Our special thanks to these partners for their support of the Christian Investment Summit
The Christian Investment Forum is collaborating with a leading market research firm to propose a comprehensive landmark Christian Investing Study to examine the investment attitudes and behaviors of practicing Christians:
This will be foundational and a groundbreaking study into the language, landscape and shape of Christian investing in today’s world. The purpose is to better understand and equip Christians, and the professionals, leaders and organizations who serve them, to help them collectively become more missional and effective in investing their resources for Kingdom purposes.
Objectives for the market research project:
Currently many Christians consider investing mostly in terms of getting market rate or better results through their investments in equity, bond or private equity funds, separate from their tithing or giving strategies to support church and Kingdom work. That is, they invest to increase their resources so they have more to give away.
Envisioning a Better Future would have Christians actively applying their faith beliefs and Biblical principles to all of their investment decisions and activities for a greater overall Kingdom outcome. This “enhanced” approach to stewardship would have Christians see their entire portfolio of investments aligned with their faith beliefs and practices. Investments viewed and managed in this way can provide a double bottom line and better use investing for Christian purposes in the world.
Click on the image below to view the short presentation regarding this landmark study:
If you’d like to learn more about this study, support the study or participate in some way, please contact John Siverling at firstname.lastname@example.org
MicroVest, a 15 year old firm focused on the Microfinance sector, and a Partner of the Christian Investment Summit, was recently highlighted in a Barron’s article. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
By Abby Schultz July 26, 2018 3:34 p.m. ET
Microfinance—the business of investing in financial institutions that make loans to low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries—is a form of investing for social good that long predates the decade-old impact investing market.
Today, microfinance is a key part of many impact portfolios, representing 9% of assets held by impact investors surveyed by the Global Impact Investing Network, or GIIN.
But for MicroVest, a 15-year veteran fund manager in the sector, the practice of investing in microfinance institutions is shifting from “classic” microfinance—providing loans to individuals selling vegetables at a local market, for example—to investing in small businesses, a sector MicroVest says is often under-served. “What happens when the woman borrower who started with a $200 loan has built her business and has 10 employees and now needs $5,000 in capital to buy equipment and machinery?” asks Ron Cordes, the former co-founder and executive co-chairman of AssetMark, who has invested in MicroVest through his family foundation since 2007.
“One of the issues with traditional microfinance is the organization she’s borrowed from to that point no longer has capacity to serve her,” Cordes says.
One of MicroVest’s objectives now is to serve this “missing middle,” by investing in low-income financial institutions with the capacity to lend to small businesses, to, in effect, strengthen the hand of these institutions to grow and serve more clients, which in turn helps to strengthen local developing economies.
“Small businesses pay taxes, so you can have schools and roads. They hire people outside of the family unit, they formalize and start to follow regulations, and they can link into the export economy,” says Gil Crawford, CEO, who co-founded the firm in 2003.
By Bill High
There’s a growing movement towards biblically responsible investing. As people realize that their investments have been going towards businesses that support unbiblical practices such as abortion, pornography or human trafficking, they are saying “No more.” Instead, to ensure that their investment decisions line up with their faith and values, they are switching tracks and turning towards an alternative: biblically responsible investing.
At the same time, the donor advised fund world is also exploding. According to National Philanthropic Trust’s “2017 Donor Advised Fund Report,” donor advised funds house over $85 billion in assets. They have shown steady growth as a charitable vehicle, increasing from 2016 to 2017 by 10 percent. Giving USA reports donor advised funds as “the fastest growing vehicle in philanthropy,” listing their growth rate as “three times the rate of total charitable giving in 2016.”
Here’s how a donor advised fund works: a donor deposits money into a donor advised fund and instantly receives a tax write-off. The money can then sit in the fund for years to come. It grows in investments until the donor is ready to recommend that a grant be sent out from their DAF to a charity.
Essentially, donor advised funds are the next big thing in charity.
Donor advised funds provide a win-win solution for both charities and donors. The donor gets the tax benefit of an income tax deduction the same year the gift is given. But once the money is in the donor advised fund, it can grow in investments for as long as the donor chooses. In the end, more money goes out to charity, since the donor advised fund allowed the gift to grow over time.
Donor advised funds are an excellent solution for strategic generosity. However, between biblically responsible investing and donor advised funds, there lies a gap.
