When investors these days muse about enticing new projects, they probably consider areas like big data, social media or biotech. But Matthew Diserio ’81 wants to bring the financial spotlight to something much more basic — water. According to Diserio, the president and co-founder of Water Asset Management, “the water industry is the single best combination of environmental stewardship, serving the common good, and free enterprise.”
Diserio, who gave a talk on campus last week, has spent over three decades in long/short fund management, securities analysis and sales. Before co-founding Water Asset Management LLC, he was portfolio manager of Schafer Cullen Small Cap LP and of Diserio Partners LP. Before that, Diserio was a general partner and portfolio manager at Water Street Capital. Diserio graduated from Bowdoin College in 1981 with a B.A. in history and government and legal studies.
Water insecurity, according to 2015 World Economic Forum report, is the globe’s largest security threat. As plentiful, relatively cheap oil defined the 20th century, Diserio says that water scarcity will define the 21st. And yet water finance experts are few and far between (or, as Diserio puts it, “you can count them on two hands and a foot”). Water Asset Management is on the case with a mission: “to invest money around the world to try and solve water supply and water quality problems.”
While there’s a certain stigma around “water” and “money” being uttered in the same breath, Diserio argues that the investor-owned structure is superior to government-operated systems for maintaining a healthy, sustainable water supply for the public. “Water is a basic human right,” he declared, asserting the need for capital, transparency of quality and supply data, and most importantly, full-cost pricing that allows the system to maintain itself.
Right now, he explained, the issue with many public operations is a lack of fiscal responsibility, exemplified by situations such as the one in Flint, Mich. Water systems are hugely expensive and require a level of capital and transparency that he says only private industry (in cooperation with local and federal governments) can supply. With proper management and measurement, provided by investor funding and oversight, a water resource will remain “a perpetually renewable, sustainable resource.”
With good water access also comes the social advantage of public health and sanitation. Diserio also notes that “probably the single best way to promote gender equality in the developing world is to provide a steady, reliable, clean water supply at a fair price.”
Investing in water is also potentially lucrative. “Water is a better investment than gold,” said Diserio. “It’s the single best industry I’ve ever seen with multi-decade long positive pricing.” As American infrastructure stands poised to become the next emerging market, investors and governments will face serious choices about water, he concluded.
Diserio’s talk was sponsored by the Bowdoin Finance Society and Career Planning.