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Divest…and now what? Tips for Local Investing

If you’re one of the many who have been moved to take matters into your own hands and ensure that your retirement accounts are divested from sin-sectors, such as fire-arms, alcohol, tobacco, petroleum, mining, or other companies and industries that extract from the earth, people or communities, you may be asking “now what?”  The divestment movement reached a fever pitch when organizations like 350.org and communities around the country compelled foundations, universities, pension funds, and municipal treasuries to take a critical eye to endowment investments to ensure they weren’t invested in companies and funds that were causing or exacerbating climate change.

If the latest bout of news has you thinking about doing your part, we’ll happily take a break from our usual work to help share tips for how to proactively invest in greater alignment with your values.

Take note: we are not financial planners or advisers.  You should consult a licensed financial planner and tax adviser when considering acting on any of this information. This blog comes from my personal journey to invest retirement savings in my local community and in companies and funds that I believe are part of the solution.  We are not experts at this and others have written more prolifically about the subject.

First, here are some great resources for further reading:

  1. Equal Exchange: Investing in the Solidarity Economy.  Check out and consider joining the Equal Exchange Action Forum.
  2. Michael Shuman’s 24-top tools for local investingMichael Shuman has a forthcoming book that is an excellent guide to investing IRAs and Solo 401(k) savings locally.
  3. Green Money Journal.
  4. An Introduction to Financing for Cooperatives, Social Enterprises and Small Businesses.
  5. The Self Directed IRA Handbook, by Mat Sorenson. 
  6. Self-Directed IRAs and the Slow Money Investor.

Second, here are some of the things that I have done:

  1. Move your money out of an investor-owned bank and into a community credit union.  After the Occupy efforts dwindled, one of the things that my family felt it could do was move our banking to our local credit union.  Credit Unions are cooperatively owned banks – they exist to serve their members, not Wall Street shareholders.  There is a huge multiplier effect when you bank with a local credit union. Fees and interest get reinvested into the community.  We bank with Elevations Credit Union, the largest credit union in Boulder County. It turns out Elevations C.U. is also the largest originator of mortgages in Boulder County, making it one of the most important pathways to home ownership.
  2. Check out the newest credit union in more than 30-years to open in Colorado, the Clean Energy Credit Union.
  3. Give preference to mutual insurance companies.  Again, mutual insurance companies are cooperatively owned insurance companies.  Mass Mutual, Northwestern Mutual, Liberty Mutual…get the picture?  Many insurance products are simple commodities and can be purchased through any broker.  It may not seem like a radical act, but choosing a mutual insurance company over an investor-owned insurance company is a big deal. It sends an important signal and it helps demonstrate the power and reach of economic democracy.  I just clicked “submit” on our director election e-ballot; how often do you feel you have a say in the governance of the company that holds your life insurance policy?
  4. Join a local investment club.  My local favorites are the Colorado Co-op Investment Club, and the Slow Money investment club network.  If there are none in your area, start one!  Just make sure you’re aware of and tending to securities laws.  My friend Joe Reimann is a super nice guy and quite willing to help.
  5. STOP TAKING UBERs and LYFTS. Better yet, #deleteuber and #deletelyft.  In many big cities you can easily find a taxi company or a ride hailing service that is cooperatively owned.  For example, in Denver/Boulder, we helped Green Taxi Cooperative form and obtain regulatory approval.  The upshot is that you’ll be riding with a licensed, insured, professional taxi driver, not a college kid who has been up for 36 hours straight and is trying to earn some extra money between classes.  If you really want to put your money where your heart is, then ask yourself whether you should hail a ride from companies that average $3.37/hour wages for drivers.  I say #gocoop and #gocooptaxi.
  6. Check out the Calvert Impact Investment Note. Note, the investment is not for everyone and this is not advice or a recommendation.
  7. Check out “Change Finance Diversified Impact U.S. Large Cap Fossil Fuel Free ETF (NYSE: CHGX)”.  Among the many cool things about this fund is that it is organized as a public benefit corporation.
  8. If you’re like 98% of us, you’re not an “accredited investor.”  This means that until recently you were all but forbidden from investing in privately held companies.  This all changed with the JOBS Act. Title III, in particular, paved the way for non-accredited investor crowd-funding. Subject to certain investment limits, ordinary people can invest directly into privately held companies. This means it is now easier than at any time in the last 80-years to actually invest in your favorite local business.  You’ll have to invest through an online portal, and there are many out there.  Check back soon; we’ll be publishing future blog posts about crowd-funding, direct public offerings and other ways to invest in local businesses.
  9. Set up a self-directed IRA and/or Solo 401(k) plan.
  10. Last, but not least…shop local and shop coop.  Local buying and community purchasing is by far the most effective and direct way to support local business, keep money local and vote with your feet (or is it dollars?).  Why shop at Home Depot when you can shop at a local Ace or True Value Hardware store? Did you know that both of the latter are cooperatives? Each store is independently owned and the store is a member of a wholesale purchasing cooperative. This allows each store to achieve economies of scale with other coop member stores. This aggregated purchasing power translates into better prices for customers.  Locate your closest food coop! If one doesn’t exist, help to start one.