When it comes to personal finances, people of faith are turning towards biblically responsible investing. But what about when it comes to charity? Are they being equally careful with the money that has technically already been “gifted” but is still under their management through a donor advised fund?
I did a quick Google search and could not find a single donor advised fund sponsor who practiced biblically responsible investing. Not to say they don’t exist; I just couldn’t find any. Even among Christian foundations.
Here Christians were—being so careful to invest their personal finances using biblically responsible investing. But when they wanted to give to charity, no donor advised fund option allowed for the same amount of care. There was nowhere the money would be biblically invested. Something had to change. So we started The Signatry.
As a Christian, God calls us to be charitable. He also calls us to be wise.
There seems to be a disconnect. When we make investments for our personal gain, we make sure they’re invested responsibly. But when our money is already dedicated towards charity (as in a donor advised fund), we don’t question the investments.
At The Signatry, we don’t think that makes any sense. First off, all of our resources belong to God. As Psalm 24:1 states, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it.” Since everything belongs to God, we are simply God’s caretakers, responsible to account for everything he’s given us.
If the money in a donor advised fund is dedicated towards making a difference for the Kingdom, then even before it is granted out, that money should already be making a difference. Or at the very least, it should not be invested in causes that are blatantly against biblical values.
Second, most faith-based foundations have standards for which charities receive their grants. Each charity is vetted through strict compliance measures to ensure they qualify as a grant recipient. Now, does it make any sense to have strict standards for the receiving ministries, but not to have the same standards for investments?
As far as I can tell, The Signatry is the only Christian foundation offering investments that also comply with Christian values. This shouldn’t be the case. We are hopeful that one day biblically responsibly invested donor advised funds will be the norm, not the exception.
Let’s start a movement of Christians who are biblically minded, not just in their personal finances but also in their charitable contributions. Let’s make sure every dollar is used ethically—from the first investment to the last check sent to a ministry.
About the Author:
Bill High is CEO of The Signatry: A Global Christian Foundation. He has coauthored Giving It All Away … And Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously with Hobby Lobby founder David Green. You can learn more about investing in eternity and living a joyfully generous life at billhigh.com.
Recently a new study was published by Nexus Impact Advisors on Christian based investing. The study author, Endel Liias, notes that it is there “hope that this information will be useful to people across the Christian investing spectrum—from investors and philanthropists to investees and entrepreneurs to the intermediaries, educators, and advisors that connect them.”
The report attempts to shape the full breadth of the market by offering some definitions for different segments to better classify the entire landscape of investing with Christian values. The report is merely an introduction, as it was meant to be, and offers us the chance to follow-up with some well-designed research and studies to further expand our knowledge of each sector in more detail. Why is that important or worth doing? For several reasons. First, it provides validation of the market opportunity that is currently underserved in hopes it can grow. Second, it reinforces the professionalism and credibility of Christian investing against some common and long standing misperceptions or biases. Third, it can identify potential gaps that providers can address or fill. Fourth, it guides the ability to measure and analyze to determine if progress is being made. Finally, it can offer the support of community to those involved or those considering to get involved.
Here is one highlight and some concluding thoughts from the report:
As the report concludes:
“The wide range of stakeholders and activities in Biblically-responsible and Christian impact investing is evidence of a robust and burgeoning marketplace, and this growth is likely to continue apace in the coming years.”
“Over the next three decades, approximately $30T in assets will be passed from baby boomers to millennials—the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history. This will have major implications for the way money is invested, as younger generations increasingly look to spend and invest in accordance with their social, environmental, and moral convictions. “
“This presents particularly unique opportunities for development of the Christian investing marketplace… Meeting this demand will require the skills, creativity, and hard work of stakeholders across the Christian investing industry, as well as the participation of new entrants. “
The report is available at the website of Nexus Impact Advisors HERE . The website contains much more information, research, and resources for impact investing generally and Kingdom Impact Investing more specifically. A visit to the site is highly recommended.
About Nexus – Nexus Impact Advisors is a mission-driven research and advisory firm specializing in impact investing. To learn more, visit www.nexusimpactadvisors.com .
Some years ago, a family member thoughtfully gave me a daily devotional book authored by Billy Graham called “Wisdom for Each Day”. The entry for February 21st, the day of his passing, seems relevant to share.
“Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2
During the Second World War, the words of General Douglas MacArthur echoed in the hearts of the people of the Philippines, “I shall return” – and he kept that promise. Jesus Christ has also promised, “I shall return” – and He, too, will keep that promise.
A continual looking forward to the eternal world Jesus will usher in is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking. We Christians look forward with anticipation to Christ’s return and spending eternity with Him.
The promise of that new world, however, does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christian who did the most for the present world were those who thought the most of the next. Only Christians who cease thinking of the next world become ineffective in this one.
“Aim at heaven,” said C.S. Lewis, “and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you will get neither.” At what are you aiming?
I think everyone would agree that The Reverend Billy Graham’s aim was right and true.
Used by permission
The following story is an excerpt from the book Profit or Principles. It is the conclusion of a story about a couple and their journey through the decisions about investing and their faith. As investors, we each have the opportunity to direct how we’d like our assets to be managed. As Christians we should acknowledge that we don’t actually own those assets, God does. If you’d like to learn more about the book, visit our Book review page here.
Todd’s hope was that Elise would join him on the visit to their financial planner to discuss changing the focus of their investments. However, Sarah and Christopher were back from their honeymoon and Sarah wanted to spend the day shopping with her mom. Apparently exchanging wedding gifts and spending the day with her daughter were more important than their investments. It wasn’t surprising since Todd took care of the majority of financial business for the family.
Wallace Burke had all the trappings of success. His professionally styled office suite was located on the third floor of the Overton Bank Building in the heart of the city. The polished tile floor in the hallway led to an oversized mahogany door with silver-plated hardware. Once you stepped inside, the carpet was plush, the furniture was rich, and the colors were subdued. Margaret, a woman appearing to be in her 50’s and always dressed as conservatively as a grandmother, had been Wallace’s secretary for years and her voice was the first thing heard when entering the office suite.
“Hello Mr. Watson,” was her cheery greeting. She did not need to have Wallace’s calendar in front of her to recognize Todd. He had been investing according to Wallace’s financial advice for years and was probably his best customer. There was no need to sit, Wallace was ready and waiting in his office, so Margaret quickly escorted Todd as if he were a new customer.
Not being sure why Todd wanted the meeting, Wallace had all his paperwork in order, spread out on top of his executive-style desk. He and Todd liked each other, but they had never spent any time together outside of their business relationship. Wallace was several years older and pretty tied to a quiet routine. No one would ever say that Wallace liked adventure or taking risks and he ran his investments like he ran his life–as risk free as possible.
Todd and Wallace exchanged the usual pleasantries. Margaret brought Todd a cup of coffee, just like he liked it, and they sat down to discuss the matter that brought Todd unexpectedly to the office.
“I know you’re curious about why I’m here,” Todd began. “First, let me assure you that it is not because I’m unhappy with anything you’ve done! Elise and I have been very pleased with the way you have handled the money. You have accomplished precisely what we asked you to do for us.”
The words provided a touch of assurance for Wallace but he was still waiting for something more. He knew Todd was not there just to pat him on the back. “We want you to continue managing our money,” Todd said, and Wallace hoped his sigh of relief was not visible. “It’s just that we want to change our approach,” Todd continued.
“Your investments have been doing very well,” Wallace replied, “Especially in this economy. I’m not sure we can do much better.” He was hoping Todd was not looking for a bigger payday that required riskier investments, that was just not Wallace’s strength.
“No, no, I’m not concerned about making more money. Elise and I have been thinking a lot lately about how our money is being used. Let me explain how this whole thing came up.”
Todd then took the next seven or eight minutes to describe the encounter with Robert Wells at church and how that turned into the conversation with his business partners and then the questions they had about all their money and what it was accomplishing. He also tried to explain how he had spent hours reflecting on Jesus’ story of the talents and his conviction that God was trying to tell him something about being a better steward. Wallace listened carefully. He was certainly interested in Todd’s way of thinking because good investment advisors must know their clients and he always prided himself on being able to provide what his clients wanted.
When Todd brought up the phrase, “Biblically Responsible Investing” that he had read about on the Internet, Wallace’s attitude changed. He was somewhat defensive toward this approach to investing. Making money in this volatile market was not an easy thing to do and Todd should be happy that Wallace is getting him a decent return. Now he wants to put some stipulations on how to invest and will probably be upset if he doesn’t make as much money.
“What do you know about investing like this?” Todd asked.
