Some use faith to guide their money decisions

  • Saturday, September 15, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

Associated Press

Faith and personal values help guide the financial decisions of more than a third of American investors, according to a new survey commissioned by a Mennonite company and conducted by an independent research firm.

Yet the survey, released Wednesday, also found that only 7 percent of investors who knew about mutual funds run by religious groups put their money in them.

"It is a challenge to those of us that are responsible for faith-based investment opportunities to do a better job of communicating the availability and opportunity for aligning faith and values," with investing, said John Liechty, president of MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, the Mennonite company that commissioned the survey.

In the poll, 36 percent of investors said they always or sometimes considered spiritual and ethical issues when deciding where to put their money.

Another 20 percent said they would like to incorporate religious or ethical concerns in their financial planning, the study found. However, only 18 percent of the investors knew about religiously affiliated mutual funds.

Dennis Carpenter, vice president of the National Association of Christian Financial Consultants, said most financial planners don’t think to ask customers about their religious or ethical concerns.

"But when you see many of the large mutual funds company get involved with morally responsible investing, I think more financial planners will start asking these questions," Carpenter said.

Like so-called socially responsible funds, religious funds screen companies for practices that investors might find offensive.

For years, such funds have battled the perception that they are weak performers compared to peers with no such restrictions. But a 1999 study by Morningstar Inc., the Chicago-based fund tracker, found socially responsible funds performed comparatively well.

Recent high-profile fraud cases also could be keeping customers away. In the past three years, securities regulators in 27 states have taken actions against companies and individuals that used spiritual beliefs to gain the trust of more than 90,000 investors.

The survey of 1,141 investors by Opinion Research Corp. International of Princeton, N.J., was conducted June 21-25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. MMA Praxis, based in Goshen, Ind., has about $300 million in four mutual funds.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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