Planning visual


  • Understanding Motivations and Business Drivers
  • Understanding the Landscape for Retail Impact Investment
  • Exploring External Partnerships

a.     Understanding Motivations and Business Drivers

Key Staff: Senior Management/Investment Teams

Credit unions need to understand their own motivations for developing a retail impact investment product. The framework below provides some questions and examples to help guide staff through this process.

  • What are our objectives and values around creating a new retail product? The product development process should align with the organization’s objectives and values, in particular its social impact objectives, within the context of its broader mission (See box 5.1).
  • How will creating a new product help us to meet the short, medium, and long-term goals? The product should allow the credit union to move forward to strategic goals that are organization-wide, as well as goals that link to specific elements of member engagement, community engagement, product innovation, or market leadership.
  • What are the financial expectations for the product? The financial return potential of a new retail impact investment product can be mapped across a spectrum. Most credit unions that we interviewed prioritized a retail product that breaks even in the short- to medium-term.
  • What are the impact expectations for the product? The social and/or environmental impact from the product can take a variety of forms, and can be linked to a specific issue area (e.g. improved access to affordable housing) or targeted group (e.g. improving wages for those on social assistance).

Box 5.1

Getting Started: Form an Internal Working Group

The project initiator should gauge the interest of staff through informal conversations or, if possible, through more formal means, such as information sessions and survey questionnaires. It is useful to connect with staff across a range of departments to identify areas of support and resistance within the organization. Information that will be useful to collect at this early stage includes the following:

  • Assessing staff familiarity with impact or responsible investment products, including retail and institutional products. This will indicate the level of staff education that will be required and also signal potential areas of expertise that can be leveraged.
  • Assessing staff perceptions about impact investment, such as assumptions around performance expectations or perceptions around trade-offs between financial returns and social impact. This will indicate potential areas of education or awareness building.

Building on this data, the project lead can identify and convene a working group across several departments. This could include representation from retail banking, wealth advisory, community investment, marketing and sales, and corporate responsibility. At this stage, the goal will be to foster openness to this type of product and to explore and learn together. Building trust among this working group will help to ensure alignment with various organizational and departmental mandates.

Getting Started: Share Information Internally

Even though representation on an internal working group comes from several departments, it is helpful to create a platform to share this learning with other members of the credit union. This process can generate new ideas and insights and also create a level of transparency around new opportunities that will be appreciated by the staff. Credit unions have used a variety of strategies to share information, including the following:

  • Posting materials to the internal system (intranet), such as publications and articles on the topic or items referencing local developments related to impact investing (See Appendix for an initial list of publications that could be posted on internal sites immediately).
  • Lunch-and-learn presentations on the topic of impact investing delivered by in-house staff or by invited representatives from local or national organizations (e.g., potential partners, other credit union staff, or staff from social finance organizations).
  • Inviting local community-based organizations to discuss key financing gaps and challenges within a specific issue area (e.g., access to finance for new Canadians, emerging social enterprise activity in the sustainable food or renewable energy sectors).

b.    Understanding the Landscape

Key Staff: Community Engagement

An assessment of the landscape will provide examples of relevant or emerging products from the impact investment sector within and beyond Canada. It will also look at general trends and issues that may point to unmet needs or unrealized opportunities and help to identify specific questions that will need to be addressed in the formal planning phases. The assessment should then be linked to the motivations and objectives discovered in the first part of the planning phase.

There are a number of potential sources of information for this assessment:

  • Market surveys – It is important to situate the key trends and issues related to impact investment across Canada. Purpose Capital and MaRS have authored State of the Nation: Impact Investing in Canada, which remains a comprehensive market survey and a valuable starting point. Eight Tracks by New Market Funds is another helpful report that reviews eight Canadian impact investment funds (including four credit union case studies) and describes their approaches and lessons.
  • Consumer behaviours and trends – Emerging evidence points to changing consumer preferences in terms of the integration of social and environmental factors in financial decision making and to changing trends around wealth transfer and financial advisory approaches. Becoming familiar with these trends and others will allow staff to identify trends relevant to current members and to identify opportunities for new member recruitment.
  • Product innovation examples – While retail impact investing is a relatively new sector, examples of product innovations can be found in the community development finance sector in the US, the social finance field in the UK, and the responsible and sustainable finance sectors globally (Appendix A). Impact investment products that are targeted at institutional investors but could be opened to retail investors in the future (e.g., green bonds) is another sector to consider.

BOX 5.2: Impact Investment product listings

ImpactAssets50 (IA50) is an annually updated list for investors and their financial advisors that identifies experienced impact investment firms and explores the landscape of potential investment options.

ImpactBase is a global platform for investors to explore impact investing opportunities and investigate the market landscape across asset classes, impact themes, geographic targets, fundraising status, AUM, and other parameters.

c.     Exploring External Partnerships

Key Staff: Senior Management, Community Engagement, Marketing

Credit unions can leverage their position as community-based financial intermediaries within their regions. Relationships with partner organizations are often a critical component to developing a retail product, in order to identify potential financing gaps or needs, opportunities within specific sectors, or specific community-based groups or organizations that could represent a potential financing need.

The following strategies can guide credit unions in this approach:

  • Build Community-Based Relationships: Staff should identify prospective partners in future product development. These partners may include individuals and organizations that provide financing or technical assistance to social impact organizations
  • Engage in Community Events: Staff should attend local events that convene actors that are delivering essential or new services to the community, including non-profit organizations, government departments, and private sector organizations. These can surface new opportunities to connect organizations working on similar issues, but perhaps in their own silos.
  • Identify Social and Environmental Sectors: Many new organizations are responding to opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, sustainable food and agriculture, and directing technology-based solutions towards emerging social and environmental challenges. Staff should reach out to individuals and organizations that are developing expertise in impact areas that are of interest to the credit union.

BOX 5.3: Alterna Savings and the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI)

Alterna Savings has a long history of supporting organizations within the non-profit and social impact sectors, with 10% of their member base made up of organizations operating in those sectors. They have created a strong relationship with one of their members, the Centre for Social Innovation, a co-working space for social entrepreneurs based in downtown Toronto. Alterna Savings has supported CSI’s growth in a number of ways, including through financial sponsorship, community engagement and sector-building efforts. Alterna Savings is an active member of CSI’s online community, and also lead in-person workshops on financial literacy for CSI members.