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Shareholder Values

"64% of those polled were interested in investing, or
investing more money, in SRI fund options; and 22%
said they were very interested."
    November 2014

"92% of Canadians say that it's important to choose investments that are aligned with their values. By contrast, only 14% of advisors raised the topic of RI [responsible investing] with their clients."
Deb Abbey referring
    to 2014 NEI study
(Canada) April 2015

"78 per cent of UK investors are more likely to invest in a company with ethical practices, and 64 per cent are planning to invest in ethical funds in the next few years."
TD Direct Investing
(UK) October 2014




Global Ethical Investing News & Commentary



Commentaries by Ron Robins  E-mail us your feedback

Links may only be valid for a limited time    April 24, 2015

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Research Documents Positive Link Between Corporate Human Resources Policies & Investment Outcomes. "Of the many studies of human capital policies, the new paper examines 92 that focus on the links to corporate financial performance. The authors find that a large majority of the studies - conducted over several decades and encompassing dozens of countries and industries - reported positive correlations...

However, investors face significant challenges in attempting to incorporate human capital metrics into investment analyses. For example, there are no standard metrics or definitions and there is no clear consensus about which HR policies in what combinations have the most impact on financial outcomes."

[COMMENTARY] Intuitively, we know that properly managed human resources and their development are significant to a company's progress. This report is the first to correlate human resources policies to investment outcomes. What this report could do is to encourage investors/fund managers to ask companies for much more detail about their human resource policies, training etc., to try to understand the potential links between good and bad human resource policies with respect to corporate financial performance.

The report also opens-up a new field of academic enquiry into these linkages.
Research Documents Positive Link Between Corporate Human Resources Policies & Investment Outcomes, press release, April 23, 2015, Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute & Harvard Law Labor & Worklife Program, USA.

Canada’s greenest employers help the Earth – and their bottom lines. "As environmental leaders, they’ve put their strategy into action through multiple initiatives, both formal and informal, both corporate and employee-led. For many organizations, building sustainability isn’t a trendy thing to do, but has evolved to become a part of how they operate, notes Richard Yerema, managing editor of Mediacorp Canada."

[COMMENTARY] We know that corporate sustainability has a long way to go, so it's good that attention -- and awards -- is creating a competitive atmosphere to encourage it while raising its profile corporately. Many of the initiatives cited could clearly demonstrate a corporate financial benefit. It would have been great if such benefits could've been ascertained and made public.
Canada’s greenest employers help the Earth – and their bottom lines, by Diane Jermyn, April 22, 2015, The Globe and Mail, Canada.

Malaysia and Saudi facing Iran’s rising finance power -- Iran's entire banking system is Shariah-compliant with $482bn (2014) in assets, the largest in the world by far. "[Iran's Shariah compliant banking assets are] almost a quarter of total global Islamic finance assets, more than Malaysia’s, Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s Islamic assets combined."

[COMMENTARY] Should an agreement transpire between the Iran and the rest of the world concerning it's nuclear programme and Iran re-enter the global finance industry, it'll have an enormous influence in global Islamic finance. It might also influence global banking, generally. This is one area that ethical investors will want to particularly watch.
Malaysia and Saudi facing Iran’s rising finance power, by Arno Maierbrugger, April 22, 2015, Gulf Times, Qatar.

Meet the Best for the World (of Certified B Corporations) Overall Honorees for 2015. "The Best for the World Honorees are recognized for creating the most positive social and environmental impact. These companies have earned an overall score in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations on the B Impact Assessment, a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of a company's impact on its workers, community, and the environment."

[COMMENTARY] This is a fascinating list to review when considering the first major B corp. listing on the NASDAQ last week, that of Etsy, an online and offline marketplaces to buy and sell handmade items, vintage goods, and craft supplies.
Best for the World Overall Honorees for 2015, April 21, 2015, B Lab, USA.

The World's Most Reputable Companies In 2015. "The Global RepTrak list stands out from other corporate lists... because it aims to quantify the way companies are perceived by consumers... rather than looking at how companies manage their internal affairs... According to RI’s data, 83% of consumers say they would definitely buy products sold by companies with top reputations while only 9% want to buy from companies with poor reputations... Google scores No. 2 on the list, just behind BMW and above Daimler."

[COMMENTARY] The Forbes article covering the Global RepTrack 100 list is highly informative. It refers to Google's problems with anti-competition regulators in Europe and why they're having zero effect on its reputation and that no oil and gas producers are on the list as they're perceived as being polluting and unethical!
The World's Most Reputable Companies In 2015, by Susan Adams, April 21, 2015, Forbes, USA.

