NI Advisors featured in Seattle Weekly

Seattle Weekly had a nice piece this week that begins by discussing recent protests against Wells Fargo’s bankrolling of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and expands into a broader exploration of the hurdles that some people encounter when they ask mainstream investment advisors to help them avoid putting their money to work in ways that are counter to their values:

That experience isn’t uncommon, say two of the advisors at Natural Investments, LLC, a “sustainable, responsible and impact” (SRI) investment firm with a branch in Seattle. “What people tell us when they find us,” says Ryan Jones-Casey, director of client services, is often something like, “’I’ve heard that I can do socially responsible investing, but I talked to my advisor at JP Morgan, and he said I’m going to lose money; he said it’s not worth my time.’”

The article’s author turned to two of the most recent additions to Natural Investments’ team for comments and additional perspective. Eric Smith and Ryan Jones-Casey joined forces with NI in 2016, and are fitting in great. We’re now up to fifteen offices nationwide, staffed by our collaborative team of independent investment advisors.

The Seattle Weekly article, So You Want to Divest from DAPL.  Will the Financial Industry Let You?, is well worth reading in full. Meanwhile, here are a couple more excerpts that include thoughts from Eric and Ryan:

Letting the past predict the future, brokers lean on old patterns and ideas about what makes money on Wall Street. Like, “I don’t want to learn something new; I’ve always done it this way,” says Smith. Not to mention that “a lot of people in the financial services industry tend to be relatively conservative,” he adds, so if some of the political aspects of SRI “[don’t] fit their philosophy, they don’t want their clients to do it.”

Certainly, “fear is a powerful barrier to change” in investing, says Jones-Casey. But he and Smith argue that a company that is resource efficient, watches its carbon footprint, and cares about human rights “is a more enlightened company,” and this kind of enlightenment “is actually the very thing that will lead to better financial performance over the long term. But that kind of thing is not at all the dominant paradigm in the financial services industry.”

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The Progressive Investor’s Action Guide for the Next Administration

Now that the 2016 presidential election is in the history books with a shocking outcome that few foresaw, the rough outlines of the next few years are starting to become a little clearer. We can reasonably expect a federal government with less interest in protecting voting rights, reproductive rights, and civil rights of historically disadvantaged and targeted communities such as immigrants, Muslims, LBGT people, disabled people, and people of color. We can also expect more interest in increasing fossil fuel production and distribution, stirring up international geopolitical conflicts over trade, territory, and resources, and lowering corporate taxes, among many other priorities. With our values and ideals—and for some, our lives—under what’s likely to feel like a constant siege, it’s natural to react emotionally with outrage or despair. And while it’s important to vent, we must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed into inaction or satisfied with mere talk! This is a moment that calls for us to activate our resources and engage our communities, not just to defend against potential losses, but to build on the gains of the last eight (and more) years. You, dear investor, are in the advantageous position of having resources that can be mobilized to help catalyze much-needed outcomes. With that in mind, here is your action guide for the next administration.

Step One: Lift up communities by investing in them. Lend your money to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that specialize in redistributing access to wealth to vital projects in vulnerable communities. For example, investors nationwide can open a High Impact CD at Hope Credit Union, which serves formerly under-banked communities of color in the Mississippi Delta region. While the Standing Rock Sioux blockade of the Dakota Access Pipeline highlights the myriad of challenges that Native Americans face, First Nations Oweesta CDFI is actively redeploying investor capital to create jobs, grow businesses, and secure ancestral lands across Indian Country. The Calvert Foundation offers two initiatives that invest in specific constituencies targeted by the incoming president: Latinos (the Raíces Investment Initiative) and women (the Women Investing in Women Initiative: WIN-WIN). Self-Help Credit Union and Beneficial State Bank take federally insured deposits and reinvest them in affordable housing and small business loans in low-income neighborhoods that are otherwise unlikely to benefit from the new regime. Seek out CDFIs doing similar work in your city or region. And help build a thriving economy right where you live by buying local and investing in local small businesses and nonprofits that you know.

Step Two: Fight climate change by investing in the ongoing green revolution.

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Pollinators: an essential natural investment

Technically speaking, pollinators are “the biotic agents that move pollen from the anthers to the stigma to accomplish fertilization.” Very literally, the birds and the bees of the flowering plant world!

Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification. While pollinators do include both birds and bees, this group also includes wasps, ants, flies, butterflies, moths, and some reptiles and mammals. Even gardeners can be pollinators, hand pollinating plants to prevent contamination and maintain pure genetic strains.

Some plants have co-evolved with the local pollinators, and the loss of native pollinators could lead to extinction of these unique plant species, as the pollinators and plants have evolved to be specialized for each other.

It is estimated that over three quarters of all farmed crops require animal pollination, so along with pollinator decline and the loss of specialized plants, we also face the crucial issue of farmed foods not being pollinated. The economic impacts of pollinator decline are already being felt in many areas. Where native pollinator species have become scarce, farmers have to replace them with managed bee populations, which involves added cost and work.

So, its clear that we are facing some problems with pollinator decline, but why is this happening? And, what can be done to restore pollinators to a healthy level?

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Are you a butterfly or a honeybee in your money life?

Before she started working with me Hope had spent many years trying to build her wealth like a butterfly. She was flitting from one money guru to the next. Reading their books, following them online, and changing course as she found the next lovely “blossom” (investment approach, idea, stock) that caught her eye. Trying to build wealth on our own can often lead to this butterfly approach, fueled by fear that we’re doing the wrong thing (especially when the market takes a deep dive), and ever seeking new ways to make the most of this money are investing.

