Author Archive

Michael Kramer

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

2020: A Year of Transformation

Crisis and opportunity have an interesting partnership. They don’t always go together, but when they do, they can catalyze powerful change in individuals, countries, and human civilization. Many forces converged in 2020 to create such a dynamic—a global pandemic, heightened attention to racism, extreme weather events and accompanying natural disasters, the disruption of democratic norms by a white supremacist authoritarian president, the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and, finally, a historic election.

The year 2020 demanded resilience, and while we surely felt tested on many levels and tried to hold onto our center, many of us found ourselves reflecting on the meaning of life and then acting to change our own lives and work harder to build a just, equitable, and sustainable society.

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2020 Shareholder Advocacy Review

Natural Investments plays a proactive role within our industry by facilitating positive economic, social, and environmental change. One of the ways we push for the transformation we want to see is through shareholder engagement with companies, as well as advocacy with elected officials and federal agency commissioners on matters of public policy.

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SRI in Focus: The Vibrant Growth of Sustainable Investing

The Biennial Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends, which measures the state of the industry at the end of 2019, shows that sustainable, socially responsible, and impact investing (SRI) is on its way to becoming the new normal. Since the previous report two years ago, the amount of assets under professional management in the US that integrates some form of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria jumped 43% to over $17 trillion. Not only is this the largest two-year increase in 25 years of reporting, but the total suggests that one of every three dollars of professionally managed investments is invested using SRI criteria.

There are now about 400 money managers practicing SRI and more than 500 institutional investors (such as pension plans, government treasuries, and university and foundation endowments) applying various ESG criteria as a matter of investment policy. More than 1200 community development financial institutions provide capital to people and communities in need of basic banking services, loans, and access to credit.

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SRI in Focus: Lunatics in the Asylum

Despite the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis, socially responsible investments (SRI) have received higher inflows of capital in 2020 than in any other period of American history. That’s right: investors have poured more than $21 billion into 300+ publicly available domestic SRI funds, well before the year’s end. All told, investors have already purchased more sustainable investments in the first half of this year than in all of 2019––a year that had already seen inflows that were a whopping 4 times higher than any previous year.

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SRI in Focus: Creating a New Normal

In The Resilient Investor, we noted that this is an era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Five years after the publication of our book, which was devoted to planning for major disruptions, it turns out even we underestimated how prescient our framework would be!

Typically, volatility is described in terms of the severity of equity market price fluctuation. Severe peaks and valleys in a short period of time typically reveal the levels of investor uncertainty in the absence of dependable economic patterns.

Market uncertainty increased when Trump was nominated and elected and was generally higher than normal throughout 2018 and 2019. Although it skyrocketed in February and March, as the pandemic emerged, it has actually been decreasing the past few months.

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Intentional Growth, Deeper Commitment

Natural Invest Group 2019

Over the past 30 years, Natural Investments has grown slowly and organically over time by attracting advisors who are aligned with our mission. Even without specific growth targets, our firm has expanded, introducing more people, new ideas, and a wider range of business styles. As a collective of advisory practices, we share common investments, codes of ethics and conduct, policies and procedures, technologies, and values––yet there is a diversity of approaches in how, where, and with whom we work.

2019 Social Impact Report

This growth has created dynamism and prompted deep reflection on how we wish to move forward, particularly as we work to maintain a sense of family while embracing diversity and minimizing bureaucracy. Beginning a few years ago, for example, our desire to make a commitment to gender and racial diversity led us to add more women and people of color to the team.

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A Hard Reckoning for Capitalism

We’re witnessing a watershed moment in history that will redefine the parameters of our global economic system. The traditional capitalists who created this system believe the sole purpose of business is to make money regardless of the cost to our environment, people, or the rule of law. This short-termism ignores the consequences of corporate practices and favors regulatory policies that benefit the largest businesses (as well as the politicians who depend on them to preserve their power).

Yet the harmful effects of systemic self-interest have become increasingly obvious—from inequality, exploitation, and injustice to the collapse of natural systems—spurring a movement of people around the world who want business and government to address these problems and raise operational expectations for business.

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Battling Government’s Assault on Shareholder Rights

The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced its intention to make fundamental changes that would impede one of the most important tools to advance corporate social responsibility: the rights of shareholders to influence corporate policies and practices. In order to raise public awareness of what’s at stake, leading advocates for socially responsible investing have launched the Investor Rights Forum website. The forum provides current information and commentary on the importance of shareholder advocacy, case studies of successful shareholder engagements, details on the SEC’s proposals to undermine long-standing precedents, and efforts underway to prevent proposed rule changes from going into effect.

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2009: After the Financial Crisis, Reform

This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters. 

Policy matters. Natural Investments has participated in public policy conversations and attended meetings on the Hill in Washington, D.C., for years and will continue to serve as a voice for fair and just financial regulations.

It’s been over a year since the fall of Lehman Brothers sparked major tremors in the U.S. financial system that rippled around the planet. Though lawmakers called for reform, much of the financial services industry remains unchanged a year later. The wholesale restructuring advocated by the social investment industry, economists, and academics has thus far been met with strong opposition from the industry, and Congress’ lack of expertise left them unable to do anything other than infuse large banks with cash.

The needed structural changes in our system remain conceptual and haven’t even been fully debated. Yes, there were calls for bonuses to be recalled and executive pay to be restricted,

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2006: Community Investing after Hurricane Katrina

This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters. 

Community investment is one of three pillars of socially responsible investing, alongside screening and shareholder advocacy. As natural disasters increase with climate change in the 21st century, this article illustrates why Natural Investments has always made community investing a key component of any client portfolio.

In the fifteen months since hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast Region, we have participated in revitalizing communities by investing in affordable housing, minority-owned businesses, and redeveloping urban and rural areas torn apart by the storms.

Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) have channeled capital to low-income and displaced people who are traditionally underserved by conventional banks, providing credit to those who have insufficient income or lack credit or collateral. This assistance has been and continues to be critical for those hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Because the CDFIs were already in these communities, they had the infrastructure and relationships in place to offer immediate and prolonged help throughout the recovery effort.

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