“I’ve studied it some, “replied Wallace hesitantly. “I’m not convinced it’s a good way to go.”
Somewhat surprised since he knew Wallace was a Christian, Todd pressed, “Tell me why, I’d like to know.”
“Probably my first concern is the financial loss you will experience, or at least the financial opportunity missed, by not investing in some very profitable companies, just because we don’t agree with everything they do.” This was always Wallace’s first comment when asked about BRI even though he didn’t know of any evidence to prove it was true. It simply makes sense; if you avoid certain types of companies then you will likely miss some good opportunities.
Todd was expecting this objection since he had done his homework prior to the meeting. “Just because a company avoids questionable activities doesn’t necessarily make it less profitable does it?” he asked.
“Not necessarily,” agreed Wallace, “But if we change our investment habits just to avoid some of these issues, we might take a hit on your returns and that would not be good stewardship either.” Keeping his investments separate from his religion seemed like a good policy to Wallace.
Sensing that Todd was not convinced, Wallace continued. “Besides, you know how difficult it is to determine exactly what companies are doing. A company that primarily makes dog food might have some secondary interests in tobacco or alcohol, or a computer company might hold ownership of a casino. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a completely responsible company in today’s world. Besides, I think this might just be a fad that will disappear in a short while. You know how investment fads come and go all the time.”
“This is more than a fad with me, I really think this is something I want to consider. I know it’s not easy,” Todd said, trying to keep his aggravation toward Wallace’s attitude from coming through his voice. “But it’s important enough to me that I want to give it a try. What do we need to do to get started?”
“Like I’ve always said, I work for you,” Wallace quickly chimed in once he realized Todd was committed to this new approach. “Give me a few days to get some information together and then we can meet and make some decisions.”
“Great!” said Todd. “I’m ready as soon as we can get started.”
They spoke a few more minutes, making plans to meet in exactly one week to formulate a plan. Todd was not totally pleased with the conversation but he was willing to give Wallace an opportunity. He had earned that much since he had been a good advisor for many years.
On the way out of the office, Todd spoke to Margaret, “I’ll see you next week.”
It was a short walk to the parking lot and just as he reached out with his left hand to open the car door, Todd’s phone rang. As he had done countless times before without having to think, Todd reached into his pocket, pushed the answer button as he lifted the phone to his ear and said, “Hello.”
“Todd, this is James,” and then a very brief pause. “How are you doing?”
Without even looking at the caller id, Todd recognized the voice as James Adams, his pastor and good friend. He and James had been friends for more than six years, since James first came to the church as pastor. They were about the same age, both shared an interest in old cars, occasional fishing trips, and their wives were good friends. Put all that together with James’ interest in Todd’s spiritual growth and a close friendship developed.
Todd had already spoken with James about his interest in BRI. It came up in a conversation after discussing James’ sermon on the parable of the talents. James knew a little about the subject. Obviously he did not have the money to invest like Todd, but he did keep a close eye on his retirement funds, which were managed by a Christian ministry that specialized in helping pastors.
“I’m good! Todd answered. “I’ll bet with this weather you are wanting to plan a fishing trip.”
“I would love to go fishing, but it’s not gonna happen today. Hey, I called your office and they said you didn’t have anything scheduled for lunch. I’ve got a proposition for you.”
Both men enjoyed having lunch together but they were both too busy to make it happen often. “I’ll tell you what, Todd responded, “name the place and I’ll buy. How’s that for a deal?”
“I knew you’d say that. Let me tell you what I have in mind. I’m having lunch with the man who handles my retirement account. After our conversation last week I thought you might want to meet him and pick his brain a little about responsible investing. What do you think?” asked James.
“That’s a great idea James, perfect timing. Tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”
By the time the arrangements were shared Todd was in his car and driving out of the parking lot. He knew Elise and Sarah would be having lunch together so he was not worried about checking in. He had just enough time to make a couple of quick stops along the way to the restaurant.
The plan was to meet at Bronson’s out on Westridge Parkway not far from the church. Although it was a new place it was rapidly becoming a favorite for James and several of their other friends from church. It was clean, the food was good, and the prices reasonable, all good reasons to chose a restaurant.
Traffic was light so Todd suspected he was a few minutes earlier than planned. He scanned the parking lot for James’ car as he walked toward the entrance.
