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Responsible investing

University of Vermont team wins ESG competition

From left: Competition judges Michael Lear of Bernstein Private Wealth Management and Jackie VanderBrug of Bank of America; members of the winning University of Vermont team Emily Klein, Alyssa Stankiewicz, Andrew Mallory, Maura Kalil and Peter Seltzer; and competition judge Glen Macdonald of Bronfman Rothschild.

A five-student team from the University of Vermont's Grossman School of Business won a competition to design an investment portfolio for positive social and environmental impact and strong returns.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, in which 26 teams of graduate students from 19 U.S. universities competed, was a collaboration among Wharton Social Impact Initiative, which provides research and training to students and professionals; Good Capital Project, an initiative looking to drive more capital to purpose-driven investments; and Bank of America.

"We see increasing demand from our clients for a way to integrate impact (investing) across their investment portfolios," said Jackie VanderBrug, head of sustainable and impact investment strategy in the chief investment office for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. "We also are very eager for (finding) the next generation of (talent) to think about risk return and impact."

Nearly 50 wealth advisers, portfolio managers and sustainability experts from Bank of America mentored the students in building portfolios for either a hypothetical private foundation or family office client that could meet performance and impact goals and risk-tolerance criteria. The winning team's portfolio returned 9.58%.

Organizations focused on impact investing, such as Toniic, Aapryl and Align Impact, provided all competing teams with educational and industry resources, webinars and case studies.

An independent panel of industry experts judged the portfolios based on such criteria as an understanding of the investor, the rigor of their research and due diligence, and the quality of their impact/environmental, social and governance analysis and portfolio construction.

The winning team was honored at the Total Impact Conference in Philadelphia on May 1. It was one of five finalist teams selected in March. The other finalists hailed from Boston University, Columbia University, Fordham University and Yale University.