In light of our faith, how should we then invest? It’s not an easy question and I don’t have any easy answer. It’s one of the greatest and most persistent concerns that I have had during my thirty-five years as an investor; even more so during the past twenty-five years investing in a professional capacity.
When I started out, we called it “Ethical Investing”. Then it became “Socially Responsible Investing” or SRI, which was later shortened to “Responsible Investing” or RI. Today the buzz phrase is ESG, standing for Environmental, Social and Governance factors. Whatever you call it, it’s about being aware of the impact that your investments have and, at the very least, trying to align your investments with your values.
Frankly, I have yet to come up with the perfect answer. But maybe you can learn from my struggles, so please bear with me as I share with you where I have landed on the issue and why.
First off, let’s concede that in many situations, we just don’t have the control that we wish. All of us who work in Canada are contributors to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It’s not an option. Some of us are part of pension plans through our work. Again, not optional. These plans hold ownership in companies on our behalf. It’s possible that they own companies on our behalf that we would prefer to have nothing to do with. Unfortunately, our influence on these pensions is severely limited. We can provide feedback, hoping to influence, but that is about the extent of it.
Similarly, most of us own mutual funds. They are optional, so we have a little more control. We have the option of voting with our dollars. We can invest with managers who hold the same or similar values as us. But even this is difficult. If we own a fund whose manager we think is great, but who has 0.05 percent in a company that we don’t necessarily want to own, should we find another fund? Let’s say we have $500,000 invested with them. That means $250 of our money is invested in a company we prefer not to own and $499,750 is in companies we are okay with. What should our response be?
I find myself shopping at grocery stores even though they sell cigarettes and magazines that I don’t think are healthy. Should I stop shopping there, taking an all-or-nothing approach? Ultimately, the answer I come to is no. I think the healthiest approach is to favour stores that adhere closer to my values and where those values diverge, to kindly point out to them periodically how I believe they could improve and to not be too judgemental or dogmatic in my approach with them.
The same holds true for investing. Ultimately, where I have landed (and I fully admit that it is an imperfect solution) is that the best approach is to take an ethical advocacy approach that promotes positive change in companies as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach.
I tend to lean on two key practices when it comes to responsible investing:
Where possible. to use funds that have some level of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) oversight. Many fund managers do this today. Usually they hire a company whose sole focus is holding public companies accountable and give them the authority to vote in shareholder meetings, taking on an active ownership approach. Also, they will often provide fund managers an assessment of the practices of each company in their portfolio. This has become my main go-to. By knowing that there is oversight, pushing for betterment, I know that companies I’m investing in are at least likely moving in a better direction year after year.
Periodically, reviewing the full list of names and communicating with the managers about companies they own that we don’t like. You can easily do this by requesting a copy (or looking it up online) of the annual, semi-annual or quarterly reports. At minimum, top holdings will be listed, but often (and certainly in the annual reports) the full list of every single holding as at the date of the report is there for anyone to see. By communicating our displeasure with the ownership of specific companies, we send a message to the managers, “we care about what you own, and we will hold you to account if we don’t like what you own.”
This is something that you can easily do on your own or with the help of your adviser. Start by asking your adviser what his or her stance is. Then ask if they are willing to help you invest more judiciously. And finally, ask what sort of ESG governance procedures your funds have in place. Maybe you just want to rely on the governance that’s there and not do anything yourself. That’s okay, too, but then it’s all the more important that you know there is some sort of governance in place.
Start by asking the questions.
“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”
– Proverbs 13:11 (NIV)
Arnold Machel, CFP® lives, works and worships in the White Rock/South Surrey area where he attends Gracepoint Community Church. He is a Certified Financial Planner with IPC Investment Corporation and Visionvest Financial Planning & Services. Questions and comments can be directed to him at email@example.com or through his website at www.visionvest.ca. Please note that all comments are of a general nature and should not be relied upon as individual advice. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Arnold Machel and may not necessarily reflect those of IPC Investment Corporation. While every attempt is made to ensure accuracy, facts and figures are not guaranteed.
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