Confirming with the hostess that he was the first one there, he requested a table in the corner, hoping to be a quiet enough place to allow conversation. By the time the waiter took his order for a glass of water, Todd spotted James walking toward the table.
He stood up, grasped his hand firmly and said, “Hey friend, I’m so glad you called.”
“I’m glad you could come,” replied James. “Let me introduce my friend.”
Pointing to a tall, slender man in a light tan sport coat, James said, “Todd, this is Michael McDonald, he is the financial advisor I told you about.”
Todd and Michael shook hands and exchanged customary greetings. Todd said, “Thanks for including me in this conversation.” Turning toward Michael he added, “James has probably told you about my interest in Biblically Responsible Investing.”
“Yes, I was excited to hear about you. I’ve been trying to get the word out for several years but it has been difficult. Anytime I find a potential convert I’m like a preacher meeting a first time visitor at church.”
All three men chuckled at the comment and the waiter arrived at the table at the same time to take drink orders and explain the menu. James and Todd knew what they wanted and Michael took their recommendation so there was no need to spend time studying the menu options. With the lunch order out of the way they could get about the business of discussion.
“What is the hardest thing about encouraging people into Biblically Responsible Investing?” posed Todd. “Why are Christians hesitant to take this approach?”
“I think the primary reason is that people don’t like change. The ones who should be most interested in this type of investing are probably the same ones who strive to be good stewards. Consequently, they are reluctant to do anything that doesn’t seem safe. They are making a little money by doing what everyone else is doing and most people equate that with being a good steward,” answered Michael.
“That’s exactly where I was until a few weeks ago,” chimed in Todd. “Elise and I were happy that we were making some money, we were giving our tithe to the church and trying to manage our money carefully. Then I started reading Jesus’ story of the talents. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that story lately, but it won’t let me go. We’re convicted that we’ve got to do more.”
About that time their lunch arrived. The waiter carefully arranged the table and made sure each of the men were satisfied. Talking stopped for a few minutes to allow everyone to sample the food and get started on the meal.
Todd was the first to get back on subject. “How hard is it to switch over to Biblically Responsible Investing?” he asked.
“It’s not hard at all, not any more difficult than changing any investment in your portfolio,” Michael responded. “All you need is a financial planner who is willing to help.”
“That might be my problem,” Todd said with a hint of dejection in his voice. “I just met with my guy this morning about making some changes and I’m not sure he’s on board. I don’t think he’s opposed to the idea… just not confident in what to do.”
Hoping to be reassuring, Michael said, “That’s not uncommon. It’s a new thing for a lot of financial planners. It’s not that they are unwilling. They just need some help to get started.”
“I think that’s probably the problem,” Todd replied. “He has always been very capable. What can I do to help?”
“I don’t want to butt in, but maybe I can help. If you will give me permission, I’ll call your guy and offer to help him get up to speed. There’s no need for you to change planners if he’s willing to make a little effort. In fact, it will make him a better planner for all his Christian investors.”
This sounded like a good plan to Todd. He made arrangements to have Wallace call Michael and hopefully they could all three get together to get things started. Todd felt much better about his potential for being a good steward. This whole thing was turning into a lot more work than Todd expected at the beginning, but it would be well worth it to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This story is an excerpt from the book “Profit or Principles”, by Dwight L. Short. Used by permission
Jeff Haanen, Executive Director for the Denver Institute for Faith & Work, recently met with the team from Eventide Funds to learn more about the organization. From that meeting a short video was filmed, and published to the DIFW website. Jeff has graciously shared that video with us, and we wanted to share it with you.
Here is the video
DIFW also created excerpts on specific topics, in case you can’t watch the full 5:23 video, and they’ve shared links to those with us as well. Watch and share with a friend.
Learn more about the Denver Institute for Faith & Work by visiting their website.
This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Green Money Journal
By John Siverling, The Christian Investment Forum
When the term Biblically Responsible Investing is uttered, a common perception forms in the minds of many investors about a politically conservative, narrowly focused approach to investing that targets a couple of socially charged issues. Sustainable investors often perceive a great divide between socially responsible investing and biblically responsible investing. Those perceptions fail to see the change underway in the BRI space, including with those that would consider themselves evangelical. BRI is experiencing a growth towards a holistic view of investing and faith, bringing into focus the ideas of positive screening and equity selection, shareholder advocacy, and targeted investments in communities– and not just the use negative screening. It focuses on excellence in how advisers and investment managers work, not condemning others. It is an effort to avoid the risk of those in the field becoming what author Larry Osborne describes as “Accidental Pharisees” in his book of the same name. This movement in biblically responsible investing, along with generational attitudinal trends, creates opportunities for those embracing these trends, and for those in the socially responsible investing field. Common goals can be accomplished by focusing on shared perspectives that remain a minority viewpoint on Wall Street. There is an opportunity of bridging a great divide.
