Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This is a very interesting look at how to manage your money, in an as ethical a way as you can, by Nicole Haddow, a journalist. She admits she is not a financial expert, so takes the approach of let’s find out together how areas such as superannuation and the share-market work. Her goal is to steer her investments into more sustainable, planet-friendly endeavours. She approaches a wide range of people to get advice and passes it on to us.
The advantage of this approach is that, assuming we also are relative beginners, we can learn from her path. The disadvantage is we don’t have any track record to check how successful or otherwise she has been.
Haddow also stresses that you need to get independent, expert financial advice before you invest in anything or at least do your homework assiduously. One possibility here is a website called: ethicaladvisorscoop.org (a group of ethical advisors, which is a growing niche of the share-market).
There will be losses and gains over time and understandably she (and her publishers) does not want any blowback from unhappy investors who follow her less profitable tips. She again stresses that she is not an expert in these fields but is on a learning curve herself. Most interested people will probably read some financial experts as well.
Early on in the book, Haddow makes the point that there are many shades of grey when it comes to the whole issue of ethical investing. Haddow doesn’t want to support fossil fuel companies, but found that we currently rely on coal-fired power stations for the majority of our electricity needs and while renewables will likely fill an increasing amount, it will take some time to transition. Haddow says that fossil fuels are “a necessary evil right now”(69). Also, if theoretically everyone pulled out of coal companies now, the shock to the economic system would be massive.
Of course, coal, gas and iron ore companies make substantial profits, which is attractive to banks and super funds. While some banks have pledged to transition to less investment in the future, it is the smaller banks that are more progressive, in Haddow’s view. She names Bank Australia, Bendigo Bank and Adelaide Bank as being worth a look.
Are you familiar with neobanks? They don’t have physical stores but operate online through smartphone apps. Haddow thinks they suit younger people with less income. Some like Up (started 2018) are now owned by Bendigo Bank, which adds financial backing.
When it comes to your Superannuation, do you know which companies your Super fund is investing in now? I wasn’t sure and I don’t think I’m on my Pat Malone there. Haddow tells the story of her trying to find out and the blank walls she came up against with her then fund (she has since switched) (31). This leads us to the story of a real-life Super Hero: Dr Bronwyn King, a cancer specialist from Melbourne. Dr King treats lung cancer patients and she was shocked to discover her own doctors’ Super fund invested in tobacco.
Not any more they don’t, after an incredible amount of lobbying by Dr King over many years, and not just in Australia, but internationally as well.
Haddow dives into the complex world of shares and manages to make it quite understandable. She explains the various steps needed to buy and sell, the fees involved and the many options available for expert advice. Haddow thinks that ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) are a good option for newbies like her as they spread your money over a range of companies. You can also seek out responsible/ sustainable choices such as ETHI (Betashares Global Sustainability Leaders) among others. Some of these have a medical component such as FAIR (ResMed, CSL, Suncorp, Brambles, Mirvac, etc).
One interesting point made by the founders of the Equity Mates podcast (Alec Renehan & Bryce Leske) is that “broadly, …ethical shares perform better than the market average” (119). To muddy the waters somewhat, tech companies are generally listed as ethical, even though some of their labour hiring and social impact practices are questionable.
Another avenue to explore is to use brokers to buy and sell for you, obviously at some cost. Haddow checked out SelfWealth, Ig and Stake and liked the ability to practise buying and selling to learn the ropes. Readers familiar with TikTok and Instagram may be aware of 24-year-old Tash Etschmann who gives financial advice to her followers.
Another interesting idea is Crowd-sourced equity funding (CSF). People with good ideas but little capital can get funding from the public (148). However, there is a catch: you only make money if it’s successful basically. Three concepts that looked good to me were Seabin (150), Outland Denim (151) and House4Change (153). For something completely different, what about investing in hemp via TSN or AusCann (168)?
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone interested in the future. It’s an engaging read around the ethical spectrum of the investing world. It’s also written at a level that would suit most beginner investors.
Nicole Haddow has an Arts degree from Deakin University (2005) and has worked as an editor, writer and journalist. Her previous book was Smashed Avocado: How I Cracked the Property Market and You Can Too (2019). She was once the executive property writer for The Australian Financial Review.
The Ethical Investor
by Nicole Haddow