Author Archive

Greg Garvan

Welcome to my archive of newsletter articles and blog posts. For more information on my service offerings, please go to my advisor webpage.

Coming to Grips with Sudden Wealth

Did you ever know someone who was an environmental advocate, or your locavore activist friend, or a deeply religious soul—fill in the blank—who lived their lives with their values-flag writ large? Unless you know them very well, you might not be aware if they’ve had decisions to make about their money life that have challenged those core values. Spoiler alert: not all these stories have happy endings for these caring souls!

Kristine unexpectedly inherited a significant sum after someone she knew died and left her money (all names are pseudonyms). She is an aggressive activist leader, nationally known and engaged in growing the local community. She has steadfastly moved her money out of mainstream investments and into everything from CDFIs to municipal bonds to progressive alternative offerings. She wants decent returns, but prioritizes her core values as she works with her windfall. One of the new-economy heroes! In the beginning, though, it took some time and dedication to find a financial advisor that would “get” her values and support her non-traditional choices. After interviewing a few advisors and not finding the connect she wanted, a friend recommended her fee-only SRI advisor and Kristine finally found the ally she was looking for.

Shawn was a young environmental activist involved in stopping nuclear power plants in New England. As he grew his family, they used electricity as little as possible and added solar when that became financially feasible.

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Credit report tips can keep you a bit safer

The IRS released a “tax tip” right at the end of 2015, suggesting that individuals consider putting credit freezes on their credit reports.  In our view, a freeze probably makes most sense for those who, a) don’t expect to be applying for new credit anytime soon, and b) have some concerns about others in their orbit having access to your personal information.

While this won’t protect you against all avenues of identity theft, it does put a roadblock up on one primary area of abuse.  A freeze makes it much harder for anyone to open a new account in your name and, depending on what state you are in, costs between nothing and $15. You can lift a freeze if you are going to be applying for a new account somewhere, but beware that it may take up to two weeks to clear.  And remember, you can always get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreports.com.

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End of Life Planning

“These will be the last words I hear you say”

Mary Black wrote those words in a song about the Irish diaspora, watching family members set sail for America. Today we sometimes say this as we help loved ones die with dignity.  While hospice care and dying at home is not for everyone, it represents a growing return to connecting our lives to our natural death.

And what does this have to do with your financial advisors?  Quite a bit, it turns out! When someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal condition, there are so many issues to deal with: care givers, finances, emotional and spiritual changes, and just coming to grips with the ending of a life.  Your financial advisor is not a religious advisor, nor a therapist, but we are very aware of your overall financial and life situation. We can help you and your family come to a deeper understanding of the issues you may want to be concerned with while you still live, as well as at the time of your death.

One of the best tools I have found for engaging families about end of life planning

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Life Planning in your Retirement Years

As your retirement years begin to come into view over the horizon, you may be wishing that you’d saved a gazillion dollars, bought a couple extra houses, or remembered to train your kids to quickly get wealthy enough to support you. Despite what you may have heard, though, enjoying a rich life in your twilight years is not as difficult as it’s sometimes made out to be.

Let’s take a closer look, through the lens of behavioral psychology, at the reality of these years for most folks. While your life circumstances will be changing, you’ll be able to build on the same foundations that have served you well for the past several decades. Most NI clients are fairly engaged in their lives: making the most of what’s before them and open to new opportunities. Not surprisingly, you’re likely to find ways to stay engaged, whether via new interests—writing, archeology, volunteering for a social change organization—or deepening your current interests, like caring for grandchildren or serving your religious community more intimately.  How would you rate your “life engagement” level now?  If you’re thinking about transitions in the next few years, what can you do now that will help you engage more fully? 

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Income gap is bad for all of us

By Greg Garvan

Here’s a news flash for those of you who have been “Rip van Winkling” over the past 30 years. The U.S. approach to encouraging the ‘rich get richer, the poor get ….’ is hurting all of us.  Big surprise!  This is one reason why social investing, community impact, micro-credit lending, etc. matters.

This article on a recent AP survey of economists explores some of the reasons behind their conclusion:

A key source of the economists’ concern: Higher pay and outsize stock market gains are flowing mainly to affluent Americans. Yet these households spend less of their money than do low- and middle-income consumers who make up most of the population but whose pay is barely rising.

“What you want is a broader spending base,” says Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James, a financial advisory firm. “You want more people spending money.”

Economists appear to be increasingly concerned about the effects of inequality on growth. Brown says that marks a shift from a few years ago, when many analysts were divided over whether pay inequality was worsening.

Now, he says, “there’s not much denial of that … and you’re starting to see some research saying, yes, it does slow the economy.”

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Community-building in the post-mall world

By Greg Garvan

Did you know…I just heard that it has been eight years since a new shopping mall was built in this country.  That sounds like great news to me, who would be happy about anything that discourages people from mindless shopping.  However, as you probably guessed, what has significantly increased, especially in the past 2 years, is our online buying.  Good news for investments in companies that transport, but more curious to me is: what does this mean for our sense of community?

