Supporting initiatives like Impact Investment Exchange’s (IIX) Women’s Livelihood Bond (WLB) series – including the recently released ‘orange bond’ – is about more than using capital in a socially-responsible manner, according to ANZ MD, Institutional Australia & PNG, Tammy Medard. It’s also just good business.
Speaking with IIX’s Durreen Shahnaz on a podcast ahead of International Women’s Day in March, Medard said investing in underserved areas of the economy was a financially sound move, supported by many of the bank’s stakeholders.
“Any bank wants to see a thriving and growing economy,” she said. “For me, this type of initiative, that’s exactly what it’s doing.
“It’s not waiting for the economy to just do what the economy is doing. It’s actually looking at ways we can jumpstart an underrepresented part of the economy – which is good business.”
The ‘orange bond’ is a four-year, $US50 million issue of sustainable debt structured under the Orange Bond Principles, aimed at supporting almost 300,000 women across Asia and Africa move towards “more sustainable, climate-resistant livelihoods”.
It was the fifth in the series supported by ANZ, and according Medard, the bank’s shareholders are already asking for more like it.
“They want to see the company they are investing in… thinking about how they’re deploying their capital, [and] thinking about the social impact of their capital,” she said.
Shahnaz said the building blocks for the orange bond came together after the success of the fourth WLB in 2021, when there was very little action on bond markets.
“We closed it in a time [when] financial markets were going through a bit of rough water,” she said. “There were literally no bond issuances for almost a year.
“I remember pretty much everyone told us, ‘you won’t be able to close this’. But again, we never take no for an answer.”
Shahnaz said IIX took heart from the knowledge “what we were doing was so important”, and the fact the bonds were reliable, with not a single default across the history of the series. The group resolved to be even more ambitious with the fifth in the series.
“We said, we’re going to create this whole new asset class, called an orange bond,” she said. “And that is what the Women’s Livelihood Bond five was, the first orange bond… where women and climate come together.”
By attracting capital from investors that appreciate women and climate, IIX has “created something that is now a global movement”, Shahnaz said.
Now the group has had over 70,000 people sign a pledge in support of the orange-bond principles.
“This is now not just an aspiration,” she said. “It’s happening from over 48 countries.”
For Medard, support for the series from a group like ANZ comes from how the bank can help “the individual, the consumer, the person on the street [connect] with parts of society that need that help”.
“That demand is really strong,” she said. “And we’re seeing it throughout all sectors of our client space.
“I mean, we’re talking about it left, right and centre these days, but ten years ago it was never discussed. Sustainability was defined by climate change only.”
Medard said it was not until she spent time in Laos in the 2010s that she really grasped the value of investing in underserved communities.
“Having spent most of my career in banking, I hadn’t really appreciated the impact investing in women and women business owners has on the community and on economic growth,” she said.
“You really see it in emerging markets in particular. If you invest in and in their careers – women entrepreneurs and enterprises – you see that success not just grow the economy, but the money goes back into the community, into schools, into healthcare, into the children and the next generation.”
Since then, Medard has welcomed the shift from investors “looking for investments that align with their values,” she said.
“[Businesses] defining their values or their purposes as something beyond just returns is something we’re seeing here in Australia,” Medard said. “And we’ve been seeing it come out of Europe and some other markets for quite some time.”
Shahnaz said a key plank of the success of the orange bond was the presence of investors that had participated earlier in the WLB series. This was a sign they liked what they saw, she said.
“I would say 75 per cent of the investors were the same investors who basically came back,” Shahnaz said “That’s a huge, you know, I would say pat on our back.
“These are the same investors that didn’t even blink. You know, they’re like, ‘yes, of course we’re investing’ [in the next series].
That didn’t mean they weren’t expecting challenges. With market conditions difficult, Shahnaz admit “we were a little scared, to be very honest”.
“But we did it,” she said.
The two experts also touched on increasing government involvement in the WLB series, the history of WLB, and how experience ultimately drove the success of the orange bond. Listen to the podcast to find out more.