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'I own what?'
Thinking about where your investments truly lie
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Have you ever thought about what types of companies you own in your investment portfolio?

One of the most important questions I ask people when meeting with them for the first time is, “What is it that you want to accomplish with this money?” I get many different responses. Some say that they want to save for a new car or a new home. Some say that they want to invest so that they can fund their children’s education. Some want to put money away for retirement. Many are nearing retirement and want to make sure that they do not outlive their income.

There are many different reasons to save and invest. I’m sure that you have your own. In addition, I often get the response, “I want to earn as much money as possible.” And I’m sure that’s true, but there is more to investing than just bottom line returns. Any good financial advisor will also ask how much risk you are comfortable taking. One question, however, that is often overlooked in the financial services industry is, “Is it important that your investments line up with your values?”

I have found that when clients or potential clients are asked this question, many of them will agree that their values should help determine what they choose to invest in (as well as what they choose not to invest in). So, if you have decided that your main goal is to “earn as much money as possible” I’d be willing to bet that a little more thought on this subject may bring you to a different conclusion.

If you wanted to earn as much money as possible with no regard to risk and no regard for your values then you would consider working for the Mafia. But I don’t work for the Mafia and you probably don’t either (If you do this article may not be relevant to you. For everyone else, please read on).

Why, then, do we invest our money with no regard to what we are investing in? I can tell you why I used to. Some of the most popular investment vehicles today are mutual funds. Mutual funds are investments that comprise many different underlying securities including stocks, bonds, real estate investment trusts (REITs), government notes and bills–and the list goes on. Each mutual fund owns many different securities. And many different securities equates to diversification. This instant diversification is one of the main reasons that they are so popular.

However, almost all mutual funds are managed with one or a combination of these three objectives: to achieve growth, to preserve capital, or to provide income. And we, as consumers, pick which of these three is most important to us. Younger people and more experienced investors may choose growth, while retirees will often lean more toward preserving capital and providing income.

Regardless of whether you invest in mutual funds or individual stocks and bonds, the options that many people get from their advisors are the same ones I just mentioned. Investors are given the options and trained to believe (and we often believe in our own hearts) that the best and most responsible thing to do is to pick the option that fits us and then try to earn as much as possible. So that is what most investors do. That is what I did until someone pointed out to me that I owned mutual funds that had all kinds of immoral companies in them.

The problem is that there are very few brokerage firms, registered investment advisors, or mutual fund companies that have gone beyond those three options and added number four: to have morally responsible investments. But there are some companies that do just that.

So, for those of you that have not decided to join the Mafia, maybe now would be a good time to ask your financial advisor, “What do I own?” and, “Does it agree with my values?”

Jeff Hupman is a financial advisor with Christian Values Investing.