Impa-Structure: Part 1 – The Why

 “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

I spend most of my time working with private-client households and investing in businesses on their behalf. Those investments primarily consist of corporations (often large, high quality, dividend growers) and investment managers – all of which are “for-profit” entities. On the other hand, I also volunteer a fair amount of my time within the not-for-profit sector. On both fronts, questioning the alignment between investing, values, and our impact on the world seems to be increasingly common lately, but – as usual – the answer is relative and complex.

The points (I think) I’ll try to make are that a) there are no perfect investments, so this topic amounts to a big balancing act of tradeoffs involved, and b) there is room to reframe our thinking around the alignment of our values, investments, and the related impact we have on the world around us. So, let’s start to dig into all that (as this is looking like a 2-part endeavor) in the first 2024 edition of Alt Blend. Here we go!

Values Exercise

When I started as a financial advisor back in 2006, it was deemed to be such a challenging career that my manager (whose name is Will Smith and was “born and raised” in Philadelphia, yet isn’t the Will Smith of Fresh Prince, Chris-Rock-slapping notoriety) – to his credit – spent a lot of time educating us on emotional competence. That version of emotional competence (aka “emo comp”) is related to aligning one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, with the understanding that stress would result if/when these three elements were out of sync. With the notion that our newfound advisory career had a 90%+ failure rate (which, in hindsight, feels pretty accurate), it was Will’s way of helping us survive: ensuring we were mentally sound enough to work 60-hour+ weeks (including Saturdays) while continuing to “smile and dial” and fully embrace rejection – call after call, no-show-meeting after no-show-meeting, day after day.

[A quick aside as to why emo comp was so front-and-center: We worked for the recently coined “Ameriprise Financial,” formerly American Express Advisors, that spun out of Amex to become its own financial advisory behemoth. Before my time there, Doug Lennick, an EVP of Amex Advisors, got deep into the study of emotional intelligence, which filtered through the ranks to Will. Interestingly, as I just found out via Google, emotional intelligence/performance coaching is the path Mr. Lennick continued down, ultimately founding think2perform…not quite where one would anticipate a financial executive to end up, but seemingly his true calling.]

Our emo comp adventure began with a core values exercise to narrow a long list of values (things like accountability, happiness, diligence, friendship, etc.) down to about three. We could then envision what embracing those values meant and what actions (and related thoughts/feelings) were required for implementation. On a related note, in his book, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity [which I highly recommend – and thanks to our wonderful client, Betty, for the insistence that I read it], Dr. Peter Attia references a similar vital component of emotional health: i.e., the awareness that 1) external stimulus leads to 2) emotion, which leads to 3) thought, which leads to 4) action (or reaction). Left unchecked, you can put a “negative” in front of each of those items and quickly uncover that this misalignment is the source of many people’s emotional struggles: negative stimulus -> negative emotion -> negative thought -> negative action. Rinse and repeat. Coincidentally, Dr. Attia also credits his personal friend, Dr. Paul Conti, who you may remember from the recent Alt Blend on Agency & Gratitude, for effectively saving his life by forcing him to address past traumas that were causing him to spiral through the above negative feedback loop.

Where is this going?

Apart from raising awareness that these concepts are essential for healthy living, my long-winded backstory is meant to make another point. When it comes to investing, I don’t think most people have done deep work to identify, prioritize, or contemplate the “why” of what they believe to be their values. The “process” of many investors may be just going along with ideas that seem to sound good (e.g., “a better future”) or popular buzzwords (e.g., “justice” or “green energy”), or the opposite – avoidance of things that sound bad due to what we’ve heard or read (“big oil” or “private equity”).

What’s your “why?”

Have you ever had an enlightening moment where you suddenly realized you’ve accepted something as fact that you actually know nothing about? Or, in its most harmless and hilarious version, you’ve been saying a phrase incorrectly your whole life – like “mine as well” when it’s supposed to be “might as well”? We’re all susceptible to holding onto deep-seated beliefs originating from familiar institutions (e.g., media, corporate, religious, educational, non-profit organizations, family, etc.). Thus, if you’re not 100% sure you know your core values (and related investment values) and why you value them or how you arrived at them, I’m proposing they may not be your values after all. Thankfully, there’s something that can be done about it. Perhaps one of life’s greatest attributes is our ability to evolve our thinking over time, but it requires effort and an open mind.

The 2024 theme of The Bahnsen Group, with which David Bahnsen closes our teamwide email every morning, is “What’s Your Why?” It’s an opportunity for us to consider why we do what we do for clients and ourselves and affirm it daily. It’s such an innocent-sounding question, but the implications are profound.

Your personal “why” is worth reviewing, confirming, and sharing with your advisor. Once your why is understood, it will help to assess the values-alignment of investments and create a personal framework to evaluate impact (your “impa-structure”). However, as we’ll see in Part 2, it will require getting comfortable with gray areas.

Until next time, this is the end of alt.Blend.

Thanks for reading,



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About the Author

Steven Tresnan, CAIA®, CFP®

Private Wealth Advisor

Steve is a Certified Financial Planner as well as a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst®. He is also an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, which helps him offer guidance to clients with fiduciary responsibilities, such as board members of trusts, foundations, and endowments. Steve earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Penn State University.

Steve serves on the board and finance committee of New Music USA – a national nonprofit devoted to the development and appreciation of new music in the U.S.

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