Investing with Intention
At the beginning of this year I finally decided at age 27 that it was time to take control of my finances.
For five years I worked in sales for an amazing wellness technology company, first in NY and then remotely in SF. When it was time to part ways, (when I ended up on disability due to a car accident that almost killed me - more about that in my future book) I had accumulated a savings I was proud of, as well as stock options I didn't know what to do with. Keeping my money in my big bank scared me; I don't really trust big banks nor approve of the businesses and projects they fund, i.e. oil pipelines. I was ready to invest (#adulting) but I was on a mission to do it ethically.
I did my due diligence to find the right financial advisor for the task. LinkedIn connected me with a knowledgable firm in the Bay Area and we set up a call to discuss my situation.
ME: "I don't know much about this, but I am ready to invest, however I am very particular about the types of companies I want to support. I do not want a penny of my hard earned money invested in fast food, oil, big pharma, tobacco, guns...Get it? I am determined to remain true to my values of investing in only ethically responsible companies."
He told me that it was not possible to be socially responsible and also profitable.
I wrote this to tell you he was wrong.
Even the company who would be managing my money was affiliated with Wells Fargo! (Research Wells Fargo's involvement in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline). Instead of owning up to the flaws in the system, my potential advisor was defensive and avoidant, and in my gut I felt his questionable ethics did not align with mine. I was a bit discouraged but determined, so I continued my search.
My next meeting was with an independent advisor based out of New Hampshire, whose website specifically touted "socially responsible investing." Yay! I chatted with him a few times and as a newbie to the whole investing world I felt comforted that he took the time to educate me and was fully transparent. We had a few Skype meetings before I made my decision. He told me that we would try our best, but explained that it is difficult to be 100% socially conscious, mainly because mutual funds are impossible to distinguish. I appreciated his honesty, trusted my intuition, and we decided to move forward.
Ten months later and my return to date is up 22%! Additionally, my handpicked portfolio has risen almost 10% ABOVE the S&P 500! The S&P 500 is a compilation of 500 stocks chosen to represent U.S. equities and is a representation of how the market is doing. My sustainable companies are rockin' 2017 above average! See below - I have an awesome app that I can check daily to see how my portfolio is performing and I can even add funds or make trades myself.
My portfolio: Equity positions of environmentally friendly and socially responsible firms.
My advisor was extremely thorough in our initial evaluation and it was interesting to see where my ethical boundaries fell. In order to balance my portfolio, he encouraged me to also invest in mutual funds. With my Kindergarten knowledge of finances, I understand these funds to be groups of investments lumped together, so an investor is not able to pick and choose the companies contained within one fund. These are lower risk so it was smart to include them to balance out my higher risk choices. (Did I get that right?)
We settled on mutual funds within real estate, and my advisor was honest in telling me that anyone could be buying these properties. For example, McDonalds or Walmart could end up renting or buying from the company that owned the property I am invested in. Do you see how convoluted this system is? It is extremely difficult to trace who ends up benefiting from your investments. Furthermore, when leaving my corporate job I transferred my 401k over to my advisor as well, and learned that we really have NO IDEA where our 401k cash is going. Do you want to build your retirement fund on corporations who are destroying society and the environment? I do not, so it is a relief to finally have control and visibility on my investments.
I let my advisor handle the mutual funds, trusting that he understands my moral stance and would make the right decisions for me. As for stocks, it was really fun to research and choose companies that I aligned with. I asked myself, if I wouldn't buy the product, why would I invest in it?
When creating my responsible portfolio, most of these companies fell into only a few categories, technology being the biggest. I had trouble deciding on companies like Apple, and Amazon, because I don't fully support their work-ethic or footprint they have on the environment. However, I am a consumer of both of these companies and decided until I'm ready to stop buying I am supporting them anyway, but it was not a clear cut decision for me.
Some other companies I support are Netflix, Google, Etsy, Square, MINDBODY Inc, Facebook, Tableau, SalesForce, FitBit, Gaia, Alaska Air, and Tesla. I feel morally positive with these choices and excited that with their success, I succeed as well. How would you feel knowing that a pipeline you fight hard against, is actually being funded by your 401k? Or you are diligent in buying cruelty-free, organic products, but your financial advisor bought you stock of Johnson & Johnson? Something is not right here. (But what's wrong with J&J? READ)
You may think this line of thinking is overly critical and extreme, however shouldn't we be thinking critically when it comes to how our money is spent? OUR money and our consumer behavior is fuel to our corrupt society. We live our lives with a certain moral standard and unbeknownst to us our savings are being used to drill oil pipelines, expand fast-food chains, test products on animals, and worse, we have no idea!
My first piece of advice is to decide you are ready to take control of your money! Even if you don't think it is enough, there are all different ways to make a difference. Firstly you can choose to work with a bank that is in alignment with your morals. I recently opened an account with a local Credit Union and feel clear and secure that I am helping out the little guy.
Secondly, shop ethically! Instead of buying the cheapest brand at mega-store X, research smaller, local brands that may be a bit more money but have an overall better effect on your body, the environment, and society.
If you are ready to invest or re-invest a larger chunk of money, I recommend chatting with a professional. I am happy to connect you with my advisor as I work remotely with him and it works great. Otherwise, do your research and find someone who aligns with your values!
Your values may be different from mine and that is okay. The important thing is to focus on what your values are, and see if your investments are in line with them. That way your physical actions match up with your financial decisions. If your physical actions aren't aligning with your values either, then maybe it's time to reevaluate your consumer habits!
I hope this was helpful, I would love to hear your opinions on the topic and feel free to reach out with any questions!