Barry Coates explains how his new charity Mindful Money is helping New Zealanders choose KiwiSaver funds that are good for nature as well as their retirement nest egg.
Most New Zealanders are starting to change their behaviour to reduce emissions and environmental damage. More of us walk, cycle, use public transport, or aspire to own an electric vehicle. We make efforts to reduce packaging, recycle, and take bags when we go shopping. We look at labels to avoid unsustainable and unhealthy food. But there is one important area of our life where few of us act – our money.
The hidden secret is that most New Zealanders are unknowingly supporting environmental pollution and exploitation through their finances. For example, $1.2 billion of our hard-earned KiwiSaver funds are invested in fossil fuel companies. Why is this happening? One reason is that historically investment and banking has been about “rates of return” and “risk”, but not about the consequences of how money is used. In search of bigger returns, investment has flowed into companies that pollute the environment, exploit workers, and hide their profits in tax havens.
The finance sector is complicit – it has ignored the consequences and hidden the evidence. It’s a popular saying that “money makes the world go round” and, like it or not, that’s all too often the case. But in reality, we are the ones who own a large share of that finance through our pension funds, investments, and bank savings. It is our decisions that determine whether our environment is destroyed or restored. I think this is one of the great revolutions in our thinking about sustainability.
Last year, my new charity Mindful Money surveyed the public. The survey found that most people want to invest ethically, but they don’t. It has been too hard. Respondents said they lack objective information and they didn’t have time to compare options. We heard stories of people with finance degrees who tried to figure out the options but gave up. This is why I decided to do something to make it easier.
I started Mindful Money as a way of channelling money into doing good instead of harm. I assembled a research team to map out where all of the 265 KiwiSaver funds invest their money. We matched the companies against those in sectors that New Zealanders want to avoid – like fossil fuels, palm oil, weapons, human rights violations, and animal cruelty.
Now anyone who visits our new website can see how much of their KiwiSaver goes into those issues and which companies they’re supporting. It is radical transparency applied to our KiwiSaver funds. And it’s free!
We also undertook research on ethical funds to find those that not only claimed to be ethical but could back that up with evidence. We have chosen 26 funds from 10 KiwiSaver providers. They use different approaches to investing responsibly, such as excluding harmful companies, choosing better companies, and engaging with companies to improve their standards.
These approaches suit different investors. So it is important that you can match your investment preferences with your risk profile and your values. The Mindful Money Fund Finder tool helps you find the fund that’s right for you.
The final piece of the jigsaw is about financial returns. People are rightly concerned about the costs of investing ethically. But the research shows that, on average, returns from investing ethically are as high or higher than from conventional investing. Most people know this already – the most trusted companies are those that take sustainability seriously. They are the companies with loyal customers, motivated employees, and no environmental liabilities or scandals. It’s no surprise that they earn good financial returns.
We can feel good about avoiding fossil fuels and other concerns, and we can earn good returns. So why not check your Kiwisaver on Mindful Money today? It's easy to switch funds if you aren't happy with how your money is invested. This is a powerful action we can take to help re-direct funds towards sustainability, and help address the climate emergency and global biodiversity loss.
This wave of change is growing. People are taking back control of their savings and using their money mindfully. See www.mindfulmoney.nz.
*Barry Coates is founder and CEO of Mindful Money. He has been active in ethical investment since the early 1990s, was head of Oxfam New Zealand from 2003 to 2014, and briefly a Green Party MP in 2016–17. He received the sustainability champion award from Sustainable Business Network in 2016.
I MADE THE SWITCH
Tobi Conway jumped online to check out Mindful Money and made the KiwiSaver switch as a result. “When it came to finding a KiwiSaver fund, I’ll admit I was a bit disinterested. Not because I’m not concerned about retirement, but because the whole process seemed unnecessarily complicated,” says Tobi.
“Finding information about the performance, fees, and where the funds were invested felt like a huge task. I basically went with the path of least resistance and ticked a default scheme and forgot about it for a few years, even though I’m passionate about climate change and our wild places.
“But I became aware that my money was being used by companies that I really dislike, and so I wanted to switch. I heard about Mindful Money and went onto its website. Within a short time, I found the ethical KiwiSaver fund that I wanted, not only for myself but also for my partner and kids as well. And I liked the idea so much I applied for a job at Mindful Money!”
Tobi is now spreading the word about Mindful Money as its new marketing manager.