Why Gender Matters to Investors. "A 2014 Credit Suisse study of 3,000 companies assessing the level of women in senior management found that more diversity in management coincides with better corporate performance and higher stock-market valuations."

[COMMENTARY] The writer also cites several other studies that include those by Thomsen Reuters and McKinsey, which all find that women on boards leads to greater financial performance and increased stock values! With results like this it behoves ethical investors to consider gender/diversity screening in stock evaluations if they do not already do so.
Why Gender Matters to Investors, by Joseph F. Keefe and Sallie L. Krawcheck, April 21, 2015. (This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Green Money Journal on “Women and Investing”), TriplePundit, USA.

Fossil-Free Portfolios Outperform Those With Coal, Gas, Oil. "MSCI Inc. calculates that portfolios without coal, gas and oil earned 1.2 percent more since 2010. Average fossil-free returns have been 13 percent a year, as opposed to 11.8 percent for conventional investors, reports The Guardian. Sure, during this period the price of oil tanked, driving down shares of companies, but fossil-free indexes outperformed before this happened, said MSCI. And the volatility of oil shares is another reason to get out of these stocks."

[COMMENTARY] These results should be a wake-up call to all those fund managers who say their returns will suffer going fossil fuel-free. With such data and today's oil and gas prices -- plus renewables becoming increasingly competitive -- we might finally be witnessing the beginning of the relative decline of the entire fossil fuel industry. Many ethical investors have longed for this moment.
Fossil-Free Portfolios Outperform Those With Coal, Gas, Oil, April 13, 2015, News, USA.

The Type of Socially Responsible Investments That Make Firms More Profitable, Harvard Business Review. "We find that firms making investments and improving their performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues exhibit better stock market performance and profitability in the future...

However, not all such initiatives are equally beneficial. My research, with Mozaffar Khan and Aaron Yoon, suggests companies should stick to social and environmental issues that are strategically important for their business if they want such efforts to contribute to the valuation."

[COMMENTARY] The points made in this article are important for both company managers and investors. The article is written by one of the most well respected researchers in this field.
The Type of Socially Responsible Investments That Make Firms More Profitable, by George Serafeim, April 14, 2015, Harvard Business Review, USA.

Clean Energy Investment Dips 15% In First Quarter As Large Wind And Solar Projects Stall. "About $50.5 billion was invested in the first three months of this year, compared to $59.3 billion a year earlier, the London research firm said. The last period to show weaker investment was the first quarter of 2013, when clean energy spending totaled $43.1 billion.

Even so, last quarter’s results should resolve investors’ questions over whether low oil prices, down 50 percent from last year, would harm global interest in wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy projects. 'These figures indicate the answer is not so much,' Michael Liebreich, chairman of BNEF’s advisory board, said in a statement."

[COMMENTARY] There's no-doubt that cheap oil will have some effect on renewable energy development. However, at the utility level, renewables are becoming cost competitive with gas or nuclear. Also -- as most of us expect -- fossil fuel production will be increasingly curbed by governments due to the dictates of climate change.
Clean Energy Investment Dips 15% In First Quarter As Large Wind And Solar Projects Stall, by Maria Gallucci, April 10, 2015, International Business Times, USA.

2015 Proxy Preview of 433 resolutions. "Corporate political activity of all sorts and environmental matters—predominantly climate change—continue to vie for top billing with 26 percent and 27 percent of the total, respectively; increasingly these are linked by investors who seek corporate action to bypass some of the vitriol that stymies government solutions. All told, environmental and sustainable governance resolutions combined represent 39 percent of the total so far, as in 2014, while political activity accounts for just over one-quarter of the total—down 4 percentage points from last year’s mid-February share."

[COMMENTARY] The survey is a compilation of three data sources: As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), and Proxy Impact. As many ethical investors take a keen interest in proxy voting, so I'm providing a link to this survey here.

Sweden tops in the EU in ESG ranking (for government bonds). "Bond investors looking to remain true to their environmental, social and governance principles have a new tool: a ranking of European Union member countries. The study, 'EU Member States under the Spotlight,' ranked the 28 countries based on 67 human rights and 17 environmental indicators, including gender equality, labor rights, freedom of expression, and protection of the environment."

[COMMENTARY] Such rankings for government bonds are becoming more common. Incidentally, though not directly ranking countries' bonds, EIRIS Country Sustainability Ratings and RobecoSAM's Country Sustainability Ranking both offer useful insights for judging government issued bonds on ESG issues.
Sweden tops in the EU in ESG ranking, by Sophie Baker, April 6, 2015, Pension&Investments, USA.