History of Values Investing
It should not come as a surprise that the similarities between SRI and BRI are much greater than the differences. The concept of utilizing personal values in the decision making process for investing has existed for much longer than the current movements and the various terms that have been coined to formalize the process. Since personal values are usually developed based on a person’s faith, the integration of faith with investing is intertwined in our society whether we formalize it in our decision making process or not. The idea of Christian faith impacting wealth and the use of wealth goes back to the beginning of Christianity.
More practically, faith based investing began as a formalized practice over 200 years ago when used by the Quakers and Methodists. The first use of what we could call Biblically Responsible Investing was to restrict investing that supported human trafficking, which at the time was the legal slave trade. Methodist founder John Wesley is also credited with raising awareness and building credibility for socially responsible investing, most prominently in a sermon entitled “The Use of Money”. In it, he outlined some of the ideas that remain the basis for both Socially Responsible Investing and Biblically Responsible Investing. At that time, the focus was on excluding businesses with practices would harm others, and the avoidance of industries that were considered detrimental to society.
Over time the concept of social justice became part of the fabric of faith based investing, socially responsible investing became a more accepted term, and the movement began to shift away from the religious origins and toward a more secularized foundation, though this approach continues to retain many of the concepts that Christians and other people of faith would still support.
Over the last 20 years, a new variation of faith based investing has grown from an evangelical base. In part, this stemmed from the trend of SRI towards a less religious orientation, but it was also an example of meeting a market need. Some Evangelical Christians did not feel they had adequate investment options available through SRI, particularly with respect to some social screens that were viewed as a priority. In some cases, the very social perspectives that evangelical Christians sought to sought to reflect in their investments directly contradicted those that were priorities for many socially responsible investing approaches. These differences—though far fewer than many might expect—have formed a perceived “great divide” between BRI and SRI philosophies and proponents as values-driven investment options have exploded in number over the past decade.
Defining Faith Based Investing
The definition of Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI) used and promoted by the Christian Investment Forum (CIF) remains purposefully broad. While there are some examples of the term BRI being narrowly used for only a specific set of criteria for investing, the use of the term BRI by the Christian Investment Forum is broad and is interchangeable with other similar terms used by investors who incorporate Christian faith into the investing process. Those include Faith Integrated Investing, Morally Responsible Investing, Stewardship Investing, or Values Based Investing.
In this broader scope, Biblically Responsible Investing is a term used to describe an approach to investing assets in a way that is in alignment with the investor’s faith and biblical beliefs. The definition that CIF uses is as follows:
“Biblically Responsible Investing, or BRI, applies Christian values to investment decision making by incorporating moral and social principles into traditional financial analysis. BRI provides a platform for the faithful stewardship of God’s gifts on the basis of our shared Christian faith. BRI seeks to invest in and own companies that best represent those Christian values.” (Editor Note: this has been updated since original publication)
By defining BRI as an approach that seeks to align investments with the investor’s faith and biblical beliefs, BRI is by definition a personal process. While Christians share core foundational beliefs, it is also true that on many topics personal faith perspectives will lead Christians to differing opinions and, more importantly, differing priorities. This makes it difficult to place a simple label or definition on what BRI is and what it is not, or how it is applied into the investment decision making process. This diversity in how investors apply BRI is similar to what practitioners of SRI struggle with in defining their approach to investing.
The similarities between Faith Based Investing and Sustainable Investing are much greater than the differences. Both seek to incorporate additional factors into investment decisions beyond a purely quantitative financial assessment. Some on both sides believe this can provide superior performance, while others on both sides believe it is appropriate to address issues they believe are important in society regardless of the performance issue. The similarity becomes even more apparent if we use the description of SRI from USSIF: the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing but add one single key phrase (italicized bold to highlight).
