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Beyond Profit: An Investment Bank With a Purpose

In the beginning, investment banking had a noble purpose: To finance trade and the development of kingdoms for the good of the subjects ... or at least the King. Somewhere over the centuries, the profession largely lost its way and became an industry you joined to make a lot of money. Oh, sure there have been periods in history when bankers have jumped into national and global crisis to finance defense and recovery, but for the most part, it’s been about making money. Lots and lots of money.

Profits Are Important, But What About an Investment Bank with a Purpose?

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There is nothing wrong with making money, but there is something suboptimal about a life whose only focus is on making money. Other than those living at the expense of others, making money is a lot like breathing: it is hard to live without it. While necessary, making money is hardly a reason to live. Now, I admit to making this personal discovery much later in life than I would have liked, but it eventually led me to Conscious Capitalism and the world of B Corps and Impact Investing.  Along the way, I met a lady who became one of my heroes and who influences our thinking about EPOCH Pi and its purpose.

Adara Group, the Investment Bank Down Under That Lifts Up the World

When we spun out of our former firm to form EPOCH Pi, our intention was to benefit the world by supporting world-changing businesses. Our belief was that we could help the evolution to Conscious Capitalism by supporting B Corps and others that were endeavoring to create social change as well as financial returns. Our purpose, we believed, was to help finance the emerging purpose economy. What we didn’t fully understand at the time, was that while that was our mission, it wasn’t our higher purpose. We experienced our “a-ha” when we learned about the business Audette Exel had started many years earlier in Sydney Australia.

Audette Exel is a lawyer turned financier who twenty years ago left the comfort of a big job at a big firm to start Adara Group, a non-profit international development organization that works to improve health and education for women, children and communities in need. Like so many non-profit CEOs, she got tired of raising money and thought there had to be a better way. She was right and way ahead of her time.  Audette created a for-purpose investment bank within Adara that used 100% of its profits (no that isn’t a typo it’s 100 percent) to finance the charitable purposes of Adara.

EPOCH Pi’s ‘A-Ha’: It’s About Supporting Urban Education

Adara showed us that we had been thinking small. While we loved our mission of helping world-changing companies find aligned capital and partners for growth, we had our own purpose at EPOCH, and that was urban education. At the time, the three partners of EPOCH were each involved with different non-profits focused on improving education for communities in need. It wasn’t intentional. We were each involved on our own accord in organizations we loved and felt called to serve. That’s how you know your purpose, you don’t so much as find your purpose as it finds you.

This epiphany really excited us and changed the way we thought about EPOCH Pi: we were an investment bank with a higher purpose to help end the cycle of poverty by supporting organizations that address the impediments to high-quality urban education.For us, organizations like Breakthrough Charter Schools, Esperanza and The Intergenerational Schools were doing just that. While It is early in our journey, we have committed at least 25 percent of our profit to causes that improve urban education. Maybe if we work hard, in 20 years EPOCH can tell a story as inspiring as the Adara story and help make investment banking a noble profession once again.  

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