Are you aware of how your investment dollars are spent? Do your funds support your values? What does ESG mean and how does it affect you? ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, may be confusing, especially if you are...
Are you aware of how your investment dollars are spent? Do your funds support your values? What does ESG mean and how does it affect you? ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, may be confusing, especially if you are concerned about responsible financial planning. Robert Netzly, Founder & CEO of Inspire Advisors, discusses with Linda the path that led him to form an organization to inspire transformation for God’s glory by providing Biblically responsible investments that create meaningful change in the lives of people across the globe. Learn how you can delegate your dollars in support of the values that matter to you.
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Linda J. Hansen: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen. Your host and the author of Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck, and the creator of the Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course, and the entire podcast library can be found on Prosperity101.com. I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs.
My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement, and retention and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit Prosperity101.com.
Thank you so much for joining with us today. Much has been discussed in the investing world about ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. The topic may be confusing to you, especially if you are concerned about responsible financial planning. Here to break it all down and to provide information on this and more is my guest, Robert Netzly. Robert Netzly is the CEO and Founder of Inspire Advisors, an organization formed to inspire transformation for God’s glory throughout the world by providing biblically responsible investments that create meaningful change in the lives of people.
Robert is a globally recognized authority on the biblically responsible investing or BRI movement and is frequently cited in major financial media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox Business, and Financial Times. He’s also a thought leader regarding best practices for design and implementation of biblical investment strategies for institutions, professional money management, and retail investors.
Robert founded the Inspire Investing Group of Companies in 2011 and previously worked in the Wells Fargo Investments Private Client Division in Carmel, California from 2008 to 2011. He holds a BS degree from New York University’s Excelsior College in Liberal Studies and a black belt and instructor certification in Taekwondo. Robert and his wife are raising and home-educating five children. They reside in Idaho, where they serve in their local church and community through many volunteer efforts. Welcome, Robert. Thank you for joining me for this interview.
Robert Netzly: It is my pleasure to be here. Thanks, Linda.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, it’s been great to get to know you a bit and to hear your story. I’d love for you to share with our listeners the story of how you became burdened for and involved in biblically responsible investing.
Robert Netzly: Sure, yeah. It’s a story I love telling. It’s really a story of God’s leading in His grace and something – he is really active in this industry. So, you know, as you mentioned, my background was at Wells Fargo Private Client Service down in Carmel, California, and really was happy as a clam. Worked in there. A nice little drive down the coast every day. Second-story office looking over the beach. Million-dollar account minimums like life was good, right? It wasn’t changing anything in that scenario.
And then really, by accident, I stumbled across this concept online one day called biblically responsible investing, when you’re looking at not just the financial aspect of a portfolio, but the moral aspect of a portfolio. What are these companies doing that you’re investing in to actually turn a profit? Are they selling abortion drugs? Are they manufacturing, you know, pornography? Are they involved in human trafficking and the supply chains? What are they doing?
And, you know, it’s curious to me because it never crossed my mind, honestly, to consider investing from that perspective, to even think about that connection. So, I was curious and looked inside my portfolio, my clients' portfolios, and honestly, the Holy Spirit has gripped my heart on this issue, because here I was president of our local pro-life pregnancy center at the time, and I own three stocks of companies manufacturing abortion drugs. And it just hit me upside the head that this – you know, every time that young lady goes across the street to Planned Parenthood and has an abortion, I just made money in that transaction. Literally profited from that transaction and then recommending all my clients do the exact same thing.
And then, you know, ran down the list of all the other issues that I began mentioning that were sort of festering below the surface of my portfolios. And long story short, two weeks later, I was just dead in the water at Wells Fargo. I could not do my job with a clean conscience. I didn’t think I could stay in this business and never met anybody doing what we do now. Didn’t think it was possible to really invest any other way. So, I went home, told my wife, “Hey, honey, here’s what I found. I think God’s calling us somewhere else.” And she’s like, “Well, we got two babies and a mortgage. So, what’s the plan?”
