What we’re doing internally and the importance of planning

In the spirit of full transparency, we thought it would be worth taking a minute to discuss how Common Interests has prepared for emergencies.

  • Our first priority is the security of our clients’ accounts and our ability to provide access and up-to-date information in times of crisis. To this end, we have conducted rigorous due diligence on our partners, and have evaluated their business continuity plans. We invite you to read the business continuity plans for our key partners here:
  • Our second priority is making sure that our firm is protected so that we can continue to serve our clients. Too many people rely on us for us to get sick. Here are the steps we’re taking:
      • Our office functions almost entirely on cloud based systems. Our phones, trading system, meeting platforms, website, and client files are all hosted on separate secure cloud servers with redundant backups. We converted to these systems in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and have been training and preparing for the next disaster since then. We have relied on these systems to continue working from the road at conferences in the past, and have full confidence in our ability to continue to serve our clients from anywhere with a stable internet connection and a power outlet.
      • We re-configured our scheduling tool to provide additional clarity and make additional options available to our clients, while restricting non-client meetings. Our firm has offered Virtual meetings for years, and we’re extremely comfortable meeting over video chat with screen-sharing. To protect both ourselves and our clients, we are encouraging everyone to meet with us virtually or over the phone.
        • Give the new configuration of our scheduling tool a spin below! We’re here to talk. Please feel free to use it to find a time to chat, even if you only have a quick question (there’s an option for that!)



 

Max will be speaking at the United Nations on December 5!

I’m very pleased to announce that my partner Max will be speaking at the inaugural InvestmentNews ESG & Impact Forum on Dec. 5 at the United Nations.

While we specialize in Sustainable, Responsible and Impact investing for our clients, we also believe that we have a responsibility to educate and help other advisors adopt these techniques. That’s why Max has agreed to be on the advisory board for this event and give his time to speak. The panel he’s on will be moderated by Jon Hale of Morningstar (read his blog here), and will feature Colleen Denzler of Smith Capital Investors and Marguerita Cheng, the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth.

Here’s what they will discuss:

As the demand for impact investment opportunities continues to grow, so does the increased responsibility on advisers to develop stronger investor education programs, increase transparency and adopt more precisely-defined metrics for measuring impact. ESG and impact investors, primarily motivated by moving the needle on specific environmental, social and governance issues, while also pursuing financial returns are increasingly flexing their purchasing power with advisers. It’s important therefore for investment advisers to understand that each client has views that are unique and diverse, requiring flexibility and customization to support each client’s goals. This panel will explore best in practice communication strategies for a more meaningful and effective client engagement experience.

As you can see, this conference is focused on Financial Advisors and other financial professionals. Click Here to register. And when you use code ESGFRIEND you can get a $50 discount. Please feel free to share this using the links below if you know anyone who would be interested in attending, and use the hashtag #INimpact so InvestmentNews knows you’re coming!

Climate Risk in Passive Investing

We’ve been seeing a lot of articles recently about a “bubble” in passive (index) investing. We haven’t commented much on this trend, as we’re big fans of low cost index funds in our portfolios. However, an article came out yesterday in Forbes that makes a point connected with this debate that we agree with wholeheartedly. Jeff McMahon writes in his article “Index Funds Face Heightened Risk From Climate Change” that Index funds are uniquely exposed to the systematic risks faced by climate change, and specifically to the inevitable policy response to climate change.

The Principles For Responsible Investing (PRI) (of which we are a signatory) has been doing a lot of research on this (see here for more information, or click here to view the slides from a recent event we attended with the PRI). We have incorporated this viewpoint into our portfolios, and the way we’ve done it speaks directly to McMahon’s article from yesterday.

McMahon points to the recent testimony before Congress from Alicia Seiger, the Managing Director of Stanford’s Sustainable Finance Initiative, who argues that investors are less able to manage climate risk because they are less able to monitor it (you can read her entire testimony here). We completely agree with this for the vast majority of index funds on the market today, but in our practice we have discovered that there are a number of ESG approaches that can be used to manage this risk (see this blog post from earlier this year for more information). Further, by looking at the PRI’s research, we believe we can identify the most likely policy responses and manage these risks within our portfolios.

The most likely policy levers to secure an accelerated and just transition Source: UNPRI (https://www.unpri.org/climate-change/what-is-the-inevitable-policy-response/4787.article)

By mindfully choosing investments that incorporate Environmental, Social and Governance data in their investment process, we believe we can manage these risks. However, there are a number of different approaches emerging within the investment community, and they do not all have the same results! If you are interested in what we’re doing to manage these risks in our portfolios, or if you would like us to analyze your investments to see how exposed you are to these risks, click here to schedule an appointment!

