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Unlocking the black box of private impact investors

Sarah Louise Carroux (University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany)
Timo Busch (University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany)
Falko Paetzold (EBS University of Business and Law, Oestrich-Winkel, Germany andDepartment of Banking and Finance, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)

Qualitative Research in Financial Markets

ISSN: 1755-4179

Article publication date: 18 August 2021

Issue publication date: 12 January 2022




This paper aims to empirically describe the general characteristics and the investment behavior of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) who pursue impact investing.


Data was collected from members of a global impact investor network, using an online questionnaire, a portfolio-data collection tool and semi-structured interviews.


Wealthy private impact investors are largely similar in terms of their general characteristics and investment behavior, but they diverge in their interest in specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They tend to be strongly values-driven and to adopt an investment time horizon of 7+ years for their impact investments, which they expect to yield financial returns that are no different from those of traditional investments. Interestingly, these investors perceive the well-established sustainable investing strategies of exclusion, environmental, social and governance (ESG) integration and best-in-class as not having high impact-generating potential.

Practical implications

Suggestions are provided about how wealthy private investors could use the findings to improve their impact investment decisions. Advice is offered to investment professionals on how to optimize impact investment products and services for this economically and societally highly relevant target group.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first scientific study to investigate the general characteristics and investment behavior of HNWIs who pursue impact investing. HNWIs have great relevance for financial markets yet they are out of reach for most researchers. As a result, they are poorly understood, and apparently also often misunderstood, which has substantial economic and social implications that this paper helps mitigate.



The authors would like to express a special thank you to the Toniic team members Charly Kleissner, Adam Bendell, Kristin Siegel, Dario Parziale, and the Toniic membership for providing survey and portfolio data on impact investor behavior. We further thank the private impact investors who partook in the interviews. Finally, we sincerely appreciate the feedback provided by Samuel Hartzmark, Daniel Matisoff, and participants of the Center for Sustainable Finance and Private Wealth Research Quarterly; the Sustainable Finance, Management, and Accounting workshops offered by the Faculty of Business, Economics, and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg; the GRASFI Ph.D. workshop hosted by the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics; and the EGOS Sub-Theme on Social Impact Evaluation hosted by the University of Edinburgh Business School.


Carroux, S.L., Busch, T. and Paetzold, F. (2022), "Unlocking the black box of private impact investors", Qualitative Research in Financial Markets, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 149-168.



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Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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