Linda J. Hansen: [Laughs].
Robert Netzly: You know, had no plan, just – so, we started praying, really, for God’s leading and was this close to going to a seminary being some sort of vocational pastor. The only way I could think of staying in the industry was – well, leave the bank, start some sort of independent practice that, you know, only does biblically aligned investing but that’s crazy because I don’t have any money or experience, or network, or et cetera, all the things you’re supposed to have, you know, before you do something like that. But lo and behold, as we prayed, it’s exactly what God has laid on my heart to do, unmistakably so.
So, anyway, two months later made the incredibly frightening decision to leave the bank. Left my clients there with the team [inaudible] previously, started over from scratch, just me and a laptop, fully prepared never to pay my mortgage ever again in my life, frankly, but –
Linda J. Hansen: [Laughs].
Robert Netzly: – overwhelmingly burdened with compulsion for the Lord. I just knew this what I’m supposed to do and didn’t know if it’s going to be financially successful. But I knew I was supposed to do it and so, I left. And you know, here I am praying, “Okay, Lord, your turn to show up.” And no idea what was going to happen. So, but you know, what I – what happened was, I started sharing the story with people about what I found, educating them about like, “Here’s what I found. Here’s what I’m doing.” And they had the same reaction I did, their eyes got big, the jaw hit the floor, and they’re asking questions like, “Well, how do I find out what’s in my portfolio? Is it possible to invest a different way? What does it look like to invest differently?”
And the practice just started booming and God blessed it to the point where I needed to bring another advisor in the practice. And then one advisor led to 2, to 5, to 10, to 20, you know, to within a couple of years, just mentoring hundreds of Christian financial advisors around the country, how to implement biblically responsible investing with excellence in the practice and, you know, I had no plans when I left Wells Fargo. No grand vision to grow any sort of enterprise. God obviously had different plans where, you know, fast forward today, we’re managing close to, you know, $2 billion, depending on the stock market day.
We’re the third fastest growing investment firm in the nation, several years running. We’re in the Inc 5000 top quartile fastest growing public companies or private companies in the United States, ranked by the Financial Times the among the fastest growing private and public companies in North America, South America. Glory to God because it’s just – he is at work, opening the eyes of his people to this huge problem that they’re investing his money in things like abortion drug manufacturing.
And this huge opportunity that goes with that to just make some very simple decisions to invest differently, to align with God’s values and invest God’s money, coordinate his values for His glory, and make some really not just good stewardship decisions, but meaningful impact. We’re seeing real change with corporations as we start to move our dollars into, you know, biblically aligned investments, and it’s inspiring to see that. So, that’s how I got involved. That’s how God has brought me and our team along. It’s an exciting ride. It’s just getting started. And it’s exciting to tell the story over time.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, it is exciting and every time I hear you share it, I get more excited about it because it just really does show that – you know, I often tell people, one plus God is a majority. And, you know, if you have God, and you have that leading in your heart of something that you really feel he is calling you to do, there’s always a way that – just go through the open doors. And that’s what you did and your brave wife. You know, you went through the open doors and prayed, and it led to an enormous benefit for so many people.
And you are right that people are concerned about their investing and their financial decisions and what they’re supporting. I think it’s become more and more emphasized during this woke culture that we’re seeing in our nation and around the world. But as we’ve seen companies adopt strategies and platforms that just so many of us just cannot agree with or support, it’s helpful to know, you know, which companies are truly supporting that.
I mean, it’s like buying American. I mean, do you want to support something that’s produced here in America or offshore? And when we think about purchasing or investing in companies that will promote our values, you know, it’s important to kind of look under the hood. So, how do you help people look under the hood to find out exactly what is being supported by the companies that may be within their portfolio?
