Author Archive

James Frazier

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

Cryptocurrency for Socially Responsible Investors

Cryptocurrency has become quite the hot topic in the investment world over the last few years. What’s less known, however, are socially and environmentally conscious perspectives on this new technology. After many years of observation and reflection, Brady and James got together to weigh in with their thoughts.

Continue Reading

Spotlight: Sunwealth & Greenbacker

According to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that researches solutions to climate change, renewable energy ranks as one of the most important solutions in the race to ensure a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and future generations. Solar panels and wind turbines are highly visible and enduring symbols of our potential and progress in the increasingly urgent mission to shift to clean energy. Quite simply, we need to build a lot more of them, and the sooner the better. Fortunately, as investors, we can help make this happen—and earn a fair return in the process.

Continue Reading

Wall Street Wakes Up to SRI

Socially responsible investing (SRI) isn’t the quietly progressive corner of the financial industry that it once was. For decades, SRI has been practiced primarily by small, independent boutique investment firms. For better or worse, the old landscape has dramatically changed in recent years with record  inflows of investor cash and large Wall Street firms looking to stake their claim in this rapidly growing space. We at Natural Investments are eyeing these developments with healthy skepticism. Can we still  trust the fund managers we’ve worked with and invested in all these years? What impact will Wall Street’s entry have on our industry?

Continue Reading

Spotlight: First Nations Oweesta

First Nations Oweesta (or Oweesta for short) was founded in 1999 to support economic development in Native American communities across the United States by addressing a lack of financial infrastructure and money.

Oweesta, which means money or “item of exchange” in the Mohawk language, is a non-profit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)—a federally certified class of banks, credit unions, and loan funds that are committed to making affordable, responsible loans to historically underserved and disadvantaged communities. In their words, Oweesta’s mission is to “provide opportunities for Native people to develop assets and create wealth by assisting in the establishment of strong, permanent institutions and programs, contributing to economic independence and strengthening sovereignty for all Native communities.”

Continue Reading

The Power of Protest

On a recent beautiful September weekend, I traveled to Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island) to support the protests against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. On one side of this issue, science institutions and the state government are moving to start construction on a giant, highly advanced telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, a stunning 13,800-foot-tall volcano. On the other side, Native Hawaiians and their allies have blockaded the only access road to the summit of Mauna Kea to prevent construction of the facility on a site that many hold as a most sacred place.

Arriving at the site of the demonstration, I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Hawaiian flags and heard the rhythmic sound of drumming and chanting in the Hawaiian language. The Mauna Kea protectors built a whole village at this remote highway intersection on a windswept volcanic plain. It included a medical tent,

Continue Reading

Impact Profile: BlueHub Capital

Credit: Marilyn Humphries Photography

Over the last decade, Natural Investments clients and other accredited investors have contributed more than $173 million to a unique and highly impactful initiative by BlueHub Capital called Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN). The nonprofit program has helped more than 1,000 homeowners in foreclosure avoid eviction by purchasing homes at a deep discount from mortgage lenders and then selling the homes back to the former owners immediately, so they don’t have to move.

Continue Reading

Your Money or Your Life

Best-selling author and Natural Investments client Vicki Robin  recently published a fully revised fourth edition of her classic book, Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. With more than 1 million copies sold over the past 25 years, this book has guided countless people to take control of their spending, reduce debt, increase savings, and ultimately achieve financial independence. We are honored that Vicki asked us to collaborate on revising the last chapter of this edition, and we are grateful that she was able to take a short break from her book promotion tour to speak with us.

Continue Reading

A Tour of the SRI Conference

A grass-fed dairy farm in Virginia

In early November, 2017, my Natural Investments colleagues and I attended the 28th annual SRI (Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing) Conference in San Diego.  I always get excited about this conference because it is the premier educational and networking event for financial advisors, fund managers, and others connected to our industry. It has become a touchstone for me—not just because of the wonderful people I meet, or the inspiring investment opportunities—but because it helps me reconnect with why we do this work.

When I arrived, I heard that the conference had set a new attendance record, with many of the 800+ attendees being newcomers from Wall Street looking to break into SRI.  There were some grumblings that big corporate interests have identified SRI as a growing, profitable business and have been moving in on the SRI space, and the speakers seemed to recognize this. They made it clear that all were welcome, but that we are united by a common purpose: to use the power of our investments for the good of people and planet. It isn’t about financial returns, they said (because we know research has established that SRI performance is competitive), but what we are able to accomplish on the ground, in the real world.

To that end, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged as a major theme of the conference. World leaders adopted the SDGs in 2015, calling for all sectors of society to work toward gender and racial equity, clean power and water for all, a sustainable economy, and the end of poverty and hunger, among other ambitious goals. For SRI professionals, the SDGs can provide more clarity of purpose than the more nebulous phrase “positive impact,” which can easily be misunderstood or misused by newcomers.

In another area of the conference, dozens of companies staffed booths where attendees could learn more about their services. I saw several of the fund managers I’ve come to know over the years, and received personal updates on how they are investing and what they expect going forward.  One of them was a regenerative agriculture fund that invests in conventional farmland and leases it on favorable terms to local farmers, who then convert it to organic production. This fund creates local jobs, improves soils, and fights climate change—while investors can benefit from rent payments and the improving value of the farmland. Although this fund is unique, it’s a great indication of the real world impact our industry is having.

I was struck by how many new funds were represented at the conference. Our industry is indeed growing!  One fund occupies a new niche—global real estate investments that have been screened for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.  It’s important for investors to own both domestic and international real estate for diversification purposes, yet socially responsible investors have never had a fund dedicated to doing this in a sustainable way.  I got the opportunity to meet the fund manager right there in person and learn about how this investment works.  Our team will certainly be following up with more research on this new option.  I ended up visiting nearly all of the other new funds as well, taking notes and asking friendly yet probing questions to help me get a sense of whether these new products could add value to our clients’ portfolios.

During the conference, my Natural Investments colleagues and I arranged private meetings with several managers to delve deeper into their offerings.  We learned about the financial details, but more importantly, we got to know the people behind these investments.  That’s why it’s so important to attend this event—it’s the best way to get a real sense of the expertise and integrity of the people we work with. I came away from the conference thoroughly inspired, filled with new information and insights and a renewed sense of purpose for the job I do.

 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading