It’s probably not a line you hear too often: “I left the City, only to escape back to the City on my own terms.” The apocryphal story is that you make it in the City and then escape into the rural dreamscape where you relax and benefit from your previous financial success, maybe make a bit of artisan cheese and watch your kids grow up in a haze of bliss.
In my case, I was lucky enough to work for some of the powerhouses of our financial system. After learning my trade for 10 years at Heartwood Wealth Management, I spent several years as a vice president at Citi and Credit Suisse between 2007 and 2010, working first in private banking and then as an investment consultant. And then I had an epiphany.
I’d never thought of myself as a ‘City Boy’, but by default that was what I’d become – and what I’d become known as when I spent some time at the beautiful permaculture farm at MiddleWood in Lancashire two years earlier. It just didn’t sit well. I was tired and I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t for me. One day my boss asked what was up and I admitted that my heart wasn’t in it. I quit and called my brother: “Sounds like you’ve had a lucky escape,” he said.
In 2012 I went to the Schumacher College in Devon to study an MSc in Holistic Sciences. Founded in 1990 by Satish Kumar and others, the college is located outside Totnes in Devon, a town which has quietly been at the leading edge of sustainable thinking since the 1930s. The course changed my whole approach to finance and the markets: it made me search for a new role that structures the dance between markets, companies and people to create purposeful economic and environmental well-being.
Instead of the Victorian notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ and short term profit maximization, I now see the future in the disruptive global information age as being about survival of the most adaptable. Markets have a purpose in this adaptation – they can provide the liquidity that’s needed to create the process of economic transformation.
I’m still a City Boy, but I’m now putting my financial knowledge to a different use. I live in Totnes and travel to London regularly. Here in Devon, we’ve raised £500k ($756k) in community equity and loan finance to fund community owned renewable energy projects. I created a short and long term organisational plan that enabled us to do that. I’m also running Climate Risk Limited, a new company working with family offices, wealth and asset management companies to create demand for sustainable investment services. We provide the narratives that spread the word to clients who are interested in investing in a sustainable way.
In my opinion, clients today want us to be daring on their behalf. There’s an appetite for ‘purposeful risk’ – for the pursuit of profit based upon risk-taking that puts environmental stewardship and sustainability at its core. There’s also an opportunity for a new kind of investment management in the context of which the economy need not be inimical to the environment. Most financial services careers have their twists and turns, and mine has had more than most. Now, however, I’m building a different kind of finance career for this age. I’m still a City Boy, but with a sustainable twist.
Paul Pizzala is a Devon and London based specialist in sustainable investment marketing.
Photo credit: Brooke Hoyer