"Our members do not simply want to wash their hands of social ills, they also want their money to make an active contribution to creating a better world."
Members of Healthy Investment have backed a move toward “impact investing” in a survey canvassing their opinions about how the historic friendly society should develop its approach to ethical investment. Respondents also overwhelmingly backed the society’s current policy of not investing directly in the arms, gambling, pornography and tobacco sectors – in many cases urging a more stringent stance.
Ninety per cent of respondents agreed with a proposal that Healthy Investment’s flagship Ethical With-Profits Fund should engage in “impact investing” by actively seeking out opportunities to invest in companies that have good environmental and social track records.
Environmental concerns were particularly important to respondents, with 76 per cent saying the society should invest in sustainable energy and 77 per cent backing investment in environmental sustainability more generally. Fifty-eight per cent wanted their funds to be used to support low emission cars and transport.
Interestingly, however, when asked what sectors should be avoided, just nine per cent of respondents identified fossil fuels or oil and gas.
Bury-based Healthy Investment, which was founded in 1835 and remains mutually owned, is a provider of ISAs, Investment Bonds, Junior ISAs, Child Trust Funds and Savings Plans. It currently avoids investing in companies directly involved in gambling and adult entertainment, or manufacturing arms, alcoholic beverages or tobacco products.
Members strongly backed either retaining the society’s existing stance or tightening it further in respect of the arms, tobacco, pornography and gambling sectors. The stance with reference to pornography was particularly striking, with 55 per cent backing the society’s current approach and 42 per cent wanting an even tougher line.
Healthy Investment was originally known as the Independent Order of Rechabites, named after one of the tribes of Israel that abstained entirely from alcohol, and the society’s application forms still include a declaration about alcohol usage, although this no longer affects qualification for membership. While 73 per cent of survey respondents supported the society’s current policy of avoiding investment in alcoholic drinks manufacturers, the remaining 26 per cent were split evenly between those who would welcome a stricter approach and those who would like Healthy Investment to consider investing in the sector.
Peter Green, chief executive of Healthy Investment, said, “Healthy Investment was one of the pioneers of ethical investment, and it remains a key element of our identity. Eighty-five per cent of members who took the time to complete our survey said it was either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to them that their investments reflected their personal ethics.
“We have our roots in the religiously inspired temperance movement and have always avoided investment in companies that are directly involved in socially harmful industries. With such a long heritage in ethical investment, though, we wanted to make sure our practices remained aligned with our members’ values.
“Based on the results of this survey it appears that members do indeed share the values of our founders. However, they do not simply want to wash their hands of social ills, they also want their money to make an active contribution to creating a better world, particularly in the field of environmental sustainability.
“We will be taking these findings on board and, over the coming months, will adjust our investment mandates accordingly.”
Ethical investment is taken seriously by Healthy Investment’s members. Thirty-eight per cent of survey respondents said they would absolutely be willing for their investments to make less money as a result of being investment ethically, and a further 48 per cent said they would possibly accept such an outcome.
However, just 23 per cent believed that their returns would really suffer as a result of being invested in accordance with their values, while 49 per cent believed an ethical approach actually improved returns and 23 per cent thought it made no difference.
The society agreed to make a small charitable donation on behalf of those members who took part in its survey. This resulted in donations totalling £450 being made to Bury Hospice, which is located close to Healthy Investment’s headquarters in Greater Manchester.