Japan's 137 trillion yen ($1.1 trillion) GPIF may consider ESG factors in stock investments. "In a mid-term plan announced on Thursday, GPIF said it would consider taking account of 'environmental, social and governance' (ESG) factors in equity-investment decisions, while pursuing profits."

[COMMENTARY] When the world's largest pension fund says it's considering integrating ESG factors into its stock selection process, we know that ESG has truly arrived! This fund -- which traditionally mostly invested in Japanese government bonds -- is now gearing up to be heavily invested in stocks. Should they go ahead with the ESG focus, it could further promote outperformance for global stocks with high ESG ratings.
Japan's GPIF may consider governance in stock investments, by Takashi Umekawa, April 2, 2015, Reuters, Japan.

The moral maze: How poor company ethics can cost investors. "The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors’ study shows that while 91 per cent of the FTSE100 refer in their annual reports to their high standards of business ethics and integrity, only 8 per cent provided a specific metric of their company’s ethical performance."

[COMMENTARY] Most firms are good at touting their ethical codes and standards, but in reality quite a few don't live up to them. Furthermore, though the public, regulators, and politicians cry out for improved corporate ethics, evidence suggests that these groups are equally guilty of unethical conduct.

The problem of poor ethics in companies simply reflects the level of ethics in the population generally. Also, studies demonstrate that the richer one is the more likely one is to engage in unethical behaviour. The investment industry is populated with high net worth individuals so it is no accident that there might also be a higher incidence of unethical activities in the industry.

Some of you might be interested to read, How Ethics Benefits Corporate Profits.
The moral maze: How poor company ethics can cost investors, by Joanne Frearson, March 17, 2015, Business Reporter, UK.

Boards Lack Social and Environmental Risk Governance, says expert Dr Raj Aseervatham. "Many boards are heavily populated by experts in finance and law as well as industry experts, and thinly populated with other expertise.. the prevalence of social and environmental skills on boards today is miniscule."

[COMMENTARY] This is another important article. It explores the state of corporate boards today and how they must change to adequately deal with the rising importance of ESG in their companies today.
Boards Lack Social and Environmental Risk Governance, by Dr Raj Aseervatham, March 30, 2015, TriplePundit, USA.

2015 SHARE Model Proxy Voting Guidelines for institutional investors. "These guidelines have been developed by SHARE as a model for use by Canadian pension funds. The guidelines are written in the first person—“[the fund]”—to make them similar to guidelines that would be adopted by a board of trustees."

[COMMENTARY] All voting investors might want to look at these guidelines. They're informative on numerous issues of concern to every stockholder.
2015 SHARE Model Proxy Voting Guidelines, SHARE, March 2015, Canada.

At U.S. Companies, Time to Coax the Directors Into Talking. "Directors at European companies routinely make themselves available for investor discussions; in some countries, such meetings are required. Many directors of foreign companies even — gasp — give shareholders their private email addresses and phone numbers.

Their counterparts in the United States seem fearful of such contact. Large shareholders say that some directors of American companies refuse to meet at all, preferring to let company officials speak for them."

[COMMENTARY] Not mentioned in this article is that American corporate directors might fear litigation or sanctioning should they disclose corporate information that might not be public. Nonetheless, European companies and their legal system promoting director-investor communication is a good thing. However, I do wonder if with such improved communications, directors might sometimes disclose to 'special' investors information that might not always be public!
At U.S. Companies, Time to Coax the Directors Into Talking, by Gretchen Morgenson, March 28, 2015, The New York Times, USA.

87% of UK financial advisers asked about ethical investment by clients. "The number of financial advisers who are asked about sustainable, responsible, ethical investment has risen to 87% in 2014 from 73% in 2012. 22% expect their clients to require more advice about ethical investments this year than last. After a slip dip in 2013, the percentage of a financial adviser’s clients asking for sustainable investment has also grown from one in seven (15%) to just under one in five (19%)."

[COMMENTARY] These numbers are clearly positive for ethical investing! However, as just 200 financial advisors responded to the survey there might be a question of its statistical validity. It would be great to see such survey's in the USA and Canada.
87% of financial advisers asked about ethical investment, by Simon Leadbetter, March 27, 2015, Blue & Green Tomorrow, UK.

New Morgan Stanley Report Challenges Misperceptions Regarding Sustainable Investing and Performance. "Although some investors may believe sustainable investing requires a financial sacrifice, a new report from the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing finds that investing in sustainability has usually met and often exceeded the performance of comparable traditional investments, both on an absolute and risk-adjusted basis, across asset classes and over time."