The bottom line is that once you divest, you’ve got to INvest.  It can be overwhelming with so much to learn and so many options to explore.  Remember, you’re not alone.  It doesn’t just take a village…it takes a community.  Good luck and please share your tips and experiences!

Leaving a Legacy: Creating a Social Enterprise that Outlives Its Founder

More and more, entrepreneurs and investors want more than just a buck:  they want to create a business with a social mission, then preserve that entity’s mission through time. This blog post briefly discusses three ways to keep a business entity on purpose long after the founders have left.

The first way is to borrow a page from much of the rest of the world and use “golden shares.” A golden share is a share with special voting powers greater than the other shares. To illustrate that power:  threatened with a takeover or acquisition that jeopardize the entity’s mission, one golden share could veto the transaction.

While we recognize that golden shares are hardly used in the U.S., we see potential. Our research indicates that the broad, powerful Delaware corporate law (the “gold standard” for U.S. corporations) has the flexibility and breadth to allow golden shares. Case law suggests that golden shares are permissible if they were created for an equity holder at the outset of the transaction.

 

second way to leave a legacy is through a Public Benefit Corporation. The very act of creating a public benefit corporation creates a high level of protection for the entity’s social mission; to delete or amend an entity’s public benefit statement or purpose would require approval of two-thirds of the outstanding stock of the corporation entitled to vote.

 

 

 

A third vehicle for preserving a company’s social mission is through a “perpetual purpose trust.” The Hershey Company, for example, has historically supported kids in financial need. Hershey does this through a purpose trust worth about $12 billion. The mechanism of the Trust’s control is fairly straightforward:  “The Trust owns about 8 percent of the chocolate company’s shares, but because of a dual class stock arrangement it controls about 81 percent of the votes.” This voting power allowed Hershey to reject a $23 billion takeover bid from rival candy maker, Mondelez.

Preservation of an entity’s long-term social agenda is a good thing. Jason Wiener|p.c. has partnered with other thought leaders on this topic (see, for example, Armin Steuernagel and his white paper on steward ownership). Our work-group plans to publish resources for the purpose-driven enterprise; sign up for our email alerts and we’ll let you know when it is available.

The Best Way to Fight Uber? Own It.

Originally published at the Roosevelt Institute

Progressives should embrace employee ownership as one of the best ways to challenge corporate power from the bottom up and put supporting the growth of worker-owned firms in the center of our strategy. As the economy becomes Uber-ized and dominant firms in all sectors take up more and more market share, structural reforms like better antitrust regulation and portable benefits are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient, to reversing inequality.

What’s needed is a massive wave of support for shared ownership and community capital. The difference in an employee-owned business from another type of business is simply where the profit goes: Does it flow up to an executive suite and a small set of investors? Or, is it shared by the members of the enterprise, who put in the time and effort to make it successful? The product may be nearly the same from the perspective of the consumer, but the change inside the firm itself is durable, because it’s not subject to the shifting winds of legislators. Community capital allows those of us with the ability to invest to put our wealth into local businesses, rather than exclusively into Wall Street funds.

These models that were once seen as “niche” and hippie-like may be our best shot at centering working families as both value creators and value receivers in the American economy to come. For example, shared ownership of platforms—the rising business model that Uber embodies, where workers aren’t employees but instead “gig” workers, or independent contractors—can turn a platform into a way for its owners to best employ their skills in a just-in-time economy, as nurses in California have identified. And if the “gig” or “platform” business model is here to stay—and its embrace by millennials demonstrates that it is—there’s a real opportunity to move from the sharing” economy to the shared ownership economy.

In a way, shared ownership is simple: Through a variety of legal structures like a Limited Cooperative Association or partnerships with multiple partners, worker-owners have rights to the value created by the firm just as investors do, and they often have decision-making power over major corporate decisions, as well. Worker ownership of a firm does not mean that everyone sits around in a drum circle to decide what type of pens to purchase—firms owned by employees may look and feel just like a regular firm, where members-owners have the right to vote on the major issues that face the firm. In fact, employee ownership is much more common than people think, in the form of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)—over 10.5 million workers partially or wholly own their employers this way. A recent studyby the National Center on Employee Ownership found some striking statistics about the benefits of ownership: For employee owners aged 28-34, such workers had 92% higher median household wealth, 33% higher income from wages, and 53% longer median job tenure, when controlling for demographic factors.

What employee-owned firms have lacked for a long time is capital: New firms require investors willing to take risks on entrepreneurs with a vision, and investors have long been skeptical of founders who planned to share the value of the firm with employees. But the rise of social capital and impact investing, alongside new opportunities for community capital-raising after the implementation of the JOBS Act and investment crowdfunding regulations, means that capital is starting to unlock for such firms.

Policies to encourage worker ownership have slowly been getting more attention from lawmakers—several Democratic senators have introduced legislation this year to fund employee ownership centers in the states and to create a fund of public capital to support conversion to worker ownership. And prominent progressive voices like Roosevelt Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz are speaking out in favor of the model. It’s crucial that spreading worker ownership becomes as central to the progressive economic narrative as raising the minimum wage and supporting financial reform.

The best way to fight Uber? Own it.