Over the past sixty years, as we morphed from the city to the suburbs to the mall (which became the hot social spot for for early-morning walkers and after-school teens), and from the church and temple to the mall and now our screens, where will we find a sense of community if we are not even leaving our homes to do much of our shopping?  This sure seems like a wonderful opportunity for progressive meet-up groups to expand our circles, and invite more folks in.

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The “Volker rule” reaches the finish line

By Greg Garvan

At long last, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board and the Federal Reserve unanimously approved the final version of the “Volker rule,” designed to reduce risky investment activity by banks.  Yes, the regulator’s rule/act has gone from 3 pages to 900; and no, it is not fully a redemption of the Glass-Steagall original.  But, folks, this goes a long way towards trying to rebuild faith in our system.  Still, like the newly built dikes in New Orleans after Katrina, one wonders: will it hold?  Will the Volker rule really keep banks from becoming “too big (or mutually interdependent) to fail,” and will we let big banks that go out on shaky limbs actually fail next time? How much did the “Occupy SEC” lawsuit filed earlier this year help move implementation along?  I’m hoping a lot; and overall, this is great news for social impact investors, who want to see faith restored and a longer term sustainable attitude taken by investors and regulators alike.  

Coverage of the new rule:
Washington Post: fairly straightforward summary of rule’s provisions
The Atlantic: Paul Volker Challenged Obama, then Changed Wall Street
The Economist: More Questions than Answers in new Volker Rule
Andrew Sullivan’s typically varied overview from several diverse commentators

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Living the NI Life: Balance

By Greg Garvan

I recently googled “natural balance” and was surprised that what came back in return was a multitude of pet food sites!  Not exactly what I was on my mind: I was pondering the “needs versus wants,” the ‘”play versus work,” the “make time versus make money,” the “save versus spend” – all these seesaws, as we do our best to create balance among our many personal values.  These themes about the balance we strive for in our lives are always close to the surface for Natural Investments/NI folks.

I wonder how different our NI people are, in terms of seeking to prioritize balance in their lives? When we speak with clients about what’s important to them, and ask what they want from their lives, their money, their assets, I know I often hear in reply that what they really want is more time for the simpler pleasures in their life.  I suspect for many of us, having more time is more important than having more money.  I’m sure you’ve heard the old saw that “no one ever wound up on their deathbed saying ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office’.”  No, clearly for most all of us, we’d rather have had time with family, loved ones, and friends.  In 2013, how hard is it to balance this? 

Living intentionally takes real dedication, but is essential for those of us who want to create balance in our lives.  I’m sometimes surprised at how many of you 

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Living the NI Life: Participating in the change we want to see

By Greg Garvan

“Nobody who looks at a shard of flint lying beneath a rock ledge or who finds a splintered log by the side of the road would ever find magic in their solitude. But in the right circumstances, if you bring them together, you can start a fire that consumes the world.”
Jody Picoult, The Storyteller

All of us here at Natural Investments are forever working making connections between our core values and the varied assets of our life: financial, time, relationships, talents. By nurturing these connections, we’re trying to not only start the fire, but help it grow across the world.

Our community—of clients, advisors, local businesses and friends—is full of people committed to social change and acting on that commitment. We see everything from video documentation of ‘Occupy’ chapters across the country to giving away millions to social change to volunteering to grow food in the local soil and distribute it to food banks. We feel gratitude when we see these effects of our Natural Investments community in the world.

While our professional life is largely focused on how financial assets are directed, living the NI life also means using our talents and our time to make a difference. 

For instance, did you know that NI’s three managing partners were working as environmental educators before Natural Investments began? That work continues to this day for each of them, through permaculture site planning for one, helping start a local hops farm for another, and community education for the third. On the company scale, NI provides a portion of its profits to each NI advisor, which they then direct to charitable organizations of their choice. This means many more thousands of dollars directed to organizations such as Green America, Slow Money, and many others. (See this link for some of the organizations we’ve supported). We all have our own local priorities, as well.

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Diversify, financially and in your goals

By Greg Garvan

So here we are, post Labor Day.  A time to acknowledge that the income gap has accelerated in the past few years, and there is little on the horizon to say it will get better.  It’s still clear that for long term asset growth, diversification is likely the best way to “succeed”—though the markers of success are moderating, as compared to what we got used to over the past few decades. This summer, it was bond markets that have been rattled, because (no surprise!) the government is realizing that interest rates must increase; seeing the general growth of the economy, slow though it may be, interest rates are likely to increase sooner rather than later.  One area in which we diversify our clients’ assets in the lending market is community investing, or the lending of money to small businesses unable to get loans through traditional means.  While the financial returns have been hurt by the interest rate confusion, we do expect that community loans will continue to have strong social impact. With financial returns slowing and at times stagnating, SRI’s triple bottom line becomes all the more important: gaining social and environmental benefits in your local community (or communities in need elsewhere) represent returns that augment today’s modest financial returns.  Sooooo, as we move into the fall, we are grateful that diversification—both in our financial investments, and among our financial, social, and environmental goals—is still the best approach, and we are working to strengthen our community investments.  

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