Hope is a smart businesswoman. She wanted to be smart about building her wealth, too. We are now working together using a honeybee approach to building her wealth—and getting her to her ultimate goal, financial freedom.

Watch a butterfly. It flutters from blossom to blossom in what seems lovely but a bit random. The butterfly is primarily there to drink the liquid nectar; the pollination they do is by accident. While butterflies are eye-catching with their beauty—and important pollinators—their focus and their purpose are very different from the behavior of the honeybee.

Now watch a honeybee.

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Conversations from the 2016 Social Capital Markets Conference

In mid-September, I travelled to San Francisco to participate in the annual Social Capital Markets conference known as SoCap. In its ninth year, SoCap describes itself as the place “where the global community using business as a force for social change gathers to listen to each other, and to learn, and to get things done.” I last attended SoCap three years ago, and was pleased to see how much the event has grown and evolved in that span of time. There were over 2500 people in attendance, from 60 different countries. They represented impact investment funds, international community development organizations, regenerative agriculture projects, and social enterprises, all focused on addressing critical issues like global poverty alleviation, social justice, and climate change, and the conversations were inspiring. Important questions were asked, and moving calls to action were made.

As we’ve seen Impact Investing begin to move dramatically into the mainstream, I was heartened to hear SoCap bring to the fore the priority of ensuring that the social and environmental goals at the heart of Impact Investing don’t become overshadowed by the drive of the extractive economic model currently dominating our financial system. With a huge focus on inclusive strategies for investing, there was deep attention given to addressing racial and gender inequities within our capital system, and how to transition from an Extractive Economy to a Regenerative one.

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Hey, get that oily mess out of my money!

A rapidly increasing segment of the investment world is coming to the realization that not only is carbon pollution putting our planet’s future at risk, but that the big energy extraction companies are dragging down the returns in their portfolios. Oil is not well on the energy investing front!

The fossil fuel divestment movement is coordinated by Bill McKibben’s 350.org and members of US SIF (The Forum for Sustainable Responsible Investment) to encourage universities, endowments, and family of ces to implement divestment strategies. Divestment is often implemented by selling off (or just not buying) stock in the Carbon Underground 200. CU200 consists of the companies that own the largest untapped reserves of fossil fuels. The idea is that this coal, oil, and gas needs to stay where it is to avert climate catastrophe.

Divestment historically faced fairly stiff headwinds from money managers and trustees. They claimed that univer- sities, foundations, and individual investors would suffer if they forgo investment in coal and oil companies that were once solidly performing stocks. Recent analyses cause us to question those claims. In fact, the new information is being taken to heart by investors. According to GoFossilFree.org, 629 institutions with a total of $3.4 trillion have committed to full or partial divestment, including seventy colleges and universities, 128 foundations, and 111 cities and towns, and they’ve been joined by over 50,000 individual investors.

Divestment probably doesn’t make much of a dent in the wallets of fossil fuel companies, some have asked, so why bother? Yes, but the movement is not naïve to the deep pockets of these companies.

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Three cheers for green beer!

I would guess that many of us, even if we aren’t partial to imbibing ourselves, have noticed the skyrocketing number of craft breweries in the past decade. Gone are the days where the options at a restaurant or grocery store were limited to three major distributors, all with at least a few unpronounceable ingredients, and coming from “farms” and “breweries” that resemble factories more than anything else.

Craft breweries, as stated by the American Brewers Association, must be “small, independent and traditional.” This means, respectively, less than 6 million barrels produced per year, less than 25% owned by larger non-craft beer companies, and the majority of their output must use traditional beer brewing techniques (though innovative ingredients are welcome!).

The explosion of interest in craft breweries, besides being a treat for our taste buds, has also been an economic force, with many breweries focusing on using local ingredients, paying living wages or forming employee owned cooperatives, and going green by re-using waste products and using clean energy.

Some of the pioneer craft breweries have become mid-sized nationally-known brands, while continuing to hold close to their sustainable roots. While you may recognize these names

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Please don’t buy a second home

Sometimes when folks read or hear my recommendation for buying a house they think, “If one is good, two should be better, right?” Well, sorry, no. Please buy a primary residence for you and your family (be smart about it) but also please don’t buy a second one. The challenges that Jim Collins outlines for personal residences as an investment are surmountable for your primary home, but are very difficult to overcome for a second. Collins suggests renting is better than buying, but I think with smart choices, as detailed in the previous article, buying is the better choice. But for a vacation home, renting is definitely better than buying. Why?

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SEC adds key disclosure requirements

In yet another victory for Wall Street reform that the SRI industry fought hard for, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month announced that it has adopted final rules to require companies that develop oil, natural gas, and minerals to disclose any payments they make to governments. These payments, often done in secret, can directly conflict with and hinder U.S. foreign policy interests and may expose shareholders to geopolitical risks that can directly affect share value. From an ethical perspective, the payments can also prop up oppressive regimes and dictatorships, which often use the payments to grow their leaders’ personal coffers while hindering the democratization of those countries.

The rules were one of many elements of corporate financial reform mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. The following year, President Obama specifically targeted resource extraction as an industry in need of greater international transparency.

Though the rules were initially written in 2012, the SEC was mired in legal challenges by the extraction industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As a result of a lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the rule as originally written, but

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