Member spotlight

Ethical investing - from Broken Hill to boardroom

There are two opening sentences on Haven Wealth Partners’ homepage: “With purpose. On purpose.’’

Image: Umair Javed and Nick Heuzenroeder,
of Haven Wealth Partners

It’s engaging but that doesn’t mean it lacks substance or intent. Spend any time with the company’s co-founder and managing director Nick Heuzenroeder and you quickly learn that there is a deep commitment to ethical investing behind the emerging business. And a growing appreciation of just how it can intersect with philanthropy in pursuit of its goals.

If you have any doubt, check out how Haven Wealth Partners measure up on the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia comparative table – it screens out a compelling range of potential investors, from fossil fuels, to gambling and companies that are linked to detention centres, child slavery and broader human rights violations. Very few Australian companies hold such a firm line. What distinguishes Haven Wealth Partners from many of its peers, is its halal approach, reflecting co-founder Umair Javed’s involvement and support. (Umair helped establish the foundation of ‘Islamic Financial Planning’ in Australia.)

Nick has been talking about incorporating halal into a broader ethically driven investment mechanism for several years, thinking about it during his time working for some of Australia’s largest financial organisations, including VicSuper in Melbourne.

“The more I looked into it, the more I saw how neatly ethical overlaps halal,’’ Nick recalls. But he couldn’t convince his then-employer to take the leap. “And then Umair said to me: ‘If that means that much to you, do it yourself.’…’’ Nick explored the time, resources and cost involved and asked Umair: ‘If I’m going to do this, would you do it with me, because it's a pretty audacious move?’ and he said: ‘I’m in with you 100 per cent’.’’

From there, Nick embarked on some research, made some calls, and did what he describes as some back-of-the-envelope calculations into what they needed to establish a separate investment entity. It turned out to be around a million dollars, but it was challenging to raise the money.

“I talked to a lot of venture capital companies, and they fund a lot of tech, so if you’ve built an app, they’ll throw money at you whereas with this, everyone thinks it’s a great idea but no one wants to get financial in to it,’’ Nick says. Contacts he had accumulated over his career in financial services however were happy to help.  “What was inspiring, was that the support came from financial planners, accountants, one of the partners at one of the big four accounting firms, so there’s some real movement in this space. People know it’s going to be big.’’

“Many established managed funds are gradually becoming more ethical, but their progress is slow and has its limitations,’’ Nick explains. “This gives us an advantage because we’re truly ethical out of the gate whereas they are basically painting an old-world fund green.’’

What lies behind Nick’s passion for ethical investing is a story in its own right. His family hail from Broken Hill, but their origins date back to German migration to the Adelaide Hills in the late nineteenth century. Nick is the first of five generations of Heuzenroeders not to become a butcher: his father did a butchery apprenticeship but worked in the mines at Broken Hill before becoming an insurance agent for AMP.  Nick’s parents were deeply entrenched in the Broken Hill business community: in addition to the AMP agency, they owned a real estate agency and the Toyota dealership there. Nick’s first job was washing cars. He was 10 but reckons he was two years older before he started paying tax.

The big thing about that level of commitment and sense of purpose from such an early age was how it has helped shape Nick’s world view.  

“That work ethic was something that was really important for Mum and Dad – in Broken Hill it’s all about community and reputation, so you need to have a strong work ethic, you need to deliver on your promise, because if you don’t, word travels very quickly and your business is ruined,’’ Nick says. “So that was instilled in me from a very young age. It’s the old school – give them a firm handshake, look them in the eye and use their name.’’

Coupled with that was a passion for numbers – “I often say – and my wife rolls her eyes – is that numbers are the musical notes in which the symphony of the universe is written’’ – and a long-standing ambition to contribute.

“I always had this burning desire to do something big and meaningful, and I worked for a sustainable super fund based in Melbourne and that really opened doors for me about how I do good in a financial sense,’’ Nick says.

Now he sees a landscape laid out in front of him that offers a range of options to support his company’s goals. The first few months were hard, developing awareness and building networks at a difficult pandemic-stricken time.

“Now we’ve got that track record our portfolio …we’re doing better than our competitors and we’ve already proven that in bad times we fare better,’’ he says. “Now, we’re starting to see interest from foundations, charities, and benevolent societies, over and above financial planners and individuals.’’

Haven Wealth Partners recently started work with a foundation (which cannot be identified for privacy reasons) and Nick believes there is room to grow in the philanthropic sector. In some ways, it’s come as a surprise – Nick thought there would be more interest from institutions, but he’s starting to change his mind.

“That foundation we’re working with is acutely aware that the donated dollar is harder and harder to get because we’re living in a Covid world,’’ Nick explains. “They were ready to invest their money and they chose us over a conventional portfolio …I thought there’d be more interest from institutional money, in particular resources, mining companies, exploration, drilling companies, worst offenders etc,’’ he says. “Of all the ones who need to clean their image up, I thought I’d focus more there but maybe I was too much of a dreamer…and they thought: ‘You know what, we’re busy digging holes, so …’’

“I didn’t fully realise the opportunity that existed dealing with foundations and charities but now it makes absolute sense,’’ Nick says. “Let’s say if people cannot afford to donate as much as they once did, then that loyalty to the particular charities and causes is what’s going to help drive that donation income. And the people most likely to donate money are most likely to have a strong social agenda. So, if they can see a foundation or charity that not only ticks the box with a cause but does right thing by the planet…that is going to continue that loyalty.’’

Nick believes there is a considerable reputational risk for a charity that invests in – or profits from - the exact thing it exists to address.

And if the website message is succinct and purposeful, so too is Nick’s direct pitch to those who want to engage Haven Wealth Partners. “We tell investors that it’s important that you know what you own and why you own it,’’ Nick says. Now, more than ever, it’s a message that is resonating.

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