Quantifying the risks from Climate Change

CDP (formerly the Climate Disclosure Project) came out with a new report this week, their Global Climate Change Analysis for 2018. The summary of the report is well worth a read (it has some really great interactive charts if you’re a data nerd like I am), but there were a few takeaways that were so spectacular that we felt compelled to write a short post highlighting their findings. I’ll go through a few of the top quotes from the report and provide a little commentary of my own.

215 of the biggest global companies report almost $1 trillion at risk from climate impacts, with many likely to hit within the next 5 years

5 years is not a long time, especially for clients nearing retirement. We believe we have a duty to manage these risks in our investment portfolios.

Companies report potential $250 billion in losses due to the write-offs of assets

These are assets on the books, that contribute to the current valuations (and therefore stock prices) of many of these companies. In addition to “stranded asset risk” from fossil fuel reserves that cannot be extracted or burned, this number includes the damaging impacts from severe weather and other impacts from climate change.

Climate business opportunities calculated at $2.1 trillion, nearly all of which are highly likely or virtually certain

THIS is the opportunity for sustainable investing. By investing through the lens of sustainability as we do, we hope to capture these opportunities in our portfolios while mitigating the risks from climate change.

Potential value of sustainable business opportunities almost 7x the cost of realizing them ($311 billion in costs, $2.1 trillion in opportunities)

There are more takeaways, which you can read a summery of at CDP’s Press Release on the report, (where these quotes were pulled from). They highlight the challenges that disclosure still faces, but as investment advisors, the message to us is clear:

  • Climate risk must be managed in investment portfolios.
  • These risks are not something that future generations alone will bear – we are feeling the impacts today, and business leaders expect these impacts to accelerate to the point where there are material effects on their bottom line within the next 5 years.
  • We have to act. Our firm is doing our part as much as we can – from building sustainable portfolios, to offering no-minumum fossil fuel free portfolios so anyone can join our movement.

I hope you’ll be motivated to join us. Click the link in the bottom right corner of this page to schedule an appointment with us to learn how you can join our community and use your investments to create change.

 

Common Interests Model Portfolio Featured in Citywire RIA Magazine

As a part of our commitment to expanding the reach of sustainable investing, I sat down with Citywire RIA Magazine to talk about how we approach the design and implementation of our portfolios. We talked about our Investment Philosophy, the investment models we offer to clients, and how we add new investments to our portfolios.

We even shared our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) screened Moderate risk model with them so other advisors get tosee how we think about these issues.

We hope that by giving interviews like this one, we can encourage the larger community of financial advisors to take a harder look at investments that use Environmental, Social, and Governance factors. The interview also includes a discussion on the different approaches we take when clients come to us with specific requests, like Faith Based investing or Fossil Fuel Free Investing. If you’re curious, or would like to read more about our approaches, we’ve done a great blog post on the subject already!

Stewardship and Investing

My Partner and I are proud to be Social Entrepreneurs. Therefore, every day we talk about Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing (SRI).  We also talk about Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) screening and scoring.  More importantly, we talk about managing risk, rates of return, portfolio growth and retirement planning. That’s our business! Making money for our clients in a Sustainable and Responsible way.

All of these subjects come from the same source – STEWARDSHIP!  That’s ultimately the foundation of the discussion.  We can ask ourselves: “Will future generations have what they need to live a full and productive life in the future?”  The answer is evidenced by each of us, every day.  The decisions we make in our daily lives tell our story; good or bad. We will follow this truth: If it is to be it is up to me!

Stewardship means mindfully behaving in such a way that if everyone did the same, we would all be better off and our future would be bright!

How can we do this stewardship thing?  First, we must learn about the Circular Economy where there is NO Waste!  Second, we should  examine the supply chain management of corporations we buy things from. This will uncover hidden problems or harmful behaviors along the chain. The United Nations gives us a very good road map. They created the Sustainable Development Goals. They speak directly to the subject of Stewardship and show us what needs to be solved!

We can also turn to Shareholder Advocacy.  This actually FORCES Stewardship when needed!  This involves posting resolutions for corporate shareholders to vote on, in terms of continuing or stopping various corporate behaviors. This is the ‘walk softly, but carry a Big Stick’ approach to stewardship. Believe it or not, aberrant corporate behavior can be, and IS, changed every year by shareholder vote, or the threat of a shareholder vote!  We can make a difference!

