Socially responsible investing is a hot trend for individual investors right now. In fact, according to Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing’s 2019 “Sustainable Signals” survey:
- 75% of asset managers say their firms have adopted sustainable investing
- 89% say their firms will devote additional resources to sustainable investing in the next 1-2 years
For those interested, you may be wondering how investing for the “greater good” will impact your overall portfolio. After all, you now have two goals: aligning your investments with your values and earning a sufficient financial return.
Can These Two Goals Coexist?
It’s a serious question for any investor because, ultimately, your portfolio is designed to fund your future—and you want that future to include as much financial security as possible.
The body of research regarding long-term performance is mixed, but most studies indicate that socially responsible investing does not result in lower returns relative to the broader market.
However, you need to be careful with the types of socially responsible filters you apply. The goal is to align your values with your investments, but not if it puts your entire retirement in jeopardy. If you’re too restrictive or narrow in your approach, you could end up with a portfolio heavily concentrated in a few sectors or industries. Diversification is still the critical element for long-term success—so don’t lose sight of that goal.
Do Your Homework
Life is about choices, and there are many options when it comes to selecting socially responsible investment products. No matter what approach you take, you should fully understand the potential limitations you are placing on your assets, as well as the control you will have over those assets.
There are mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) offering a wide variety of exposures based on specifically defined values, such as diversity and/or environmental or labor issues. Just be careful—narrower exposures can often translate into higher costs, less liquidity, and less diversification.
As an investor, you need to understand how your personal value preferences impact the overall structure of your portfolio. Remember, the primary goal for most people is to invest responsibly without sacrificing the returns achieved though more conventional methods.
Finally, you should explore how much control you have over the included assets. If you choose a mutual fund or ETF, you obviously cannot adjust the individual stocks within the fund. If you want to retain the ability to exclude certain companies or categories, you will likely need a portfolio consisting of individual stocks.
Like every investment option, the key to successful socially responsible investing is knowledge. Fully understand the product you are considering, ask about the constraints of the investment mandate—and never stray from an overall portfolio that is fully diversified based on your personal risk tolerance.
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