Ethical Investment Comes of Age ….finally
This article by Robert Rosen, written about 20 years ago, describes early initiatives in the ethical investment industry.
IN 1986 Simply Living magazine ran an article on ethical investment which elicited more letters from readers than any other article since the magazine had started.
Following the article, the then-editor of Simply Living, Verna Simpson, and Geoff Young (then secretary of the Earthbank Society) appeared on Ray Martin’s Midday Show and talked about ethical investment.
As a result, Simply Living received 500 more letters asking for information about this new form of investment.
The Earthbank Society’s (a brainchild of Bill Mollison from the Permaculture Institute) experience over many years has been similar to that of Simply Living. That is: a lot of people out there want to know more about ethical investment. Recently, market research done by Community Aid Abroad and a major banking organisation has reaffirmed this high level of public interest.
Investment still at low level
The level of ethical investment in Australia is, however, tiny compared with the overall level of investment in Australia, with an estimated $14 million in ethical insurance and superannuation products, $7 million in ethical unit trusts and about $10 million in a range of community based ethical Credit Unions and other localised funds. Church investment funds with often very weak or vague ethical investment criteria applied could be estimated at a further $300 million plus.
One of the main reasons that ethical investment has not been particularly successful in Australia is because the investment industry’s response to ethical investment has been generally somewhere between icy cold and luke warm. Growing environmental concerns has meant an ever-increasing interest in ethical investment but major investment house IPAC continues to claim that they have never had a client even express an interest in ethical investment.
Money Matters is born
Early in 1989 Edwin Macpherson, an experienced investment consultant, contacted Robert Rosen, Secretary of the Earthbank Society, about what could be done to help ethical investment really get off the ground in Australia.
The strategy they decided on was to set up a major Australia wide network of specialist highly competent ethical investment planners, who were personally committed to the ideals of ethical investment and had a good understanding of the important social and environmental issues of our time.
The outcome of their meeting was Money Matters Financial Group Pty Ltd, a licensed security dealer specialising in socially and environmentally responsible investment. Money Matters commenced operations in February 1989.
Edwin and Robert realised that the main weakness in the ethical investment market was a lack of appropriate insurance and superannuation opportunities for most socially responsible investors — early starters in ethical investment life insurance Friends Provident having backed themselves into a corner by alienating almost every ethical investment adviser and commentator in Australia with their policy of investing since 1986 in such companies as BHP, Comalco, Bouganville Copper, Boral, Wespac, ANZ, NAB and Amcor.
MoneyMatters thus turned to another life company, Occidental, and assisted them in setting up the Occidental Environmental Opportunities Fund. MoneyMatters continues to act as advisers to the Environmental Opportunities Fund assisting in the selection of appropriate investments.
One of the other major impediments to the growth of ethical investment in Australia was seen as a lack of people’s confidence in the security and returns that ethical investments can give as well as a lack of trust in the investment industry generally. MoneyMatters thus consciously put together a formidable team who between them had a solid track record in the investment and finance industry, ethical investment and social and environmental activism. The team included:
- Edwin Macpherson (Managing Director)
- Robert Rosen (Social/Environmental Research)
- Greg Tarplett (Insurance/Superannuation)
- Martin Myers (Financial Research)
- Mical McCann (ACT )
- Kevin Childs (Northern NSW).
Growing rapidly at a time when most investment advisory firms have been finding the going hard, MoneyMatters now has an office staff of six plus eleven fulltime investment consultants and acts as advisers not only to individuals but also to community and environment groups, banking organisations and fund managers.
The company sees itself over the next few years as becoming more closely involved in the funds management side of the investment industry to help maximise the flow of investment funds into areas which can really make a difference, such as the co-operative sector, low cost housing, decentralised communities and environmentally appropriate technology.