Everyone should consider impact investing, says Lori Chatman, SVP at Enterprise Community Investment. In this role, she oversees business lines that invest private capital in low-income communities. Chatman also serves as president and CEO of Enterprise Community Loan Fund, one of the largest nonprofits of its kind in the U.S. Since 1990, Enterprise Community Loan Fund has invested more than $1.9 billion across the country, creating nearly 110,000 affordable homes, over four million square feet of commercial real estate, and more than 15,000 seats in classrooms.
“Increasingly, investors are demanding positive social outcomes without sacrificing return or assuming undue risks,” says Chatman, who brings years of experience to raising and deploying capital through large-scale national, regional, and local debt funds for affordable housing and community development. Being intentional about desired non-financial outcomes is core to impact investing or values-based investing.
For nearly 40 years, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have been making investments that impact people’s lives, communities, and the planet. According to Chatman, they are a prime vehicle for investors and asset managers seeking impact.
For example, on the financial return side, investing in housing that is affordable for low- and moderate-income families is not susceptible to market cycles, delivers a steady return, and has a loss rate of less than 50 basis points. On the impact side, such investments enable parents to spend more time with their children without needing to work multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their heads.
In Baltimore, Enterprise Community Loan Fund has been investing in one neighborhood for over a decade. The area was struggling in the mid-2000s with a 19% residential vacancy rate, a 23% poverty rate, and a median household income of $28,000 – just 75% of the city-wide average. Today, residents of that neighborhood are part of a more vibrant community. The vacancy rate has fallen by one-third, the poverty rate by 8%, and median household income has risen by one-third.
Historically, an investor had to make a loan to a CDFI to access its impact capabilities. However, there are now nine CDFIs that have been rated by S&P Global Ratings. Four of those have issued investment-grade Sustainability Bonds with issuance ratings of A- or better. The most recent issuance saw interest at 10x the offering – a testament to CDFIs delivering the “both and” of impact investing – market return and positive outcomes.
Chatman says she stumbled into her life purpose, even though she always wanted a job that dealt with numbers. “My dad told me stories about how arbitrary his workplace was, how promotions were decided not on what you accomplished but who you knew,” she says. “I saw numbers as having no room for subjective judgment – results were either right or wrong. It seemed like a career in a data-driven field would protect my psyche from the bias and prejudices my mother told me to expect as a black woman with no connections.”
After graduating from college, Chatman joined a regional bank where she quickly realized that her values were not aligned with an industry where making money was the goal, absent any other purpose. She longed to use her talent for numbers and investments to disrupt ongoing economic disparities, helping communities that normally do not receive capital investments to do so.
So, Chatman took an analyst job at a small bank in D.C. that lent to cooperatives. One of the senior leaders, Margaret Cheap, became a mentor to Chatman in the community development finance sector. On the first site visit for a deal Chatman would underwrite and structure, she went to a health center in a major Midwestern city that was seeking a $500,000 loan so they could move.
“As we approached the facility, what I saw horrified me,” Chatman recounts. “The physical plant was in such a deplorable condition that all I could think is, ‘This can’t possibly be the place where people are coming to get well!’ I could not imagine even wanting to bring my dog there for care! It wasn’t unclean, but unloved. There were dings in the doors from errant bullets. Several windows were covered by plywood. It struck me how different things had been for me, growing up going to the brand-new Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.”
That visit served as Chatman’s rude awakening to the realities of the health care business. She knew then that she would be committed to community development finance, working to align capital with social, economic, and political justice. “I want to make sure that no one has to accept second-rate anything just because they have less wealth,” Chatman states. “It is energizing for me to know that there is a whole community of like-minded people looking every day for ways to create better opportunities for those who, because of the situations they are in, have to focus on day-to-day survival.”
To people looking to align their careers with their life purpose, Chatman says, “You are responsible for your career. You must be honest with yourself and self-assess regularly. Then take responsibility for finding a way to get where it is you want to be.” She recommends finding people who inspire you. For her, it was Gayle King. Chatman admires how King “shows up every day as a black woman: unwaveringly honest, no fuss, no muss, no pretense, not over the top, just doing her thing as her authentic self.”
Finally, Chatman advises you to learn the value of being part of a team. “In my position now, I set strategy for the business, but it takes a team of people to put those strategies to work,” she explains. “I remember what it was like to be the person whose hands were in the day-to-day business of implementing and executing. I never kid myself as to why the business is successful: It is because of the people on my team.”