Social Investment: When One Idea Changes Everything

When SAP employee Neetin Datar had a simple idea, he shared it with leadership and a few colleagues across the company. Together, they were able to turn the idea into a reality that surprised and delighted us all.

This past year has been challenging for everyone as we both dealt with the new realities of life during a pandemic and witnessed a racial reckoning. Datar and countless others worldwide watched in horror when George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minnesota, died at the hands of a police officer. After Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests erupted in more than 200 cities throughout the U.S., as well as internationally. Floyd’s name was added to a long list of African Americans wrongfully persecuted by law enforcement, and a social justice movement was inspired.

Datar, like many others, struggled with this situation. He experienced varied emotions– anger, frustration, sadness – and found it easy to despair. “We are living in the 21st century,” he thought. “When is this going to end?” He watched the actions of the North America leadership team closely, particularly DJ Paoni and the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) team, and even members of the SAP Executive Board. He clearly recalls all of them saying that support for the situation in terms of words is fine, but it would be much better to take action to drive positive change. That is what Datar did: he took action.

Against this backdrop, about a month after Floyd’s death, Datar was watching an interview with the CFO and head of recruiting for Netflix on CNBC’s Squawk Box. Netflix shared that the company was pledging to invest two percent of their cash holdings to financial institutions that directly support Black businesses and communities. Datar thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately thought SAP should do something similar.

He wrote to Paoni and the global head of D&I to suggest that the company consider investing its cash reserves in a similar way. It was the end of the quarter, when there’s a lot going on, but he knew the topic was important; it was not a donation or charity, but rather a smart business and commercial idea. It is all about “doing good business while doing good for the communities that we live in.” Paoni responded right away and put him in touch with Danny Allen from the D&I team to explore the idea further.

Datar and Allen ideated and even spoke with Netflix to better understand how they made the investment happen in their organization. Datar reached out to SAP Treasury and was quickly connected with Jerry Bernard, who is responsible for managing cash reserves in the U.S. In parallel, Bernard had seen the Netflix story on Bloomberg that same day and had shared it with his manager, the global head of SAP Treasury. He liked the story because it was a different way of managing liquidity, and colleagues in Germany had already been having conversations related to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) types of investments. They had not yet operationalized anything in the U.S. but were in the process of updating investment strategies to specifically look for ESG-related investments, so the seed had been planted about a year prior.

In his research, Bernard found a market with a limited number of investment funds and a social focus on Black communities that met SAP’s criteria. After careful vetting, he and his team finally arrived at a selection of eight different U.S. Government money market funds that fulfilled the requirements: they met an ESG-Social mandate via purchases for their security portfolios from D&I companies and had a special share class in which revenue is shared between the fund sponsor and a designated D&I company. In addition, they are getting the yields that SAP desires from such investments.

The result? Datar’s idea and collaboration across teams has led to SAP investing tens of millions of dollars in the Siebert Williams Shank Shares class of Northern Institutional Funds’ U.S. Government Select Portfolio, a money market fund. The share class is a collaboration between Northern Trust Asset Management (NTAM) and Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC, a leading minority- and women-owned independent, non-bank financial services firm in the U.S. NTAM is a leading global investment management firm with a long-standing commitment to D&I. Frequently recognized for its efforts, the firm was named a “Diversity Champion” by Investment News in 2018 and 2020.

Supporting minority-owned businesses is important to the overall health of the national economy, and SAP is doing so in a few ways. Investment in minority-owned businesses is even more impactful as it not only benefits the firms themselves but can also uplift entire communities through job creation, increased wages, and tax revenues. Accordingly, these types of diversity programs are an important way to combat social injustice in the U.S.

Bernard noted, “This particular solution really made sense for us and we were very happy to proceed.” He shared that SAP’s approach was different from that of Netflix because it had to be within the SAP framework. There will be similar kinds of investment options that work for the company as well in the future.

Ultimately, this is an important first step into an emerging social investment space. SAP is a prudent investor and this investment conveys a huge commitment to minority-owned businesses. It also underscores the continued support of our employees’ ideas. We encourage employees to be innovative in their thinking and bring great ideas forward.


Margot Goodson is vice president and Diversity and Inclusion lead for North America at SAP SE.