social impact investing as a financial planner. Rather, the moment was one where I realized my social impact efforts and advocacy could be nurtured within a career. As I said previously, my inspiration came during my master’s program, and the moment came the first time I realized that socially responsible metrics even existed and had the ability to be measured. Prior to that, the only avenue I knew of that made a social impact was financial counseling.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or Social Impact investment? Or an investment that you are most proud of? What was its lesson?

I am most proud of my education and investment advice to clients who are vegan and value the prevention of animal cruelty. When taking very general advice from internet sources, often index funds such as the S&P 500 are recommended. Though the reasons for this recommendation are valid, they generally do not consider other factors outside of typical fundamental analysis. I found that many of these compassionate clients were investing in funds like the S&P, but were completely unaware that a portion of their profit was being generated by Tyson Foods. I can tell you that these individuals did not make drastic lifestyle changes and purposeful food choices just to be another participant in the behavior they so adamantly reject. So though this lesson came as a shock to clients at first, this work has been incredibly meaningful. I am delighted that I can restructure their portfolios to make similar rates of return without my clients self-sabotaging their social impact efforts.

Can you share a story of an Angel or Social Impact investing failure of yours? What was its lesson?

One of the most disappointing investments I have advised on was with a technology company that my client worked for. The company was very impact conscious, hit many of the marks for social responsibility, and had great potential for growth. Moreover, my client was part of their sales team and enamored with its culture and values. When the company initiated series A funding, my client wanted to be one of the first in line to invest. Based on the information I had at the time, I informed my client that an investment of this kind does have the potential for significant profitability. However, I also warned them that based on their most recent risk assessment that an investment of this kind and magnitude was outside of their risk tolerance and would significantly reduce their portfolio diversification. After some back and forth, the client decided that they were willing to take that risk and invested the equivalent of several years salary in the endeavor. Though I hoped for the best outcome, the company did go bankrupt some time later and the entirety of the investment was deemed worthless. I feel that my failure lied in my inability to effectively communicate and educate my client on the consequences of taking such risk in a concentrated position, regardless how awesome or socially conscious the company may have been.

Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

When I hear someone saying that they regret not investing in a company, what I imagine they are saying is that they did not see the potential for success in a company that succeeded anyway. Moreover, they regret that they did not share in that company’s success. In social impact investing, there is no reason to feel that sort of regret. I am simply happy that another socially responsible company has blossomed even without my influence. But as your question is meant to explore a mistake I have learned from, I do admit that I am disappointed it took me so long to see the potential in Tiny Home Agrihoods. From my perspective, it felt like it would be difficult to generate demand for such an enterprise, especially at it’s current price point. But clearly I underestimated it’s market and am reminded of that every time I see successful ventures such as our local village farm in Austin. I’m glad they have been successful, but will always remind myself to retain my humility even when it comes to financial topics that I think I understand well.

Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a Social Impact investment” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Without a doubt, the five things I need to see before making a social impact are:

Their method of measuring social impact

It is one thing to create a memo saying that you support social responsibility, but another thing completely to implement it. Businesses can be especially guilty of virtue signaling, especially when it affects their market share. I want to know how they measure and implement their impact so I can gauge their sincerity and have a more concrete idea of the magnitude the social impact may have on their business model.

Whether their social impact measures are verified by unbiased sources

A substantial majority of social impact data is currently self reported and has no oversight or regulation. The only real exception to this is the measurement of carbon emissions for companies that are regulated by their respective governments. Of course, I would never accuse a company of misrepresenting or fabricating data for their own purposes, but I also wouldn’t allow my clients livelihood to depend or be affected by unverifiable information.

Their previous positions on social impact

This goes back to my concern about virtue signaling. If a company is attempting to appease the public while a topic is popular, it is likely that they will reverse their stance as soon as the attention dies down. This situation also occurs when only a particular member of leadership is promoting positive change and they leave or are replaced by new leadership. If social impact is going to be sustained then it has to be ingrained in the company culture, not just during tumultuous times or under certain leadership. Our investing models favor the long term, and it is not fitting to include companies whose impact will only be short term.

Current and potential regulation and oversight

This is especially important in industries whose production may have potential environmental consequences. Not all environmental factors are currently regulated, but that does not mean they will not be in the future. A company that is positioned to address these issues even before regulation occurs will have a market advantage and stand to be more successful in the long run.

Fundamental Analysis Data

Just like any other investment, it is important to scrutinize company’s financial statements and market position. Our social impact focus is the beginning of the vetting process, but we cannot rely on those metrics alone. As we want our clients to thrive, fundamental analysis data is still a substantial factor in our investment recommendations.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Well I have to admit I’ve already started on this path with the financial advocacy movement. I don’t want to say I started the movement since I feel that it has always been in the background, but I did give it a name so that I could continue to educate others on its existence. I want to get rid of this notion that you have to be ruthless in business so then you can use your excess earnings to contribute to charitable causes. I want these businesses to be socially responsible in the first place so these charities are not needed. The financial advocacy movement is way to facilitate that, and in most cases, doing so without sacrificing the rate of return.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There is no greater treasure than a secure sense of self. If you took away your television and social media influences, what would you stand for? Would you be pursuing these avenues if your peers weren’t liking your posts? Take a moment to separate yourself from all the noise and decide what truly brings meaning into your life. It will naturally point you to how you can make a positive impact. After all, happiness is fleeting. Purpose will stick with you like an octopus to your face.

We are very blessed that a lot of amazing founders and social impact organizations read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Politics aside, I would love to sit down with Michelle Obama. Her entire life has been dedicated to promoting change and she has experienced both the positive and negative sides of the struggle. Even more so, she has focused on inspiring a new generation of leaders. So not only is she creating a direct impact, she is fostering a ripple effect that will outlive her. I would love to have the opportunity to learn from her.

How can our readers follow you online?

The majority of my social impact work is done within my firm internally, though I am working on transitioning this education to a larger audience. The two places you can see this develop are my medium page and the firm website:

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!