[COMMENTARY] Morgan Stanley's study clearly shows that most investors favour companies that seriously implement sustainability and ESG strategies into their operations. Thus, stock prices for these companies often outperform the general market.
New Morgan Stanley Report Challenges Misperceptions Regarding Sustainable Investing and Performance, press release, March 24, 2015, Morgan Stanley, USA.

Most institutional investors say ESG criteria raise risk-adjusted returns. "Mercer’s March survey into ESG attitudes shows that 57 percent of respondents believe ESG policies boost risk-adjusted returns while 34 percent say they lower their returns and 9 percent say they have no effect. About 20 percent see ESG issues as ‘very important’ to their stakeholders while 49 percent say they are ‘somewhat’ important."

[COMMENTARY] Mercer's survey results demonstrate that use of ESG criteria in the investment industry has become mainstream. Its taken a long time, but finally we can say it has happened. Ethical investors can be proud of having brought their values to the forefront of the investing world. It's encouraging news too in that companies will need to increasingly focus on continually improving their ESG performance to satisfy analysts, stockholders and other stakeholders.

However, as everyone knows, a further intensification of ESG efforts by companies is required if we're to successfully cope with climate change.
Most institutional investors say ESG criteria raise risk-adjusted returns, by Adam Brown, March 23, 2015, IRMagazine, UK/USA.

State of Green Business Report 2015, by GreenBiz/Trucost. "During 2013 alone, the largest 500 companies in the United States had a natural capital cost equal to 6.2 percent of the national GDP. If businesses had to pay these environmental damage costs, it would more than wipe out their profits." [Underlining added.]

"There was a sharp increase in the number of companies who have committed to natural capital initiatives... U.S. companies emitted 16 percent less GHGs per dollar of revenue in 2013 than they did in 2009... The use of electricity from renewable sources by major corporations, expressed as a percentage of overall energy use, continues to grow year on year."

[COMMENTARY] This report by GreenBiz/Trucost is exemplary. Business is becoming more sustainable but the pace to full sustainability is still too slow. And if businesses had to include all their natural capital costs profits would be wiped-out! Thus, at some point -- if the data contained in this and other similar reports are to be believed and corporate actions for sustainability are not greatly increased -- our consumption-oriented economies will endure major dislocations.

It's a good time for ethical investors to review their holdings in the light of this reports' findings.
State of Green Business Report 2015 (for download of report, pdf format), March 18, 2015, GreenBiz/Trucost, USA/UK.

Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality (Harvard Business School study.) "We find that firms with good performance on material sustainability issues significantly outperform firms with poor performance on these issues, suggesting that investments in sustainability issues are shareholder-value enhancing.

Further, firms with good performance on sustainability issues not classified as material do not underperform firms with poor performance on these same issues, suggesting investments in sustainability issues are at a minimum not value-destroying.

Finally, firms with good performance on material issues and concurrently poor performance on immaterial issues perform the best."

[COMMENTARY] The results of Harvard's study are significant! They should further encourage corporate management and investors alike on the importance of companies' demonstrating good performance on sustainability issues. We're entering a new era where ESG and sustainability are becoming a core focus of corporate management and investors.
Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality, by Mozaffar Khan, George Serafeim, and Aaron Yoon, March 2015, all at Harvard Business School, USA.

Shareholders set to file record number of ESG-related proposals in 2015. "Shareholders had filed 433 resolutions related to ESG issues by the middle of February, compared with 417 in the same period last year, As You Sow says in its annual Proxy Preview report. The number represents a record for that time of year and the organization says the proxy season is on track to meet an overall annual record."

[COMMENTARY] With the appreciation of ESG factors becoming increasingly mainstream in the financial community, the likelihood for success of ESG related shareholder ESG resolutions is growing. This is good news for ethical investors everywhere.
Shareholders set to file record number of ESG-related proposals in 2015, by Adam Brown, IR Magazine, UK/USA.

IMF to Co-host Ethics in Finance Robin Cosgrove Prize Award Ceremony. "The International Monetary Fund will co-host the award ceremony for the 5th edition of the global Ethics in Finance Robin Cosgrove Prize. The Ceremony will take place at the IMF headquarters in Washington, USA, at a special event on the 21st September 2015. Ms. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund will congratulate the Prize laureates."

"The global Prize aims to promote greater awareness of the importance of ethics in finance among young people with an interest in accountancy, banking and financial services... The global financial crisis has since shown the relevance of the theme and the significance of the Prize. The Prize for Innovative Ideas for Ethics in Finance is open to young people, aged 35 years or younger, from throughout the world."

