Ethic: Inside Harry and Meghan’s £1bn “hippy” new investment firm

·7-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gratitude sessions at the start of meetings. A dog listed as the company’s Chief Smile Officer. A keenness to attract investors who are “hippies”.

The Sussexes’ latest business venture - ethical investment firm, Ethic - might be their first foray into the world of finance, but it certainly bears many of the hallmarks of the mega-brand they’re working at building.

This week the couple were announced as “impact partners” at the $1.3 billion (£1 billion) New York asset management company, which was co-founded by Londoner and ex Wall Street banker Jay Lipman - he reportedly met the Sussexes through friends more than a year ago in New York and has since visited them at their home in Montecito, California.

His company is aimed at raising awareness around income inequality, climate change and racial injustice, particularly among young people, after he became increasingly “disgruntled at the fat cats getting fatter,” according to his mother Marilyn, 70. According to the former Deutsche Bank exec himself, gender equality and fair play are at the heart of Ethic’s workplace standards, with animals attending team meetings and staff encouraged to “throw out a thank you to someone who helped them that week”.

The fintech firm was founded in 2015 by three former bankers - University of Edinburgh graduate Lipman and Australians Doug Scott and Johny Mair - and currently boasts $1.3 billion in assets under management, with investors including Ashton Kutcher’s fund Sound Ventures and investment giant Fidelity. But Ethic makes it clear it wants to do investment differently.

“We want you to feel excited about having the sustainability conversation, whether you’re an investor or a wealth advisor,” Ethic states on its website, introducing its eclectic range of users from meditation-loving mothers in Miami to lawyers with a passion for LGBTQ justice.

Clearly, this diverse “sustainability for everyone” approach translates across the company. Lipman, a vegan, rugby-loving ex public-schoolboy from Surrey, says he welcomes “hippies” as investors because that’s how he considers himself and his team, and Ethic’s website paints a picture of a relaxed modern workplace, with photos of the bearded co-founders in tie-dye t-shirts, GIFs of each team member and three dogs listed among the current team. Roux and Gigi are both listed under “security” while a third, Bryon, sits under the title of Chief Smile Officer - they reportedly attend team meetings to boost morale. The Sussexes will fit right in, with their two dogs, Guy and Pula.

 (Ethic)
(Ethic)

Presumably it’s this “hippy” approach to finance that attracted the Sussexes to the world of investment, the latest in a growing portfolio of projects announced since they moved to California. One such project - mental health startup BetterUp, where Harry is chief impact officer - trebled in in value to £3.5 billion over the last eight months, it was announced this week.

Other post-royal ventures include £100 million deals with Netflix and Spotify and Harry’s memoir coming out next year - but Ethic is the couple’s first move into finance after they reportedly heard about it through friends. The financial terms of their agreement with the company have not been disclosed but its co-founders stressed that Harry and Meghan “share a lot of values with us” and would help the business to share its “vision” with millions around the world.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry visit One World Observatory on September 23 in New York City (Getty Images)
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry visit One World Observatory on September 23 in New York City (Getty Images)

“They’re deeply committed to helping address the defining issues of our time - such as climate, gender equity, health, racial justice, human rights, and strengthening democracy - and understand that these issues are inherently interconnected,” execs Lipman, Scott and Mair said in a statement.

Meghan echoed this alignment of values in an interview this week. “My husband has been saying for years, ‘Gosh, don’t you wish there was a place where if your values were aligned like this, you could put your money to that same sort of thing?’,” she told the New York Times, adding: “People do not discuss investment from the world I come from. You don’t have the luxury to invest. That sounds so fancy.”

So how exactly does Ethic work? Lipman says it’s all about aligning personal values with financial goals, claiming it only invests in “companies that treat people and the planet with respect”. His platform allows users to invest according to their priorities, whether it’s health or human rights, and Lipman insists clients make just as much money as they would putting money into more traditional portfolios such as fossil fuels and tobacco.

“We’re working towards a future where all investing is sustainable investing,” a statement reads on his company’s homepage. With the Sussexes help, perhaps they’ll be one step closer to achieving that goal.

Makings of a Megha-brand: The Sussexes’ other projects

BetterUp

Harry became Chief Impact Officer at the California-based mental health startup in March and this week its value rocketed to £3.4 billion - backers have included Iconiq Capital, which manages funds for Facebook and Twitter bosses Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey.

The Silicon Valley-founded app costs £181 a month and offers companies coaching programmes on subjects including mental fitness, nutrition and parenting. Customers include Google, Hilton hotels and Warner Bros and a London office is reportedly on its way.

betterup.com

Penguin Random House

Meghan published her first children’s book, The Bench, with Penguin Random House in July and the duke will soon be adding author to his CV, too. He’s reportedly writing a memoir with Penguin Random House, due to be published at the end of next year.

“I’m writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become,” he said in July. “I’ve worn many hats over the years, both literally and figuratively, and my hope is that in telling my story—the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned—I can help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think.”

penguinrandomhouse.com

Netflix

You’ll remember the headlines: last year it was announced that the Sussexes signed a megawatt multi-year deal with Netflix, in the first sign of their starry new Hollywood lifestyle in California. Harry’s first Netflix project will be called Heart of Invictus and is set to follow participants of next year’s The Invictus Games, due to take place in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile Meghan is reportedly working with Elton John’s husband David Furnish on an animated series called Pearl, about a 12-year-old girl who is inspired by famous women from history.

netflix.com

Spotify

Alongside their Netflix projects, the Sussexes also signed another major deal last year: a reported £18 million signing with audio giant Spotify. So far they have only released one podcast, a festive special in December featuring their son Archie and other star guests, and Spotify has been forced to come out and defend the deal, insisting the pair will boost revenue because they are “box office” names.

According to one royal correspondent, they’re now under pressure to deliver a six-part series by the end of the year.

spotify.com

Archewell

The couple have long spoken of their passion to become a philanthropic power couple and founded their own non-profit organisation, the Archewell Foundation, in order to do this. They recently changed the foundation’s tagline about compassion to focus on “shared purpose, global action” and Global Citizen and World Central Kitchen are among the organisations they’ve partnered with so far.

archewell.com

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