Earth day

Impact investing is shaping the future of the world, says this Houston expert

Think about the power of impact investing this Earth Day. Getty Images

For almost 50 years, Earth Day has been recognized as the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. Since April 22, 1970, Americans have sought out ways to be stewards of the environment through planting trees, riding a bike to work, or cleaning up a community garden. While these actions are admirable, other strategies and tools are also available that can have a positive impact on the environment.

Investors are getting behind companies that put environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors as priorities in their operations. According to a 2018 survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing and Morgan Stanley Investment Management, 84 percent of respondents are considering or currently pursuing ESG investing.

ESG policies may include issues such as safety policies, human rights, and climate change. These policies may not be part of the traditional financial analysis but can still have financial applications. Investors have the opportunity to financially support and affect change in companies that are taking the lead on ESG policies. This is impact investing. With impact investing, companies and individuals can shape the future with money that is already slated to be invested.

According to the Morgan Stanley survey mentioned above, more than $22.8 trillion is invested sustainably. As the impact investing movement continues to grow, we are seeing an increase in funds dedicated to social and environmental change. According to the 2018 survey, 77 percent of asset owners believe they have a responsibility to address sustainability through investing. And, 31 percent of the respondents said climate change is their leading focus.

If you are interested in incorporating impact investing into your portfolio, the first step is to choose your social and environmental investment criteria. In honor of Earth Day, you may be interested in focusing on green investing in industries or causes such as clean water and alternative energy. Or, you may be interested in investing in corporations that have made strides in environmental sustainability and clean technology.

Next, determine the best way for you to invest. Whether by debt, equity, or assets, impact investing can involve making the kinds of investment decisions that regular investors are generally making anyway, such as buying stocks and bonds in Fortune 500 companies or broadly diversified mutual funds. According to respondents in the Morgan Stanley survey, public equities and real assets, such as infrastructure and real estate, are the most attractive asset classes for sustainable investing.

A common concern with impact investing is whether investing with a strong focus on ESG will give investors a rate of return needed to meet their investment goals (i.e. retirement, college savings). According to a study by the Global Impact Investing Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping break down barriers to impact investing, 82 percent of respondents said their investments made an impact and 76 percent were pleased with the financial performance. Additionally, another 15 percent reported outperformance across each of these dimensions.

As investors are pursuing ESG practices and investments, a large number of companies are continuing to incorporate measures such as water and energy conservation into their ESG policies. Corporate boards and investors are incentivizing their CEOs to provide high-quality, diverse workplaces that lead to greater employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity while having a social and environmental impact. Whether investing in organizations or corporations, impact investing provides a way for investors to tackle big problems with their money. This Earth Day, on Monday, April 22, you can identify investments that can help you achieve your financial goals as well as satisfying your desire to have an impact.

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Dominic Cellitti is a financial adviser with the wealth management division of Morgan Stanley in Houston.

September is self care awareness month, and there are ways to encourage wellness in the workplace — no matter the size of the company. Tom Merton/Getty Images

September is self-care awareness month. The purpose of the awareness campaign is to remind Americans that it is necessary to mindfully and purposefully care for yourself. Not only can individuals take steps toward self-care, but employers can play a role, too. Many employers are focusing on employee wellness, including financial wellness, realizing that when their workforce is happy and healthy, productivity rises, and their business grows.

Many innovative companies today offer wellness benefits, such as in-office yoga, massages, and acupuncture. Additionally, some companies encourage outside fitness by reimbursing gym memberships, organizing sports leagues, and coordinating classes at boutique studios.

While physical fitness is key to a healthy workforce, so is mental health. Employers have been known to provide meditation and napping rooms within the office, team trips, and flexible PTO. A wise employer will insist their employees use their PTO to refresh and decompress before returning to work with a new vigor. Several tech companies have even made confidential health assessments available and made gaining access to mental professionals easier.

As part of their wellness benefits offerings, companies should encourage financial wellness for their employees. One common contributor to our physical and mental stress is our finances. An American Psychological Association survey found that 62 percent of Americans count money as a stressor. Additionally, a Morgan Stanley study found that 78 percent of employees who report high financial stress say that their financial stress is a distraction at work.

Financial self-care involves assessing a person's financial situation and how their money is fitting into their life. As an employer, you can help your employees find the right balance in their financial life and provide them with the tools to help with their financial wellness.

Start with reviewing the retirement plan available to your employees. If you do not have a retirement plan instituted already, you will find that setting up a 401(k) is relatively easy and relatively low cost. Plus, it provides your employees with the power of saving for their retirement. This year, the IRS allows employees to contribute up to $19,000 in pre-tax dollars, $25,000 if they are 50 or over.

In addition to offering them a savings vehicle, consider providing 401(k) matching funds. For example, you may match 50 cents for every dollar they contribute. Even if an employee is not contributing to their retirement plan, an employer can still contribute money to their employees' retirement funds as a benefit of employment. Generally speaking, the limit on total employer and employee contributions for 2019 is $56,000, or 100 percent of employee compensation, whichever is lower. What better way to help your employees mind their financial self-care than to actively help them save for a secure future?

As an employer, you may go beyond retirement plans and offer other financial self-care benefits such as help with emergency savings, financial coaching, and student loan repayment. Currently, only four percent of employers offer student loan repayment programs, but that number is growing as a popular benefit for recruitment and retainment. Under this benefit, an employer may pay down a portion of the employee's student debt over a period of time. Of note, there is no tax benefit for a debt repayment benefit, and the money is taxed as income.

This September, take the time to assess the benefits you are offering to employees. Do not forget to include financial wellness as part of your overall plan, benefiting your employees and your business.

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Claudia Mollerup-Madsen is vice president and a financial adviser with the Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Houston.