Robert Netzly: Right. That’s the million-dollar question and that’s most people’s first question is, “How do I even find out?” Right? Is this information even there? And back in the day – this was 11 years ago when I left Wells Fargo, there, frankly, wasn’t a lot of information available and it’s kind of hard to find it. Our passion is really getting that data in front of millions and millions, and millions of – especially Christians, but everybody, you know, every pro-life person out there, no matter what faith background.
But we – just getting in front of people, right? So, their eyes are open and they can make those decisions. So, one of the things that we’ve done over the past couple of years is we’ve created a software called InspireInsight.com. It’s InspireInsight.com. It’s the first place – first time anybody can go online and just put a ticker symbol in. So, if you have a mutual fund in your 401K, for instance, or if you own a certain stock, ETF, et cetera, you can put those ticker symbols in for free online and get an immediate transparency on what’s going on beneath the surface. So, that mutual fund and your 401K, it’ll show you what stocks are in there, and then it’ll show you what those companies are doing. So, down to the granular data on this date, this company gave this much money to Planned Parenthood. And you can find that out within seconds. Super simple.
And now there’s complete transparency. So, you can save portfolios. You can do all sorts of things on there, but critical information to be good stewards of God’s assets, but also just mindful. You know, if you have two mutual funds, let’s say, and one of them owns abortion drugs and one of them doesn’t, and everything else is the same. Let’s say, the return and risk, and everything else is the same, which one do you want to choose? Like, why would we not want to pick the one that is – doesn’t have the abortion drugs. I mean, at a very bare minimum, please.
You know, we can make those decisions and as we make those decisions, and align this capital, Wall Street listens. They may not care about values, but they sure as heck care about dollars. And, you know, boycotts have a place. But oftentimes, it’s, you know, companies just kind of grin and bear it and, you know, get through it and rarely do the boycotts actually create systemic change in a company. Sometimes they do, not often. However, what we’re seeing with investing, when we have direct conversations with executives and management, it can be much more effective and, frankly, the Progressive Left kind of extremist have been doing this for decades. And one of the reasons why Corporate America seems to be in their back pocket, because they have been very strategic in how they’ve approached the investor-shareholder conversations.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, that brings up a good point that I spoke about at the beginning of this episode, and that is ESG. So, could you explain for the listeners who may be unaware really what ESG is. And you talked about how the Progressive Left has really used this and other ideologies in terms of promoting investments. And I think it’d be helpful for the listeners to hear in more detail what it is, how to spot it within companies and investment firms, and then what they can do to switch to more biblically responsible investing or, like you said, even if they’re not people of faith, investing that matches their values.
Robert Netzly: Right, yeah. So, ESG, three letters that have, for all intents and purposes, become a four-letter word –
Robert Netzly: – among many conservatives. It’s Environmental, Social, and Governance, and for good reason. It’s – this is a movement that has primarily been dominated by the extreme Progressive Left with very extremist views on all sorts of things. And so, you may have heard of companies like BlackRock, which is the largest asset manager in the world, with trillions of dollars that they control. Many of your own dollars probably, if you have a 401K or if you have other investments, are probably in a BlackRock fund. You know, it’s likely and the thing is when a BlackRock or whoever else gets those shares, they get to vote for shareholder resolutions.
And with the rise of ESG, what this does is it makes – it basically opens the door for their particular viewpoints on environmental issues. There are particular viewpoints on social issues, such as abortion or LGBT, transgender education in schools or whatever the case may be, and corporate governance to push their agendas, for lack of a better word, upon a company to then that company, you know, has – like Disney has a lot of influence and media companies and companies like Twitter and you know, the media platforms and you have the whole cancel culture.
And a lot of that pressure that we see outside from the – from externally looking at a company, a lot of those decisions that we just kind of scratch our heads, why would a company ever do something so crazy, had its origins in some sort of shareholder, you know, pressure, real or perceived along these ESG lines. Now, I will add an important nuance. ESG does not have to be evil because the Bible says a lot about environment, social, and governance issues. And so, one of the things we do at Inspire is we are kind of – I don’t know if you want to call it a Trojan horse or not – but we’re involved in the ESG space, but we’re speaking kind of light and life into that conversation, say, here’s a biblical perspective on abortion, this social issue, you know, how to educate children, you know, and what kind of content is appropriate.