There is definitely a need for an overwhelming theme of planetary stewardship.  Fortunately it is built into the SRI/ESG world by definition.  I think we should actually start taking credit for it! My first step is to start actually using the STEWARDSHIP word aloud in public.

Effective Impact Investing

I’m excited to announce a blog post written in collaboration with Gabe Rissman of Stake and the Real Impact Tracker, on the Effective Altruism forum, entitled Effective Impact Investing.

A little background, as this links to a fairly obscure corner of the internet: in the distant past, I was a Philosophy major at Rutgers University where I became involved in the philosophy club and founded the Rutgers Undergraduate Philosophy Journal. Through my studies, I became involved with a group called Giving What We Can, which examined both the impact of our charitable dollars (much of which go to administrative overhead at various charities and is otherwise not put to work as donors expect). Bob and I have since been back to Rutgers to speak with this group. 

While I was studying Philosophy, my partner, Bob Goellner (then my financial advisor) introduced me to Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing, and how we can use Environmental, Social and Governance factors in the investment process, and I was struck by how I could align my investments with my values and use the power of money to create change in the world. I became a financial advisor due to my desire to help people plan for their futures and the legacy they leave behind – because future generations depend on the decisions we make today, both in terms of their finances and the impact of our investments on the planet and society.

At the end of last year, a philosopher named Hauke Hillebrandt made an argument that Impact investing is only a good idea in specific circumstances (originally titled: “Donating effectively is usually better than Impact Investing”) which I felt compelled to respond to. I’m proud of our response, and very pleased to work with Gabe, as his training at Yale and mine at Rutgers complemented each other nicely. The work we’ve produced together is written in an academic style and references a number of other academic studies as the forum it’s posted in requires, but it represents how we think about impact in our portfolios, and especially how much we value Shareholder Advocacy, where we use the power of active ownership to engage with the companies our clients own in their portfolios to change corporate behavior.

I invite you to read our entire post, and send us comments! We want to know what you think. The post can be found here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Rkr2W8ADSGwWXfRBF/effective-impact-investing

You can learn more about Gabe and his work here.

2018 Trends in Responsible Investing

Our trade organization, USSIF, the US Social Investment Forum, puts out a biannual trends report, which examines the state of the Responsible Investing movement.

The highlight of the report is this image, which shows the exponential growth of Sustainable and Responsible investing in the US:

At the time of publication, almost $12 Trillion dollars is invested in responsible investing strategies in the US, which represents an 18-fold increase since 1995, and 38% growth since 2016, the last time this report was published.  In fact, 26% of all assets under professional management in the US are now incorporating Environmental, Social and Governance data into their investment process in one way or another.

It’s important to break that data down further.  This chart is a snapshot of 2018, which examines who is investing in these strategies, and whether those investors are merely using ESG data in their investment process, or whether they are engaging with the companies they own in their portfolios to try to change corporate behavior:We are THRILLED to see such huge numbers on this chart. In fact, the data has changed so much since the last report that it’s really worth digging deeper into the orange slices at the right to see what change is being created in the world.  By examining shareholder resolutions, one tool investors use to make companies to change their behavior, we can see some of the priorities that the industry and institutional investors have set over the last few years:

This chart looks at Money Manager activity, which matters a great deal to us, as this is the category we fall into.  In fact, as a firm, we contributed to this report through our continued membership in the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment  (you can view our data here), which was one of the primary sources for this report.

Interestingly, Institutional Investors, had much different priorities:

Clearly, both groups take similar sets of issues seriously, but institutional investors place a greater priority on Governance issues than money managers.  In our view, institutional investors are well suited to working on governance issues, as they tend to be long term issues that require longer term engagement.

Breaking this work down into more detail also yields insights: battles over Proxy Access have slowed down after strong investor support.  The share of S&P 500 companies with proxy access policies grew from 1% to 65% from 2013 to 2017, so activity on this front has slowed as a result of having fewer targets to engage.  This is a win!

In many ways, while what has been accomplished is important, why investors are pushing for change is more interesting. 82% of managers report client demand as a factor, while three quarters cite risk and return separately.  This means that your voice as a client can make a difference!  By joining with the larger community of actively engaged investors, you can become a part of a community that is creating grassroots change within the financial services industry at large.

