By Ron Robins
The investor has many reasons for being unfulfilled. Among them are two years of down stock markets in Canada, and three years in the U.S. In addition, there was the disconcerting behaviour of analysts such as Henry Blodget of Merrill Lynch, and the discouraging activities of executives at Enron, WorldCom, and other companies. Given this environment, how can the unfulfilled investor be helped?
One way of helping the unfulfilled investor is for investment advisors and professionals to consider the relevance of their clients’ spiritual and religious values to their portfolios. An important investor survey points in this direction.
In 2001, the Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA) and MMA Praxis Mutual Funds in the U.S. completed the most comprehensive study ever on investors applying spiritual, religious and ethical values to their investments. They found that:
- 79 per cent of all investors described themselves as spiritual or religious
- Over 60 per cent of those describing themselves as religious say that they try, or would like to try, to incorporate their faith values into decisions about money
The MMA Praxis survey results are not a surprise considering the public’s overall desire for spiritual and religious development. A Gallup Poll reported in January 2003 that ’most Americans yearn for spiritual growth. A large majority (69 per cent) of respondents said they completely or to a considerable extent feel the need to experience spiritual growth in their daily lives. Closely paralleling this is the finding that 68 per cent of respondents said they are ’spiritually committed’.”
Similarly, in Canada, a Pollara Poll in 2000 found that religion was important to more than 75 per cent of Canadians. Interestingly, three times as many respondents said religion and spirituality was growing in importance in their lives (24 per cent) compared to those who said it was of decreasing importance in their lives (8 per cent).
So perhaps it is possible that many unfulfilled investors could gain some additional satisfaction from their portfolios by making investments that are more in harmony with their spiritual or religious values. One group of SRI funds whose investment screens not only accommodate those of the ethical investor, but may also match the particular values of most religious or spiritual investors, is Meritas Mutual Funds.
Meritas, which began selling funds in April, 2001, is a joint venture of the Mennonite Savings and Credit Union (Ontario) Limited, the Mennonite Foundation of Canada and MMA (a sponsor of the above MMA Praxis survey). Their slogan is indicative of their faith background: ’Helping people join beliefs with deeds using the tools of socially responsible investing.’
Gary Hawton, chief executive officer of Meritas, says that early in their formation it was clear that the founders wanted to “tighten-up some of the screens and to add some additional screens that weren’t currently available in the Canadian market. These include screens related to the alcohol, gambling and pornographic industries.” Obviously, such screens are often important to the religious or spiritual investor.
These screens are appealing to many unfulfilled investors (spiritual or not), as the sales growth of Meritas funds demonstrates. For the year ended February 28, 2003, Meritas Funds were 53rd in net assets of all mutual funds, but 22nd in net sales for the previous year. Total assets are now $34 million.
Even in these difficult times, investment advisors that understand the needs of the spiritual or religious investor may be able to provide some additional fulfillment to the unfulfilled investor.
Ron Robins, MBA, has a background in private securities sales, securities analysis, and in spiritual development. He is writing a book, Investing for the Soul — Investing for Superior Profits AND Spiritual Fulfillment, in response to investors asking him about how to incorporate their spiritual and religious values in investing decisions.
June 5, 2003