So, the Progressives don’t like us showing up at the party, but you know, until they kick us out by force, I guess we’ll just keep showing up. So, we call it faith-based ESG, you know, what we do in that context, but it’s really important that shareholders express their viewpoints. And, you know, I’ve had conversations with chief financial officers, for instance, of very large companies, Fortune 500 companies.
One particular – I’ll tell the story really quickly – very large military contractor that makes satellite telecommunications equipment for military among other things and I had a conversation with a gentleman. It turns out he was a believer and once we kind of got to know each other, he let his guard down a little bit and shared like, “You know, in the boardroom, we’re just getting hammered by these, like, leftist agenda, you know, activist groups to adopt these policies and things. We, you know, we’re a military contractor. We don’t have any desire to get involved in these social issues, specifically around LGBT issues, was their pressure point.”
And he’s like, “You know, honestly, I can’t just stand up to the boardroom and say, ‘Look, I’m a Christian. I think these things are wrong, we shouldn’t do it.’” That – you know, that’s the quickest way to get fired from a public company. But thank you for calling, because now I can stand up in the boardroom and say, “I respect that point of view over there on the Left, but you know, I just had this conversation with these other faith-based investors, who have these other viewpoints on that topic. And I think we should just stay neutral, right? I think we should just make great satellite telecommunication equipment for our military and not get involved in social debate.” And so, thank you for giving us counterpressure.
So, even if it’s nothing else than that, we need to have our voice shared in those conversations so that there’s not just a one-sided pressure with no answer that forces these companies, even if they don’t want to adopt them, they let – they’re left with no other choice because they’re the only shareholders they’re hearing from. So, that’s why we’re so passionate about it, one of the reasons.
And as the more dollars come into these funds, like Inspire funds and others that are, you know, similarly aligned, more investors are aware of what they own and speaking out about that, the more companies will think twice, at least, from getting involved. And, and at best, we’re seeing companies actually change policies. Like, there’s been several that have stopped giving money to Planned Parenthood, for instance, because of our interactions. So, those are some of the exciting things that we can accomplish together by the grace of God and praying that we could do much more in the years to come.
Linda J. Hansen: That is exciting and it really shows the power of people being involved and how it is upon us to live out our faith, to speak our faith and our values, and to use the freedom that we have in this country to make an impact and share our opinion. When you were talking about ESG and faith-based ESG, I mean, one of the terms you mentioned was corporate governance.
And so, for those who might not really be aware of, you know, what that term is, I’m sure many of the listeners would be, but maybe there’s somebody who really just hasn’t really thought what that means. And I know a lot of companies have strict guidelines now about their board makeup like, you know, how many minorities? How many women, you know, different ethnicities and things? Can you address that a little bit?
Robert Netzly: Sure.
Linda J. Hansen: And how we can approach that from a faith-based perspective.
Robert Netzly: Right. Yeah, so corporate governance is a very important topic. I mean, it includes like fraud and bribery. And, you know, all sorts of things that occasionally are problems in this country, often are problems in companies overseas or with overseas business units. Also involves, like you mentioned, you know, board makeup and executive compensation, things that shareholders should care about, no matter who you are. And, you know, as Christian investors that are looking at the Bible and wanting our viewpoints expressed in the companies that we own, you know, there’s a lot of problems in the so-called diverse, you know, diversity push in board constitution, for instance.
So, if you got, you know, seven people on board? How many of them are diverse, right? And so the typical sort of progressive approach is looking on externalities like skin color or gender, or what have you, right? And they’re saying, “Well, this is a diverse board.” But we were involved in a shareholder resolution with some other allies through the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and some others. They are pushing on Amazon in this regard, with something we called the Viewpoint Diversity.
