The Big Exchange gives you the power to use money for good

The Big Exchange, co-founded by The Big Issue is an online platform that allows any saver to decide how they want their money to work for people and planet (and it doesn’t sacrifice returns)

The Big Exchange is an online investment platform co-founded by Big Issue Invest, a part of the Big Issue Group.

Movements often start small, with a few people shouting their truth out. A few others start to listen. It becomes their truth, too. Before you know it, the whole world gets it and it becomes the way things are done.

This appears to be happening in the finance industry right now. Campaigners, environmentalists and industry insiders have for years been turning the spotlight on to where the trillions of pounds we put into our bank account and pensions end up.

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The results are rarely pretty. It turns out huge chunks of our hard-earned money go into fossil fuels, mining and other activities that are devastating the world, or into industries that exploit workers in unsafe, low-paid jobs, leaving people trapped in poverty without us even knowing.

The good news is that as more and more companies seek to solve the world’s urgent problems, opportunities to invest in solutions, rather than the problems themselves, have grown significantly.

Enter positive impact investing, a powerful means of pushing the spin of the earth in a better direction. In a world of global pandemics and rapid biodiversity loss, it’s what we need.

The best bit is you can do it yourself

The Big Exchange is bringing investing for good to everybody. Launched this month, it is an online investment platform which only lists funds that are proven to be making a positive difference to the planet and its people.

Whatever matters to you most – whether it’s lowering carbon emissions, contributing to social housing or protecting wildlife – by investing through The Big Exchange, you can help.

There are 36 (and growing) investment funds to choose from, all rated for the type and level of positive impact they’re making. It is possible to invest with only small amounts of spare cash, from £25 a month or a lump sum of £100.

As the late, great Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, said: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”

Nigel Kershaw OBE, chair of The Big Exchange and of The Big Issue Group, says: “We created The Big Exchange to transform the financial system and give everybody

with savings the opportunity to invest in funds that give them a financial return while also making a positive impact on the world.

“The coronavirus crisis has made people stop and reflect on their lives, consider the impact we all have on the planet and look at where their savings are. There is an increasing desire from people to challenge the traditional finance and business, take control of their money and use it to benefit people and the planet without sacrificing financial returns.”

The Big Issue – Where it all started

The changes The Big Exchange is making now began way back with The Big Issue magazine, when it was founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick, co-founder of The Body Shop, in 1991.

Financial inclusion was always at the heart of this mission.

“We wanted to help vulnerable people take control of their money and with that, their lives,” Kershaw explains. “We strongly believe that people don’t need to be the problem – they can be the solution.

“Up to 40 per cent of our vendors were being mugged and losing their daily earnings, so we created a safe place for them to keep their cash. Encouraging them to save some of their money was a natural progression from there.”

However, The Big Issue was not able to become a bank, which was what the vendors really needed. In 2001, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) opened a branch in The Big Issue’s Glasgow office. This was the first time that people who were homeless or had no address could have a basic bank account.

In 2005 The Big Issue extended its mission with Big Issue Invest, which provides essential finance for more than 400 social enterprises in the UK, especially those that struggle to get loans from traditional banks.

Through a partnership with Experian on The Rental Exchange, it is also paving the way for 3.4 million social housing tenants to potentially improve their credit files.

Bringing impact to everyone

Big Issue Invest created a connection between finance, and people and planet – something we know today as ‘impact investing’.

But there was still a missing piece to the puzzle: opening up investing to everyone. Kershaw explains: “I was doing a talk in London about Big Issue Invest and someone asked me ‘Why can’t the average Big Issue reader invest?’

“This question brought us back to earth. We realised that everyone should have the choice about where their money is invested. It comes back to giving people control of their money – democratisation of capital.

“At The Big Issue Group we are always driven to go further. We got together with some big financial firms who were aligned with our mission and co-founded The Big Exchange designed to work for everyone to deliver a positive impact on society and the environment.”

As well as your portfolio’s financial performance, you’ll be able to track its social and environmental impact. The impact each user creates will be recognised and rewarded through a digital social passport and token system.

Changing the world

Ultimately, it is this movement of people taking control of their money through The Big Exchange that will make it a powerful force that will help transform the world we live in.

The Big Issue Group is the largest shareholder in The Big Exchange and any profit it receives from The Big Exchange will be used to further its mission.

As Nigel Kershaw says: “To really change the world, we need to win the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

“We need to reach people who never thought they had control of their money, people who never thought that their personal savings could make a positive difference to the world, people who don’t realise their actions, here and now, can make a difference today and for future generations.”

How to use The Big Exchange

1. Choose an account

An account is where your investment is held, and the right one for you will depend on your personal circumstances.

Individual Savings Account (ISA): With an ISA, you can invest up to £20,000 per year tax-free. If you are over 18, this could be the most efficient way to put your savings to work.

Junior Individual Savings Account (JISA): A JISA enables you to invest in your child’s future by investing up to £9,000 per year tax-free. General Investment Account (GIA): If you get to the point where you have maxed out your ISA, this would be the next step.

Soon, you will also be able to invest your pension with The Big Exchange. If you already have investments elsewhere, it’s easy to transfer them so you can see everything in one place and make maximum impact with your money.

2. Choose a fund bundle or pick your own

If you are new to investing, a ready-made bundle is an easy way to invest in multiple positive impact areas. The Big Exchange offers three bundles – ‘cautious’, ‘balanced’ or ‘adventurous’ – put together by independent experts based on how much risk the investments are likely to take over time.

If you have some knowledge of investing or just want to invest in specific areas such as climate funds and fancy putting together an investment package yourself, you can also pick your own funds.

All the funds available on The Big Exchange are aligned with its mission to create positive change. They are managed by industry heavyweights including Aberdeen Standard Investments, AllianceBernstein, Alquity, Civitas Social Housing plc, Columbia Threadneedle, Liontrust, Pictet, Quilter, Stewart Investors, Tortoise, UBP, Nordea and WHEB.

3. What do you want to help change?

This is your money and you can choose to invest it in the causes you care about the most. The Big Exchange has grouped the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) into two groups – Planet and People – and rated each of its funds against these.

The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives of the people living on it by 2030.

The Big Exchange has also created a unique medal system that gives you a picture of how much positive impact each investment has. You can invest based on Gold, Silver or Bronze medals, with Gold having the highest ability to provide social or environmental change. More detailed information is available on each fund so more experienced investing hands can dive a little deeper.

4. Check out

Whether you choose a bundle or a more pick-and-mix approach, you simply add the product you want to your shopping basket and go to the checkout. Once you have set up your bank details for a direct debit or to transfer a lump sum, you’ll be taken to your personal ‘dashboard’ where you’ll be able to see the balance of your investments and how they are changing over time.

Risk warning: Capital at risk. The value of your fund can go down as well as up. Tax treatment depends on an individual’s circumstances and may be subject to change.

Image credit: Ray_LAC/Flickr