In April, Aeris welcomed Aaron Grzywinski as Director of Technology and Data Services, a newly-created position at Aeris. Although Aaron is new to the Aeris staff, he is not new to Aeris, as he was involved very early in the conceptualization and development of the Aeris Cloud. Aeris Insights asked Aaron some questions about what brought him to the community investing field, and where he sees some of the challenges and opportunities with respect to data services..
Aeris Insights (AI): You’ve had a successful career in helping organizations build capacity through technology solutions. What brought you to Aeris and the community investing world?
Aaron Grzywinski (AG): “We always come home.” I don’t know who said that, but I think that’s an expression. And my work with Aeris is “coming home” for me.
I grew up as my father and his friends were buying the South Shore Bank, on Chicago’s distressed Southside. I was not far out of diapers when my father was working to help pass the CRA, and I grew up as the bank found ways to invest, profitably, in their neighborhood and affect real change. They saw that there was a repeatable model and this was something we used to talk about at the dinner table. This is what I grew up with. Or in. The philosophy around all of this, and I dare say the “values,” are burned in to my core—they’re a part of my DNA.
That’s a long way of saying that community investing is where I came from, it’s home for me, and it’s where I belong. Everything up until now has been preparing me for leaving my own mark on all of this. And it’s a big deal. Community investing can change people’s lives—people’s experience of the world, and the way that they present in the world.
Two things make Aeris particularly significant in this: Aeris takes our technology seriously, which makes it easy for us to move in to new spaces and apply our core competencies to a whole host of financial instruments and evolve with the market. Aeris also imparts rigor and objectivity to the industry’s assessment of financial performance and social impact. These are both important. The first point is about agility and efficiency; agility keeps you relevant and makes sure that you can work on the right stuff, and efficiency means that you take the mission seriously. The second point is about creating confidence and legitimacy for the industry, and that in turn makes more capital available.
That’s why I’m in the community investing world, and that’s why I’m at Aeris. We need to move the dial on community investing, and Aeris is actively engaged in moving that dial. And we’re smart about it, and genuinely committed to the cause. Around here we call it “guiding capital to good.” I’m excited to be in the middle of that.
AI: How do you think about the data challenges facing impact and community investors?
AG: There are a whole host of challenges. One of the things that investors are up against is wanting to make a difference, and having specific preferences about the “how” or the “where,” but not having excellent tools for lining those things up—squaring their interests with the available investments. Once they get past that challenge, once they find the thing they want to invest in, they don’t have a really rich and excellent way of knowing how those investments are performing. Let alone how they’re performing relative to competing alternatives. And not only do we need to be able to pull together all of this impact data, but investors need to be able to put it next to their risk and return data.
That’s a problem. How do you flatten the attributes of your investment opportunities so you can make investments the way you want to?
The other thing that investors are up against is that the data are all over the place. And I mean that in two senses. On the one hand, they’re not fully standardized yet, and on the other hand, they’re spread across many different, disparate systems. Both represent barriers to making smart decisions, and to bringing more capital in to the system. So, we’re chasing all of that—we’re going to continue to lead the industry towards metrics standardization, and we’re going to bring more data together.
As we develop the framework for that, I’m going to be working with investors and fund managers, other information systems, and industry leaders to understand the data challenges that I’m not yet aware of. I invite anyone reading this that wants to shed light on this or weigh in on what’s needed to reach out to me. It all helps shape the picture. And this is an important time to weigh in—the systems, structures, and tooling we design now will be affecting where we arrive in the future. It’s hard to see from here, but there are future lives we can change by virtue of the tools we’re building today.
AI: What are some examples of Aeris custom data services?
AG: There’s a lot that we can do. For starters, we can do specialized report formatting, with customized formulas and analysis for groups that want a very particular spin on their data, and we can develop API integrations for organizations that need to get data fed directly in to their systems. And all of that can be stitched together. We’re currently pursuing customized data collection tools for organizations that need to collect information that’s outside of Aeris’ standard scope—this might be around documents or this might be around specific data points, where investors need their constituents to submit standardized data. We can do a lot. We have this fantastic technology core and we’re starting to build on it—from data collection, to data processing and transformation, to analysis, to output and distribution.
AI: Where would you like to see the business line in five years?
AG: Things will look different in five years. In 2014 Forbes reported that impact investing was up almost 20% relative to 2013, and a December 2016 report from the GIIN showed impact investing assets under management growing by 18% compounded annually from 2013 to 2015. With that sort of growth, you’re looking at something like a doubling of impact-invested dollars in five years. Even if we leave out any acceleration that might be driven by Millennials, this is significant growth. And these are impact dollars—impact dollars that need to find investment opportunities that align with the investor’s impact objectives.
Our new Data Services arm will be linking data providers with data consumers in a way that is easy, transparent, and which pulls impact performance in to sharp focus. Our tools and systems will be aligning impact investors with investments that achieve their goals, and we’ll be operating across a much wider range of investments.
Aaron Grzywinski has 20 years of experience with operational information systems, ranging from eCommerce, to ERP finance and logistics, to custom-built back-office applications. His work has moved him through small regional organizations, to public utilities, and in to large international technology companies. More recently Aaron has shifted his expertise and passion towards socially oriented institutions, helping these organizations scale, develop operational rigor and efficiency, and move towards data-driven decisions and outputs. At Aeris, Aaron continues that work, driving Data Services to develop products that put data in the hands of those that need it, and helping investors align their investments with their priorities.