Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, Fidelity Investments and the U.K.’s Theo Osborne were among high-profile firms backing Ethic Inc. in its latest funding round, as they bet on rising demand for tracking tools as more money gets directed at socially responsible funds.
Ethic raised $13 million to boost its engineering, client service and business development teams. The New York-based company helps financial advisors and institutions focused on sustainable investing choose and track investments, permitting them to build large scale, personalized investment portfolios. Founded in 2015, the company had raised $6.8 million in October.
The recent funding round was led by Nyca Partners, and other backers included existing investors Kapor Capital, Urban Innovation Fund, and ThirdStream Partners. Theo Osborne is younger brother to former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
Socially responsible investments rose 38%, to $12 trillion, from 2016 to 208, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. Other firms are pitching services that help manage socially responsible portfolios, with backing from private funds.
Ethic rivals include OpenInvest, a socially conscious asset management platform focused on individuals through a low-minimum investment, that launched its Optimus product for advisers in May after completing a $10.4 million Series A last year.
OpenInvest creates customized index funds from publicly traded companies according to investor values. It also encourages shareholder activism through proxy voting, and in April announced offerings for people wishing to divest from states that passed restrictive anti-abortion measures.
Swell, another retail impact platform, gives individual investors the opportunity to put their cash in Swell-curated portfolios that target issues like clean energy and disease eradication. The company is backed by $30 million from Pacific Life Foundation. Another variation on the model is Ellevest, which now offers curated gender-lens investing portfolios aimed at female clients. The company raised more than $33 million in their Series A earlier this year.
Ethic’s advisor-level focus parallels that of wealth advisory firm SecFi, which works directly with pre-IPO startup companies instead of individual investors. SecFi, which provides employees of those companies with loans and liquidity based on their shareholdings, raised $6 million in a similar round last week.
Platforms like OpenInvest and Swell rely on a general understanding of investment principles. Fintech tools like Stash, which offer financial literacy education alongside opportunities for stock and ETF purchases starting at just $1 per month, may be incubators for future investors on the other platforms. As Stash investors become more adept at understanding and engaging with the market, they can opt to invest on the app or elsewhere according to their values. Stash raised $65 million in its Series E earlier this year.
Through Ethic’s platform, advisors and institutions already managing investors’ money can build and track custom sustainable investing portfolios for their clients around particular issues, such as carbon emissions or gender diversity, through pooled investment vehicles.
“The effects can be enormous as Ethic is effectively powering a personalized ETF for everyone,” Nyca Partners managing partner Hans Morris said in a release.