For many vegans, dietary commitments represent a single facet of a wider-reaching lifestyle. And at least one financial services firm in Asheville — Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. — is working to make vegan-friendly investing options accessible to those whose animal-conscious ethos extend beyond the dinner table.
“Unfortunately, there are no mutual funds available in the United States that are specifically designed for vegans,” says Bray Creech, financial advisor at Raymond James. “Right now, the option for someone who wants to invest according to a vegan value system is what’s called a separately managed account.”
Separately managed accounts, he explains, are cherry-picked portfolios designed for a particular investor, while mutual funds offer pre-packaged portfolios that many investors pool funds into. Through a partnership with national sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) company Trillium Asset Management, Raymond James is able to offer these highly customized accounts with selection criteria like “no leather,” “no fur sales” and “no animal testing.”
While these specifications are necessary but not sufficient to claim pure veganism among portfolios, Creech says his team tries to be “as vegan as we possibly can be” when culling companies, “and that is better than what’s out there now for vegan investors.” The customization, however, comes at a cost.
“The challenge with a separately managed account is that most investment companies require a higher minimum threshold,” Creech says, “whereas with a mutual fund, typically to get in, you can invest as little as $100.”
Earlier this year, after being contacted by a national animal rights organization, Raymond James challenged several asset management companies to create a vegan-friendly portfolio for the advisors to sell. Although Trillium jumped at the challenge, the minimum investment for their separately managed accounts remains at $250,000, making the investment inaccessible to many would-be participants.
“Frankly, I’m surprised that we don’t have a vegan mutual fund yet, given that socially responsible investing has skyrocketed in the last decade, five years, even three years,” Creech says, noting the trend toward other niche SRIs like fossil fuel-free funds and portfolios based on religious preferences.
“The challenge, I think, is to get the mutual fund company providers to see the demand,” he says. To spur progress, vegans should “begin to have discussions within their own networks, start writing about it, start blogging about it and reach out to the mutual fund companies that they’re already working with and express a desire for this.”
For his part, Creech held a meeting at MetroWines in June, inviting a regional representative from Trillium in to speak with nearly two dozen members of the Asheville Vegan Society. Although several attendees expressed interest in pursuing a vegan portfolio, one lamented the prohibitively high minimum.
“I don’t see it as our particular firm’s duty to get that minimum down. Vegans here in Asheville and everywhere need to express this desire,” Creech says. “Only by expressing demand will there possibly be a vegan mutual fund that has a lower investment threshold, but this little firm, we cannot do that by ourselves.”