Audrey Choi is CEO of Morgan Stanley's Institute for Sustainable Investing. She is also Managing Director and Head of Morgan Stanley's Global Sustainable Finance Group. In these roles, she oversees the firm's efforts to support resilient communities and promote economic opportunity and global sustainability through the capital markets. In a career spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Audrey has become a thought leader on how finance can be harnessed to address public policy challenges. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Audrey held senior policy positions in the Clinton Administration, the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission. While at the White House, she served as Chief of Staff of the Council of Economic Advisers and Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President. Previously, Audrey was a foreign correspondent and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal. She was a member of President Obama's US Community Development Advisory Board and on the boards of several national nonprofits focused on education, conservation and impact investing. Audrey is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.
How has your experience outside of the financial services industry affected the way you approach your role at the firm?
I’ve had the good fortune of working in many sectors, including as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, advising on policy development and implementation in the Clinton administration, and serving on the boards of several nonprofits. Now, at Morgan Stanley, I work across sectors with global corporates, investors, governments, nonprofits and nongovernment organizations.
My experience has helped me to understand the motivation and goals of each sector and the unique strengths that each has to offer. This perspective has prepared me for the role I have today—helping to establish successful partnerships to advance the field of sustainable investing, for which there is a substantial and growing need and business case to match this need.
By 2050, more than nine billion people1 will inhabit the planet. The demand for food, energy and water will increase dramatically along with population. It is easy to say we hope government or philanthropy will figure out a way to help, but private capital can and must play a role in addressing these very large global challenges. Recognizing the opportunity to contribute, the firm has demonstrated its leadership by launching the Institute for Sustainable Investing, with a mission to maximize capital for a more sustainable future. The Institute has been given the mandate to think about how Morgan Stanley can broadly leverage its capabilities and innovate new and better ways to solve large, complex social issues.
The great thing about my job is that there really isn’t a typical day. On any given day, I could be working with a team in our Institutional Securities business as it develops new sustainable finance products or pitches to corporate clients. I could be working with our Wealth Management business in enhancing our Investing with Impact Platform, or I could be meeting with policymakers, nonprofit partners or other external stakeholders on how the firm is tackling specific social or environmental issues, just to name a few examples.
A great deal of my time is spent working directly with the community as well. As part of our commitment to sustainable finance, we invest our own capital in communities, helping those communities become more resilient and viable. If we are going to invest in affordable housing in a neighborhood, for example, we want to make sure it is well-integrated with other vital services in the community. For example, we deliberately focus on investing in affordable housing that provides supportive services like easy access to quality affordable health care, public transportation, and fresh and healthy foods.
Morgan Stanley is a place of very high integrity. It starts at the top and lives throughout the organization. The message is clear: Put clients first, be diligent and do the right thing. It is also a creative culture—a place where people have the opportunity to think about, and explore, big ideas and transform them into real solutions.
Because Morgan Stanley is such an open culture, the people here care about one another’s excellence as well. Guidance and support are proactively offered to get things done.
There is something special that draws people to our firm and to our team today: knowing that we can have an impact on a community, and by extension, the world. As our Chairman and CEO James Gorman has repeatedly said, Morgan Stanley is in a unique position to harness the capital markets to help address the most pressing challenges facing society today. We’re working to meet this call head-on by focusing on bringing the speed, scale and rigor of private sector capital to bear on these challenges.
Our leadership on Green Bonds2 is a great example of the impact the firm can have across its businesses. Green Bonds are financial instruments that raise capital and investment for environmentally responsible projects that address climate change. Over the last couple of years, Morgan Stanley has been helping our institutional clients issue these bonds to fund green projects like wind and solar farms. The firm was the top bank managing green bond issuances in 2013, and led several landmark transactions this year. What I’m really excited about now is our ability to offer green bonds as investment opportunities for individual investors. Until recently, individual investors were largely locked out of purchasing green bonds because they weren’t structured to appeal to that investor base. This year, we led one of the largest retail structured deals for the World Bank representing over $30 million of demand.
Getting all of this innovative work accomplished is a highly collaborative exercise. I am incredibly fortunate that I get to work with a team of people who are smart, enthusiastic, analytical and very pragmatic. We set them loose to combine their skills with their sense of mission and passion for using finance in ways that maximize capital to solve some of the most pressing issues that we are facing as a society, and to create a more sustainable future.
Good ideas start with a culture that supports innovation. We are encouraged at Morgan Stanley to push ourselves, and what may seem an impossible idea often becomes clear as the thinking behind it is unpacked, explained and socialized. When you start with a collaborative mindset that is solution-oriented, the possibilities are endless.
Do you participate in any of the employee networking groups, and how has your experience affected you?
I am an active member of our Women's Business Alliance, the Asian Employee Networking Group, and Pride (LGBT) & Ally Employee Networking Group. These networks enhance our engagement, and create a platform to connect across business units and share ideas.
These connections lead to both formal and informal mentoring relationships, a valuable opportunity for everyone at the firm. I was incredibly fortunate to have great mentors and sponsors at the firm. What I experienced was a generosity of knowledge and spirit; everyone here was ready to share with me. That helped me to become as effective as quickly as possible. This holds true for professionals at every level, and it helps us to continually create a better firm.