The grandson of legendary investor and billionaire Warren Buffett is getting into Opportunity Zones, but in an unusual way. Howard W. Buffett is rolling out a software tool that measures an Opportunity Zone investment’s potential social, environmental and economic impact. Through his advisory firm, Global Impact, Buffett developed the software, “Impact Rate of Return,” with financial technology company NES Financial.
The project comes at a time when the federal Opportunity Zone program is under investigation by the Treasury Department into allegations it has provided a windfall for wealthy developers looking to build luxury real estate projects. The program’s intent was to spur development in thousands of distressed areas across the country.
So far, the Opportunity Zone legislation does not have a standard to judge whether a project in a designated zone is actually creating jobs or investment in the community, which has been a center point of the criticism. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump sidestepped the investigation, and hailed the program as an unqualified success.
Buffett’s reporting tool, according to the firm, tracks an Opportunity Zone project’s location, development type, census tract and investment size, then tabulates the data into one number.
Buffett is rolling out the software across 67 Opportunity Zone investment funds.Buffett, 36 and an associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, said in a statement that he hopes the software “will ensure that funds achieve their impact objectives in communities where they’re needed most.” Reid Thomas at NES Financial, said “investors increasingly care about the impacts that their investments make.”
Once a niche submarket, social impact investing or “do-good” investing has taken off in recent years. Goldman Sachs is pledging $750 billion over 10 years to invest in sustainable finance, which includes clean energy and access to health care. Some of the same investors, like Goldman, are also investing heavily in Opportunity Zones or setting up funds north of $500 million.