[COMMENTARY] This is a very worthy endeavour and I encourage those under 35 with an interest in this subject to submit their ideas! The fact that Christine Lagarde, IMF's Managing Director is involved, demonstrates the importance of what the prize is attempting to do. For entering the competition or information on the prize, go to: Ethics in Finance Robin Cosgrove Prize.

Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments. "The new warning from one of the world’s key central banks follows a caution from its head Mark Carney that the 'vast majority of [fossil fuel] reserves are unburnable' if climate change is to be limited to 2C, as pledged by the world’s governments. The bank will deliver a report to government on the financial risk posed by a 'carbon bubble' later in 2015."

[COMMENTARY] Could the US Fed ever issue such a warning? Most unlikely. The powerful US oil lobby wouldn't allow it. Though 'oilmen' don't elect the Fed governors -- many of those banks are massively tied to oil interests. So, bravo to the Bank of England for calling a spade a spade!

One of the biggest political issues in coming years will be whether the public clamour for stricter environmental regulations (ask any youngster how they feel on that subject) will succeed against the backdrop of huge financial losses in insurance, pension, and other portfolios.

If shareholder proposals to re-orient fossil fuel companies to renewable fuels are successful, some of the eventual losses on fossil fuel assets could be mitigated. However, ethical funds and managers who own fossil fuel investments so that they might engage with those companies will need to be nimble so they aren't caught on the wrong side with those investments when the hammer of regulation comes down.
Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments, by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, March 3, 2015, UK.

Ethisphere Announces the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Companies. "The Ethisphere Institute, the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices, today announced the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Companies®. The latest list includes 132 companies representing more than 50 industries spanning 21 countries and five continents."

[COMMENTARY] This is always a good list to peruse. Ethical investors might want to review their scoring and methodology. No one methodology captures everything, but Ethisphere's is pretty good.
Ethisphere Announces the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Companies, press release by BusinessWire, March 9, 2015, CNBC, USA.

Canadian Mining Company Social Star in Cambodia. "For the Canadian mining and exploration company operating in Eastern Cambodia, corporate social responsibility (CSR) comes before the first hole is drilled in the ground—and not just in the corporate presentation."

[COMMENTARY] Mining companies have a terrible image when it comes to operating in the developing world. However, it's great to see that some mining companies are doing it right. Many ethical investors will never invest in mining companies. I can understand this. However, they might want to ask themselves where the steel will come from to satisfy China's need for 20 million new cars each year. Recycling will only go so far.

Incidentally, MacCormick IMC, a Vancouver company, in 2013 published a social responsibility index of junior mining companies (generally gold and silver producers) listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. (Of course most of the big miners are already covered by the various SRI rating's groups.)
Canadian Mining Company Social Star in Cambodia, by Valentin Schmid, March 6, 2015, Epoch Times, USA.

Global impact assets expected to hit $12.7 billion for 2014. "Global impact investing — investments designed to generate a social or environmental impact as well as often targeting a competitive investment return — were expected to grow to $12.7 billion last year, up 20% from the previous year, according to a report released Thursday by Global Impact Investing Network."

[COMMENTARY] Impact investing is a wonderful marriage of promoting the social good while those investors providing the funds for such activities receive, potentially, decent returns. This is an area that many of the largest foundations on earth are targeting. Among them are -- from this article -- "the $32.4 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $10.2 billion Ford Foundation, $4 billion Rockefeller Foundation, TIAA-CREF, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley (MS) and UBS."
Global impact assets expected to hit $12.7 billion for 2014, by Barry B. Burr, March 5, 2015, Pensions & Investments, USA.

Islamic Finance: Scholar Ethics Rule Pushed Globally by Malaysia. "Malaysia is pushing for its one-year old rules overseeing Islamic scholars to be implemented globally in a push for more rigid governance... Islamic finance institutions require rulings from scholars, known as fatwa, before they can sell securities or funds in an industry that Ernst & Young LLP projects will double to $3.4 trillion in assets by 2018. Ensuring that consistent standards are adopted would require coordination between the key markets of Asia and the Middle East along with effective sanctions to ensure compliance."

[COMMENTARY] This is a huge issue as Islamic finance makes big strides in western capital markets. For many western bankers and fund managers, the scholars who must give their determination as to whether a particular investment, fund, etc., meets Islamic-shariah standards, is concerning. Some western interests have purportedly linked a few of these scholars to radical Islamic groups. Having a universal ethics and professional standards code will help alleviate such concerns and assist in the development of Islamic finance globally.
Scholar Ethics Rule Pushed Globally by Malaysia: Islamic Finance, by Y-Sing Liau, March 2, 2015, Bloomberg, Malaysia.

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