So, with the idea behind having a diverse board is that you want to have multiple viewpoints on a certain issue, right? Different experiences, different backgrounds, so that you get a fully – or when you make a decision, you don’t just have one perspective. Now, the fact of the matter is, when you look at Amazon’s board, they may have different skin colors. They may be different genders, but all of them are, you know, vote progressive, you know, progressive policies. They all have like monolithically monotone viewpoints. And it makes no sense whatsoever to call it diversity.
So, our point in that resolution and others that have – we’ve partnered with and are continuing to push forward as saying, “Okay, let’s ask about, like, viewpoint diversity. Do you have any Republicans, for instance, you know, or conservative people or people of faith, you know, on your board, if we’re looking at these issues?” Because that’s truly diverse. And, you know, they don’t really like that obviously, doesn’t really help their agenda.
Linda J. Hansen: Agenda.
Robert Netzly: But it’s important and frankly, with the Amazon resolution, you know, the board fights tooth and nail to try to get these resolutions from – prevent them from getting on the actual ballot for shareholders to vote on. We actually got enough votes to get it on the ballot. So, when – it went to the ballot in front of every Amazon shareholder, which is a feat in itself – praise God – and actually got, you know, close to 4% of the total votes, which sounds like a very small number. But it’s – that’s way bigger than any resolution like that should expect to get and very close to an important threshold that would allow you – basically cause procedural problems for Amazon to try to make it go away in the future.
So, they had to sit up and take notice, and force them to take action. And actually the next – in the coming couple of weeks after that, it was when Jeff Bezos, the CEO-Founder of Amazon was testifying before Congress, because of – if you remember this, they – the whole Southern Poverty Law Center issues and their Amazon Prime Program or Amazon Smile Program rather, and using this so called hate group list from SPLC to, like, weed out conservative organization basically from receiving funds.
So, he was on the hot seat there with Congress and part of our viewpoint diversity push was around that topic. And it actually resulted in him saying they’d consider other options, which he was always heels on the ground, never considered different option than SPLC. So, to see him actually budge and say, “We’ll consider it. It’s not a perfect solution.” was a huge win and we’re still working on that, of course. But that’s, you know, corporate governance in a nutshell and some of the ways that can relate for, you know, people of faith or conservative investors in their portfolios.
Linda J. Hansen: That’s really helpful. I’ve heard of other stories like that, where companies were really propelled, shall I say, to consider other viewpoints just because someone shows up. And that’s true in anything really, you know, whether we’re writing to our elected officials, showing up at meetings, talking to neighbors and friends, writing a letter to the editor, whatever it may be on an issue that’s important to us. Sometimes, you know, we can impact change, just by showing up –
Robert Netzly: Right.
Linda J. Hansen: – and speaking, and so I really appreciate what you all are doing to educate people on how to have an impact in these companies. Like you said, a lot of times the companies really don’t want to get all that involved in these social issues, but they feel pressure from their board members or from the only shareholders they hear from or from the culture and media in general. And so, they feel pressure and so, being able to come alongside and say, “Oh, there’s another way of looking at this, and we’re not saying our way is the only way. We want a diverse board for you.” I think it’s really great and very, very valuable, so.
Robert Netzly: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. One of the companies we’re working with right now is Smucker’s, J.M. Smucker Company, good old wholesome family values type company, right? That had just recently after five generations of Smucker family leadership, like Mr. Smucker, Mr. Smucker, Mr. Smucker, right? For five generations. Current CEO Mark Smucker has made the decision in recent months to join this group of companies, a couple 100 companies that have signed on to something called the Business Coalition to support the Equality Act.
And if you’re familiar with the Equality Act, this is a terrible piece of legislation that removes religious protections from Americans to believe, you know, in one man, one woman marriage, right? And basically, you can be fired, discriminated, harassed in your workplace and other places simply for believing what your faith may teach you is true about sexuality. And among other problems in that bill, it’s a massive problem. But you know, for a company like Smucker’s to think that that is the smart thing to do.