When it comes to Risk and Return, we agree that long term investors should be considering Environmental, Social and Governance data in their process, as our investing thesis is based on the premise that using this data can expose risks to the long term prospects of companies we own in our portfolios.  All investing involves risk, and our job is to manage that risk.  We believe that ESG can be one more tool in the risk manager’s toolkit to help understand and manage risk, and we’re glad to see that this opinion is shared more broadly.

The data still has some problems, however.  Looking at the types of assets that are incorporating ESG, by far the largest segment is “uncategorized money manager assets”, which is a term that’s exactly as vague as it sounds.  While Mutual Funds, ETFs, Closed End Funds, Alternatives, and Community Investment Institutions all issue a Prospectus which discloses how they use this data (and we spend a LOT of time reading these documents to verify that our partners have policies in place that our clients want to see), the Uncategorized segment is largely self-reported, through a box on the Principles for Responsible Investing reports that says the managers are looking at the data, but not how they use it.  You can view our PRI Transparency report here.  We welcome your feedback!

All in all, this trends report marks a HUGE step forward for the industry, but a lot of work remains to be done. Additional highlights of the report include:

  • Higher support for Environmental and Social proposals:  The proportion of shareholder proposals on social and environmental proposals that receive high levels of support has been trending upward.
  • Equal pay:  Several companies have agreed to report on—and correct—gender pay differentials in response to shareholder resolutions.
  • Engagement:  Behind the scenes, engagement is increasing:  88 money managers, with $9.1 trillion in AUM, reported that they engage in dialogue with companies, up from 61 money managers, with $6.1 trillion in AUM, in 2016.

Additional information on this report can be obtained by contacting us, or  US | SIF: The Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment at info@ussif.org or (202) 872-5361. The trends report website is www.ussif.org/trends and they can be found on twitter: @US_SIF   |   #USSIFtrends2018

ESG Investing Basics: What are we trying do to?

We talk a lot about ESG: Environmental, Social and Governance. Our investment thesis is based on the idea that this “extra-financial” data (meaning this is information that doesn’t necessarily show up on a company’s balance sheet or profit and loss statement) can have a material impact on the long term health and performance of a company.

A great way to think about why we believe this is to look at this chart, which shows how the value of the companies in the S&P 500 index have changed over time, from the 70’s, when the vast majority of a company’s value was tangible, based on things, which can be measured. Over the past 4 decades, this has flipped, to the point where the vast majority of a company’s value is now based on intangible assets: things like good will, brand strength, and customer loyalty.

Tangible vs Intangible Assets as share of S&P 500 Market Value

Source: https://www.oceantomo.com/clients-board-of-directors/

As investors concerned with managing risk, we need data tools that look beyond the single bottom line of profits and financial data to understand how a company manages its’ Triple Bottom LinePeople, the Planet and Profit. Taken together, these factors give us a more holistic look at companies, which helps us make better decisions. For example: a 2012 study by the Center for American Progress found that the cost to replace an employee is between 16% and 21% of that employee’s salary, and that quit rates are often due to workplace policies.

There are many ways to use this data, and we work with our clients to figure out which approach best matches their goals, both from a risk & return standpoint, and also thinking about the impact they want to have on the world. There are a number of different ways to use the data, and we’ve put together this handy chart to demonstrate the different approaches:

Negative ScreeningESG IntegrationThematic InvestingImpact Investing
ObjectiveAvoid companies or industries that you find objectionable: a “Clean” portfolioUse ESG ratings as part of the investment process: Try to own the “Best in class”Focus on specific issues that matter to youFocus on non-financial outcomes in addition to financial outcomes
ChallengesDefining your screens & building a diversified portfolio that excludes the ‘right’ companies for you – how deep do you want to go?Where is the ESG data coming from? How is it being used in the process? How will different ESG methodologies result in different portfolios?Tend to be specific, narrowly focused investments. Only appropriate for a percentage of an overall portfolioReport on progress & outcomes. How do we know our investments are doing what they say they are?
ExamplesAvoiding investments in Fossil Fuels, Addictive products, or the manufacture of Weapons of WarIndex funds that track ESG indices, active funds that exclude low ESG scored companies from their “investable universe”Investments in Water, Gender Diversity, Clean Energy, or Low CarbonSpecific bonds such as Green Bonds, Community Investment Bonds, investments in private companies that have a social or environmental mission.

 

We offer investment portfolios or individual investments tailored to each approach. Get in touch to learn more!