Lori Heaford uncovers Parrott’s passion for punk.
Julian Parrott is an interesting man: an independent financial adviser specialising in ethical investment; a keen activist in the development of ethical finance; and a punk. If the punk era taught us anything, it’s the value of getting involved to make a difference – and Julian Parrott is doing just that.
Julian lived in birthplace London and Gibraltar before moving to Scotland aged 10. As a teenager in Dunfermline, Fife, in the 1970s punk rock enabled him to make sense of social issues such as unemployment and industrial unrest, the Vietnam War and nuclear threat, class divides and racism. As Julian says, genuinely political bands like The Clash pioneered “left-wing thinking for a generation”. It’s certainly shaped the course of his life so far.
With a degree in Business Studies from Napier College, Edinburgh, Julian joined Dunfermline Building Society, in time becoming branch manager and relocating to his current home, Perth. The fit wasn’t quite right though – too much schmoozing – so he switched to the life and pensions side of the industry in the 1990s.
It was a pretty grim period to be in financial sales – targets were all-important, irrespective of the quality of the advice. Nobody thought about the ethics of how money was invested. After a decade of being immersed in such cynical financial practice, Julian wanted a way to align his work with his political values.
His burgeoning interest in ethical investment led him to join the Ethical Investment Cooperative (EIC) in Edinburgh, which offered a regulatory umbrella to five sole-trader advisers working in different parts of Scotland. But, although the idea was great, there was no unity among the advisers’ business models.
So in 2005, together with colleague Martin Wight, Julian set up Ethical Futures – an ethical company that helps people plan for their futures. A core value of the company is doing right by its clients, even if that means forgoing immediate income. And its purist approach is proving popular – Ethical Futures advises only on ethically-screened investments, with no mainstream unscreened funds at all, yet its business is both profitable and stable.
His involvement in ethical investment doesn’t stop there, though. Not only does he liaise with leading NGOs in Scotland, but he also chairs the national Ethical Investment Association (EIA), where he helps steer adviser activities, and sits on the board of directors of UKSIF (the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance association), where he has strategic influence over the future direction of the ethical finance debate.
Julian shares his home with his wife Catherine, deputy head of a local state primary school, and two cats named Bella (after Belladrum festival in Inverness) and Skye (after a visit there, to carbon-offsetting company Future Forests’ plantation, Rebel Wood, established in honour of early backer Joe Strummer).
A fan of both films and music, Julian’s tastes are, unsurprisingly, left-field. Musically, it’s a varied mix, from bebop to dub reggae – not forgetting ‘old skool punk’, of course. He gets to gigs when he can and watches art house cinema – though you can forget the popcorn, nachos and hotdogs, they’re his pet hate.
Making the most of living in Scotland, Julian also takes his mountain bike out regularly and enjoys the occasional round of golf.
Though he has achieved a lot, Julian’s quick to point out that there’s much left to do. As a minimum 40 to 50 percent of all invested funds in the UK should operate under an ethical mandate – currently just 1 to 2 percent do. Globally, Julian warns of the risk of ethical standards becoming diluted to enable investment in China and other developing nations.
Happily, ethical investment is evolving, with growing interest from fund managers in both thematic and enviro-technology funds. Ethical considerations are becoming increasingly mainstream. But, for Julian, we still need to pay more attention to social and human rights issues, by creating mechanisms that develop investment towards social and community enterprise, giving people real control over their own lives.
In Ethical Futures, Julian has created a sustainable and replicable business model. He’s pleased that, with rising public enthusiasm, he is able to offer clients a wide range of ethical investment options to meet their needs. Speaking of Ethical Futures, Julian tells me: “It’s really satisfying to be able to make a living doing something that you believe in on your own terms. We are convinced that with good advice you really can make your money change your world.”