As Chief Investment Officer of a Christian pension fund, it occurs to me frequently that 25,000 Australians have entrusted their retirement savings to us. This is a substantial responsibility.
Our beneficiaries trust that we will work to the utmost of our abilities to ensure they are well-provided for so they can live a fruitful and purposeful retirement. In addition, they trust that how we invest their retirement savings between now and their retirement (and even, in many cases, during their retirement) will reflect our shared Christian faith and values. Both of these are complex issues.
Concerning the issue of how to invest a portfolio to generate strong risk-adjusted returns, there are myriad resources from which to draw. We have internal and external experts on asset allocation, manager selection, currency hedging, investment risk, and many other relevant matters. We can construct portfolios to give beneficiaries choice (Australia’s system has members bearing investment risk) to account for varying levels of risk and return appetite. These are all questions that have been and continue to be explored in detail by a wide range of people within the financial services industry.
The issue of applying Christian values to an investment portfolio, however, is not one that has been widely explored. What does it look like to invest, as a professional and fiduciary investor, in accordance with our faith?
Accordingly, we first seek to draw from biblical principles about the way we invest on behalf of those who have entrusted their money to us. This piece outlines some of our thoughts and conclusions.
The Context of Investing – Christian Stewardship
We believe two things are foundational in understanding the context of investing.
First, we strive to apply a Christian worldview. If we believe that God created the world, that humanity sinned and thus corrupted the entire world, and that God will one day completely redeem His creation, then this must influence the way we look at the world in every sense. Since investing is part of the world, what does it look like to apply this Christian worldview to investments?
Second, we also need an understanding of Christian stewardship. As a pension fund, we are a steward of our beneficiaries’ retirement savings. But our beneficiaries are themselves stewards of assets God has entrusted to them, with the expectation that they will use these assets on His behalf. What does it mean to act on behalf of another? What does it mean to act, in some senses, on behalf of God as His ambassadors, representatives, and stewards?
The Goal of Investing – Creation Care, Human Flourishing, and Redemptive Investing
To answer those questions, we thought about the role investing plays in the economy. In a transactional sense, investing is simply setting aside assets today so we can have more in the future. I believe there is a delayed gratification aspect of saving that is good for our souls. We learn to be patient and to look to the long term rather than being simply focussed on our immediate desires.
But in a much broader sense, investing is an opportunity to work out the mandate given to humanity in Genesis 1. Investing takes assets that would otherwise be unproductive (savings) and allocates them to parts of society that enable us to be productive.
We can provide capital to factories that produce goods, to enterprises that deliver valuable services like health and education, and to infrastructure such as roads and networks that enable the efficient transfer of goods and services. These enterprises form the backbone of the economy, creating jobs and playing an important role in exercising creation rule.
In this context, the mandate given to humanity to care for and cultivate creation becomes important, as we shall explore. As stewards, it’s important therefore to understand the way this investment activity interacts with God’s purposes and desires for His creation.
We can look at this in three ways. We seek to develop an understanding of our responsibilities in the area of Creation Care. “Fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) is an instruction to create and cultivate, but not a mandate to destroy. Creation is not just a source of beauty and a reflection of God’s character. It also represents God’s provision of the natural means to meet our present and future needs and desires, along with the needs and desires of generations to come. We use what God has provided to grow food, to make clothing and shelter, to develop medicine, and to create all sorts of goods for our enjoyment. The appropriate stewarding of creation will ensure our ongoing ability to meet these and other needs.
But there is a more important component of stewardship that reflects the importance of Human Flourishing. God’s desire is for His creation to enjoy peace—shalom in Hebrew and eirene in Greek—which reflects wellbeing, health, prosperity, strong relationships, and a deep sense of contentment. This is a holistic sense of wellbeing that encompasses not only personal security and economic sufficiency, but also values human relationships and spiritual reconciliation. Investing is not just an opportunity to grow our personal economic prosperity, but to contribute towards genuine human flourishing. As investors, we must recognize that investing can contribute to this in at least two ways.
At a personal level, investing represents an opportunity to provide for our future needs by setting aside money today and growing it for the future.
At a societal level, the assets we invest can be used for productive purposes—to support the creation of goods, services, and jobs that support human flourishing.
Finally, there is an opportunity to invest in ways that contribute to the deeper, spiritual needs of humanity. This idea of Redemptive Investing sees investing (and indeed business as well) as more than just as an opportunity to acquire more assets and to work out our Christian faith through creation care and human flourishing. In addition, it becomes an opportunity to reconcile relationships with each other and with God. This might happen through investments that specifically target positive social and environmental outcomes or through investment in faith-lead businesses that live out their Christian values in the marketplace.
So what does this look like practically? In applying the theological to the practical we recognize the messiness of our world. No enterprise is perfect; we are always working in a world that needs to be redeemed and seeking to play a part in shaping the world through the investments we make.
And practicalities dictate application. Do we have enough assets to command influence or even to be able to invest in those things we think are important? Do we have the professional capacity to evaluate redemptive investments in ways that are consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities?
For us, this application works itself out in four key ways. Negative Screening is how we ensure we do not invest our beneficiaries’ assets in ways that are inconsistent with their faith. It means identifying and avoiding those companies that are damaging creation and disrespecting life in ways that are fundamentally inconsistent with creation care and human flourishing.
ESG Integration is looking at our investment portfolio not only in terms of financial factors, but also related to the environmental, social, and governance factors that play into an investment’s long-term ability to deliver sustainable and responsible investment returns. Factors such as a company’s long-term track record in employee safety or their ability to reduce waste show not only social responsibility but also financial prudence.
Active Engagement is our response to the responsibility we have to engage with those companies and enterprises in which we invest. We encourage them further in the direction of creation care and human flourishing, and challenge them to cease practices that are damaging these areas.
Impact Investing is the intentional allocation of assets to companies that are making the world a better place while still generating a financial return. This includes investments in health, education, microfinance, renewable energy, and social enterprise. For us, this includes a specific allocation to faith-led businesses, where Christian entrepreneurs are living out their faith in the marketplace as a witness to Christ.
Over a decade into this faith-lead investment approach, we have been blessed with a growing membership and asset base, along with investment performance that compares favorably with our peers in the market. It is entirely possible to apply a faith-based approach to investing and deliver the investment outcomes our beneficiaries expect. We are still very much on the journey of applying God’s Word to the way we, as Christian professionals, invest our beneficiaries’ assets. This includes learning to be better stewards of creation, looking for ways to promote human flourishing, and seeking to be redemptive in all we do.
This article by Tim Macready was originally posted on The Denver Institute’s blog