Good Money Week 2016 – Make Your Money Count

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As part of this year’s Good Money Week, Rathbone Greenbank participated in a Make Your Money Count event in Edinburgh. Good Money Week is an annual campaign aimed at promoting awareness of the social, environmental and investment benefits of sustainable, responsible and ethical finance.

During a well-attended and informative debate at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, guest speakers explored a variety of ways in which we might consider directing our money towards more beneficial ends and using our collective financial muscle to turn good intentions into positive actions.

Julian Parrott, partner at Ethical Futures, asked how much we thought about social returns when considering the best investment options for our money. Highlighting the role of certain theologies in regarding wealth as a means to improve social wellbeing, he determined that we didn’t necessarily need faith to adopt a similar line of thinking. Contemporary instances of corruption and negligence also give us cause to reconsider the social value of our investment choices, but equity ownership provides a powerful means through which our money can push for greater business accountability.

Julian also demonstrated how Ethical Futures works to balance values with investors’ financial requirements, emphasising the compatibility of ethical choice with solid investment performance.

Huw Davies, head of retail banking at Triodos Bank, described how their customers’ deposits were helping to make positive impacts via an ethically-inspired, transparent banking model. Triodos favours investment in equally transparent organisations making positive social, environmental and cultural impacts. This approach aims at attracting younger customers to a new, sustainable banking culture where investors can track the ethical path of their deposits.

In support of its desire for a fresh approach to banking, Triodos does not operate a bonus system, nor is it listed on any stock exchange. Huw also emphasised the point that, whether it be via their investment or pension interests, most people are investors with the corresponding means to make their voices heard.

John Arnold, executive director at ECCR (The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility), described the faith-based coalition’s long-term engagement with a diverse range of social, cultural and environmental issues. From advocacy work in marginalised communities to ongoing projects with ethical partners, the ability of church-based investor coalitions to generate dialogues aimed at improving global corporate accountability demonstrates just how effective a mix faith and money can be. John also described the work of ECCR’s Ethical Money Churches Project, educating worshipping communities about responsible stewardship and the ethical use of money, and encouraged delegates to visit the Your Faith, Your Finance website 

Kate Elliot, senior ethical researcher at Rathbone Greenbank, articulated how all investors, regardless of the type or size of their holdings, can actively engage in the demand for greater corporate responsibility. Investor engagement isn’t simply a case of divesting in accordance with values – on its own, divestment does little to create conditions for change. Rather, the threat of divestment is the ‘hook’ to encourage companies to enter into dialogue exploring what changes might be necessary to align with investor demands.

As such, Rathbone Greenbank’s broad engagement programme is central to its promotion of responsible investment. From informal discussions to resolutions tabled at company AGMs, the team works at establishing trust in order to achieve shared goals of success and sustainability. Kate explained how that approach has helped to secure tangible results recently with regard to climate change and the growing problem of sugar-related obesity.

Patricia Alexander, managing director of Shared Interest, explained how the society works to fund fair trade producers and buyers in areas of the world without access to equitable finance. Recipients in remote and disadvantaged communities are provided with the low interest loans they need to trade, earn a living and help alleviate poverty. Potential investors can invest from £100 to £100,000 and with close to 10,000 existing investors, Shared Interest has around £37m of lending capital. Investors have demonstrated considerable loyalty in the scheme, despite its exemption from FCA regulation. Around a third of the society’s investors also waive the interest offered on their deposits, showing that they value social gains ahead of financial returns.

During a lively Q&A session, speakers were asked to summarise the issues they’d most like to raise with the new chancellor of the exchequer. Among the responses was a request for a progressive energy policy, the need for greater visibility on the long-term plan to tackle climate change and issues of social inequality, and a desire to encourage even more public engagement in socially responsible and sustainable investment and finance.