And in our conversations with them, their rationale for signing on here was not because they all of a sudden had this burning desire to advance and a social issue. What they said was, well, all our competitors have signed on and we’re behind the times. Like, no, you are ahead of the game. Like, don’t burn – don’t drag your brands at the same mud as these – as Kellogg’s and General Mills have done in the past few years. And so, you know, but Smucker’s, they need to hear from the soccer mom, you know. It’s the proverbial soccer mom out there who makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their kids and doesn’t want to buy Smucker’s jelly anymore –
Linda J. Hansen: Right.
Robert Netzly: – because it’s going to undermine everything that she holds dear about her children’s education. I mean, that’s what the Equality Act would do.
Linda J. Hansen: Right.
Robert Netzly: And they need to understand who their customers are, who their shareholders are. And so, we have a petition – if anybody wants to sign on to that, I would love your listeners to sign on to that. Go on InspireInvesting.com. It’s right there on the homepage. Click sign, share, send it to your friends. We’ve got over a thousand signers on that and it’s growing rapidly. And those thousand are money managers and some pretty influential folks. Parts – you know, as well as the soccer moms. We need to get that grassroots out there. So, we’d love any support there. I’ll have another conversation with Mark Smucker here fairly soon. They’re dealing with the recall right now. [Laughs] But in a couple of weeks, hopefully, we’ll be getting back together on that and hopefully seeing some positive momentum.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, it brings a good opportunity to bring issues to the table, too, and to show people that, as believers, I mean, we’re not close-minded. We’re not bigoted. We’re not anything. We’re just saying, “You know, you can have a seat at the table and we can have a seat at the table.”
Robert Netzly: Right.
Linda J. Hansen: And, you know, it’s like an election. If it’s a fair, open, honest, and transparent election that’s conducted legally and appropriately according to law, well, you know, we accept the results, right?
Robert Netzly: Right.
Linda J. Hansen: And so, this is a great opportunity for helping people understand again the power of their own voice. Our time is closing here. But I’d really like to have you back for another episode, almost like a part two, where we can discuss really actionable steps that the listeners can take. So, listeners, if you are really curious about how you would go about making an impact, be sure to listen to the next episode because we will be able to talk about that.
And maybe you can share some information about organizations that you are working together with to help make all this happen. You mentioned Alliance Defending Freedom before and we’d love to hear more about your efforts with them, and how that is all coming together. And, you know, just tips for the listeners, whether they are believers, you know, Christian believers or not, maybe they just don’t like the direction of the country or the way that some of these companies are taking their ideologies, and they’d really like to invest more wisely and maybe with a more informed decision making before them, and they’d like to have a voice. So, would you be willing to come back and discuss that for our listeners, give them some, you know, really actionable how-tos as they manage their own portfolios?
Robert Netzly: I would love to. Thanks for the invitation.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, that would be great. So, before we close this episode, though, could you please give your website again and then you mentioned a couple of different things, the petition and the index, I believe it was that you mentioned, and remind people how to get that so that they can do a little homework before they listen to the next episode.
Robert Netzly: Yeah, the best way to find everything that we’re involved in is going to InspireInvesting.com. InspireInvesting.com, you can see the petition. You can find the technology I mentioned to screen your ticker symbols. You can find our recent products, our financial advisor offices, everything that we do. InspireInvesting.com, also a lot of great articles and videos, and et cetera, so I’d love to have you visit.
Linda J. Hansen: There’s great articles on there. I’ve learned a lot, so thank you for that. And you bring up some really good points for anyone who really wants to learn more. And for anybody listening, too, you can see if there’s an advisor near you. If you are a financial advisor, you know, maybe you’re interested in joining their team. So, you can just go to that website and contact Robert, or just get more information. But be sure to listen to our next episode where we can dive into this a little bit more. And I’m excited to do that, Robert, so thank you for agreeing to come back.
Robert Netzly: My pleasure. Thank you.
Linda J. Hansen: Thank you.
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