Fifteen Years On - My Thoughts on the Earth Equity Journey
This month, we’re celebrating fifteen years in business. When I left Merrill Lynch and BB&T back in 2004, there was virtually no one offering socially and environmentally responsible investments. Now, you can’t turn the corner without seeing a big investment firm offering their latest “Low Carbon” or ESG fund.
We were by no means pioneers in this field, but we were an early adopter in the investment advisor space. Over that time, we’ve grown from, well me, to a group of five dedicated individuals, and I’m so grateful for their help in growing the firm and their belief in the Earth Equity Advisors mission.
The firm was started in my home in Roanoke Virginia’s historic Old Southwest neighborhood. I chose the name Krull & Company in the hopes that someday it would be more than me helping clients align their investments with their values. From the start, I envisioned a firm that specialized in responsible investing. I believed there was a market for responsible investments and that folks would see the value in investing with values.
Over the last fifteen years, the market for responsible investing in the US has increased six-fold from about $2 trillion to over $12 trillion now. Our client assets have grown about eight-fold over that time and we now have clients in 22 states.
We had a one year anniversary party on July 23rd of 2005. I still have one of the original postcards that I sent out to friends and clients. I remember the day fondly, especially several clients who joined us who are no longer around, but their families are still clients to this day.
In 2006, Melissa accepted a position as Research Scientist and Assistant Director at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, Georgia. It was time to head south, and I relocated Krull & Company to Darien, Georgia. I continued to grow the business in coastal Georgia, networking and meeting lots of good friends and dedicated environmental advocates there.
The biggest leap forward that Krull & Company made was moving to Asheville, NC in 2011. It was time for Melissa and I to leave the coast and head back to the mountains. We knew that Asheville would be a wonderful, progressive place to live, but we didn't’ realize how good it would be for the business.
Most of the growth that we’ve seen has happened over the past eight years. I couldn’t have done it without two people who are as dedicated to the mission as a founder could ever ask for: Neill Yelverton and Kerry Keihn. Neill was the first financial advisor that I hired on to help grow the business. I immediately recognized how his business sense complimented my vision. I knew he could help grow this into something much bigger than both of us. He became a partner in the firm in 2013 and has shouldered much of the operational planning the past few years.
Kerry Keihn joined us in May of 2015 as a part-time client service associate. Over the past four years, she has grown tremendously and proven to be the most valuable team member! Now, as a financial advisor and Director of Operations, she is vital to every decision we make as we run the business. Her insight and perspective are key in most decisions we make.
We also had Leesa Sluder join us as a financial advisor in 2015 and she really rounded out our advisor family. She is a wonderful nurturer of clients and is just a joy to have around. She has an extensive background in financial services and was a pioneer as she was in executive leadership in banking before many women were in those roles. We’re so grateful to have her as a part of the team!
We’re dedicated to team and personal development and giving everybody an opportunity to improve. We’ve all contributed to the local community through non-profit board and volunteer work as well as sponsoring community events and hosting our annual Speaker Series Event which brings in thought leaders from around the country.
We decided to change the name from Krull & Company to Earth Equity Advisors in 2016 and form our own Registered Investment Advisory. The business was so much more than me and we wanted something more descriptive plus it was time to break away from our relationship with Minerva Planning Group and become independent. I think the team hit it out of the park when we came up with the name during a brainstorming session. Although, we still have the old Krull & Company sign in the office to remind us where we came from.
I also want to recognize a good friend and colleague, Randy Talley of the Green Sage Cafe. When I first moved to Asheville, the downtown Green Sage was my office to meet people. I worked from home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday - but on Tuesday and Thursdays, you’d find me working and meeting people at this great establishment!
I was introduced to Randy during one of those meetings at the restaurant. We became fast friends and he eventually asked me to “create a basket of sustainable stocks” for him. That basket eventually became the Green Sage Sustainability Portfolio, a portfolio that is available to all of our clients now as well as hundreds of advisors on a couple of different platforms. I’m very proud of this portfolio and how it has evolved over the last 6 ½ years and grateful to Randy for getting the ball rolling!
Our investment philosophy has evolved over the years - becoming more focused and stringent. When I started, there were a few socially responsible mutual funds that I was able to piece together to create diversified portfolios for clients. As more options became available, I was able to expand the offerings and feel better that they truly were aligning with our clients’ values. Creating the Green Sage portfolio, gave me more control over the actual securities that were in some client portfolios.
Now, everybody and their brother has a fund and it’s actually harder to conduct due diligence. You really need to take the time to look under the hood and see what the investment options really include. In 2016, we contracted with a CFA candidate to help us create an asset allocation model to better decide how to allocate client accounts. We still use that model today. We now have additional securities that help clients have a bigger direct impact, including Calvert Impact Notes. I’m sure there will be more and more options as we go forward, and I’ll be continuing to keep my eye on them.
One of the things that has happened over the years is that my role has evolved. Now, I spend most of my time on our investment portfolios, marketing and future projects. I still have personal clients, but Neill, Kerry & Leesa are much better at servicing them than I am, so we take more of a team approach. I think it works much better that way! I regularly attend industry conferences to keep up with the latest trends and offerings and get a chance to network with thought leaders and colleagues.
There’s one person who has been with me for the entire ride - that’s my wife, Dr. Melissa Booth. It was our discussions, early on, that prompted me to break away from “working for the man” as I like to say. She inspired me to think bigger, create a vision of greater impact and make it work as a business. She has stood beside me and been my main sounding board for fifteen years. We decided together when I was trying to decide if I should keep the practice small or expand it to something bigger. My gratitude for her trust, belief and support cannot be expressed in words.
Ultimately, I want to thank our loyal clients who have been with us for market ups and market downs. Through the ‘great recession’, different administrations, upheaval and calm. Without you Earth Equity Advisors would not exist. I am so grateful for your trust - we cannot do what we do without your belief that we will do the right thing for you. I’m grateful for your loyalty - we’re not always going to be the best performer, but you know that we are trying our hardest to be the best. I’m grateful for your friendship - I’ve known many of you and your families for generations now. I’m so honored that you choose us to be a part of your family!
I’m proud of several accomplishments that I/we’ve had over the years. I’m sure I’ll forget a few but here’s a try…
Savannah Business Report 40 under 40
Proud Certified B Corporation
Annual Speaker Series
1% For the Planet Signatory
Quoted in the Washington Post, US News & World Report and others
Selected by PRI as a best practices for investment management
Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) Capital Hill advocate
US SIF Member
2018 Investopedia 100 - Most influential financial advisors in America
Asheville Green Business of the year 2016
Three-time Best for the World B Corporation
And we’re not resting on our laurels. Today, we manage more money for our clients than we ever have. We have some very exciting new programs that we’re working on and will be sharing with you in the coming months. The business of responsible investing is constantly evolving, and we’re investing IN the business to make it better, give clients a better experience, better portfolios and to make it scale so we can help more people align their investments with their values.
Thank you for reading about our journey. We look forward to what’s next!