“What unites these diverse investment approaches – and what ultimately distinguishes them from the broader universe of assets under management in the United States – is the explicit incorporation of environmental, community, societal or governance issues viewed from the Christian faith into investment decision-making, fund management or shareholder engagement activities. The specific ESG factors and the way they are used may differ widely from investor to investor, and tactical and technical considerations are often specific to an institution or fund manager. ”
It is reasonable to say that Faith Based Investing largely mirrors Sustainable Investing, except that the lens used to consider criteria such as environmental, social, corporate governance, and company industries is a lens of religious faith and the values that flow from that faith. That lens is key in understanding the purpose for which the investment is made, and in determining which values play a role in guiding investment selection.
An Evolving Professional Investment Process
Faith Based Investing and BRI has continued to evolve over the last 20 years, as more practitioners have formed firms and more investment options have become available. Most notable is the breadth of approaches to BRI. Each firm and fund manager develops an investing strategy that aligns with their faith and values, but that is also based on the core principles of professional investment management. Social issues that have become polarizing do remain a part of the criteria for some, but just as many funds also prioritize shareholder governance issues, inclusionary screening, or best-in-class selection parameters. Some examples: Praxis Mutual Funds, from the Mennonite Church, is an active participant in Green Bonds through the Praxis Intermediate Income Fund (MIIAX) , and a vocal advocate for the environmentally-focused faith value of “Creation Care”. Epiphany Funds comes from a Catholic perspective. Epiphany offers some specialty funds, such as a Latin America Fund, and takes an active role reviewing proxy materials internally and voting based on their faith values. Eventide Funds doesn’t fall under one particular denominational label, but instead blends evangelical and mainline faith values. Eventide has developed a concept known as Business360, which uses many of the themes familiar with socially responsible investing and re-aligns it with the positive religious convictions that were a foundation of SRI. Business360 is a framework that uses inclusionary screens, exclusionary screens, as well as other governance data points to value a company on more than the short-term bottom line profits.
15 years ago there were no more than 5 mutual funds that described themselves as BRI focused. Today, there are at least 100 different mutual funds across 28 different categories that explicitly incorporate Christian faith values as one part of their investment process. The performance of these funds, based on ratings from firms such as Morningstar, follow a similar distribution curve as the full universe of investment options, and closely align with the performance of Sustainable Investing funds. With the number of funds and fund managers across sectors, there are also investment management firms (Aris Corporation & Camelot Portfolios, for example) that research and create diversified portfolios of BRI funds for clients through separately-managed accounts.
Becoming Friends in Mission
The reality in the financial industry is that the common goals of both BRI and SRI remain a minority view on Wall Street, as well as with many institutional investors and advisors. One of the common goals of both approaches is to establish the credibility of incorporating ESG factors into stock selection and outperformance, whether those factors are included based on faith values or secular social ideals.
For an agnostic investor, investing in GuideStone Extended-Duration Bond Fund (GEDZX), Eventide Healthcare & Life Sciences Fund (ETNHX), or other BRI funds can be just as impactful to their social goals as any other SRI fund, and deliver outstanding financial performance in the process.
For an evangelical investor, investing in funds such as Calvert Global Alternative Energy Fund (CGAEX) or Pax EllevateGlobal Women’s Index Fund (PXWIX), among others, can diversify a portfolio while not necessarily violating their own faith convictions.
In his book, Uncommon Decency, Richard Mouw describes what is needed if we are to focus on common goals between SRI and BRI. He writes, “…one of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions often lack civility….We need to find a way of combining a civil outlook with a ‘passionate intensity’ about our convictions. The real challenge is to come up with a convicted civility.” Through convicted civility perhaps we can remain friends in mission.
There increasingly is no great divide between BRI and SRI. There are differences, to be sure, in some values, convictions and priorities. The reasons for investment decisions may be different. The real divide, however, is with those that don’t take any values or convictions into account when investing and instead seek only to maximize value regardless of the harm that may be caused. Not only is that short-sighted, but research is finally proving that maxim is faulty as well.
John Siverling is the executive director of the Christian Investment Forum [link: www.christianinvestmentforum.org], whose goal is to build awareness and credibility for faith based investing within the broader financial investment industry. In addition he is also a co-founder and President of Sentiens, LLC, an early stage healthcare technology company and a Managing Partner in JAS Ventures, LLC, a consulting firm focused on helping companies develop and execute faith integrated business practices
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