Ethical Investments: Where do we stand?

Hayley Millhouse - Managing Director, OpenMoney Adviser Services

November 11, 2019

You may have heard the media or popular social media influencers discussing terms such as ethical investments, ESG (Environment and Social Governance) portfolios or SRIs (Socially Responsible Investments). They differ very slightly in the areas that they cover, however a running theme throughout them is the premise of using your money to invest in industries that are not damaging to the environment or members of society. Naturally the growing popularity of this type of investment has brought questions to the surface regarding the products that we offer and the impact that these are having on the planet. Ethical portfolios are not currently something that we actively promote or provide for our customers, so let’s take a look at why.

On trend investing

The world of investing is slowly becoming more accessible and therefore possibly less daunting for the masses. Conversations about money are beginning to take place on platforms that were once reserved for aspirational lifestyle content as well as within mainstream press. Breaking down the barriers surrounding the topic of money and how we choose to manage it is a huge step forward, so we are glad that our customers are interested in progressing with their portfolios.

According to the 2018 Ethical Consumer Markets Report, the UK spends roughly 80 billion pounds on ethical goods (green energy, fashion, ethical food choices) every year[1]. This is no surprise given the spotlight that has been shone on our ethical conscience throughout traditional, digital and social media. With this move towards a more sustainable and responsible way of life, we are seeing an increase in customers wishing to invest in a more ethical manner.

Our stance on ethical investment portfolios

Hannah Cole, our Support Team Lead & Financial Adviser is often first on hand to look after queries such as this from our customers.

“We are often asked to look into ways that our customers can make their portfolios more ethical such as avoiding certain industries (American tobacco, Oil and Gas etc), or even how they can withdraw their money altogether to place it into an ethical portfolio...

... At OpenMoney and our investment site, evestor, we operate by offering model investment portfolios comprised of Mutual Index Funds as opposed to Exchange Traded Funds which is where you will mostly find ethical portfolios. The mutual funds that we use, aim to track specific market indexes such as the FTSE All Share and the S&P 500.”

This means that the only way our portfolios will exclude companies deemed to be unethical is if they are removed completely from the indices. As we don’t actively manage our own funds, we don’t pick the individual companies that they are made up of. Instead, we favour a passive investment approach, which you can read more about on our Jargon Buster page.

What are the ethical boundaries?

As well as being a functional decision, it is also worth taking a look at how far other providers go in terms of being ethical and are we really a lesser option because of our seemingly limited products? When looking to invest, it’s common to be averse to harsher industries that could have a negative reputation such as weaponry, alcohol, gambling etc and support a more sustainable, environmentally friendly portfolio.

However, Hannah raises a strong point in that we need to look at where the boundaries lie. “Where do we draw the line? There are respected companies that we know of, who boldly offer ethical investment opportunities despite having faced fines due to various misdemeanors.” Would investors be happy to invest in an ethical fund, but with a provider who has a somewhat tarnished track record?

Moving forwards

Our current opinion on how we operate within the realms of the ethics is not set in stone. We are constantly researching ways in which we can keep up with political and cultural climates at the same time as maintaining our extremely competitive costs and levels of service. However, if we are going to involve ourselves in the world of ethical investments, it needs to be for the right reasons rather than as a reaction to the media. If we cannot offer a justified rate of costs and returns, then we would be doing our valued customers a disservice which is not an option for us. As the market develops over time, ethical investment is of course something we would like to incorporate within our proposition, and our Investment Committee continue to assess the benefits and risks involved for those choosing to invest with us. As these conversations progress, we will keep our customers updated with developments.

[1] UK Ethical Consumer Markets Report

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