Should your investment portfolio as a follower of Jesus look any different from everyone else’s? Do our Biblical values have implications for our 401K? Robin John and Finny Kuruvilla founded Eventide Investments because they believe the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” They join Curtis to explore how we as Christians can pursue a kind of financial investing that “makes the world rejoice.”
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
CURTIS CHANG: I chose to invest in Eventide because I was so intrigued by the tagline, “Investing That Makes the World Rejoice.” So Finny, let me start with you. What does that tagline mean? Why did you guys choose it?
FINNY KURUVILLA: Yeah, it comes from a verse in the book of Proverbs that says, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” When God’s people prosper financially, that’s supposed to overflow to bless the communities, the cities, the countries they live in. So we decided to use that verse and adapt it to investing and say that a person should invest their overflow of resources into something that blesses their own city.
ROBIN JOHN: Yeah, I think our purpose statement sums things up pretty well. Eventide strives to honor God and serve its clients by investing in companies that create compelling value for the global common good. We’re seeking to pursue what we call values-based investing rooted in a biblical worldview, investing in companies that promote human flourishing and the global common good. And ultimately we do that through a framework that we call, Avoid, Embrace, Engage. We want to avoid investing in what Proverbs 1 will call ill-gotten gain or plunder. And we want to pursue investing in companies that are loving their neighbors, their stakeholders, including customers and employees. And we also want to engage with these companies to serve the needs of the world even better.
CURTIS CHANG: I love it. Finny, how is all this different from the standard world practice?
FINNY KURUVILLA: Yeah, so let me begin to answer that question first by laying out some groundwork here. Every person is expressing something when they invest. You’re expressing something about what you want – not just what you expect – to happen in the market. There’s a marketplace of ideas happening in the marketplace of business. And the way you spend your money is a statement of your values.
A lot of people will say, “Just buy the whole market and don’t worry about trying to filter which companies you choose.” And there’s a particular value set in that. There’s another set of values that thinks more carefully about the impact. And so how do people who steward capital shape the world around us? And this is very important historically in the Christian faith, thinking about how we, as stewards of capital, can influence the world around us for good or for bad. We’ve heard the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, the dollar is even mightier than the pen. There’s something about money that is very, very formative to the world that we live in. And I think that’s pretty widely recognized.
And we would say that the values you express while investing should be the same values you express on Sunday when you’re in church, in your small groups, or in your families. There ought to be a coherence of your value set.
There’s a second dimension to understanding what happens when we invest: businesses also shape us. I would make the case that businesses are some of the most powerfully formative institutions in our discipleship. Think about the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the shows you watch, the cars you drive, what you think is funny, what you think is not funny. Almost all of that is shaped significantly by the businesses that you are patronizing. So we can multiply examples here, but it is a huge element of what forms the church and what forms any given disciple.
The church has had this blind spot for a long time. We need to think more deeply about the role of corporations in forming our sensibilities and beliefs about everything from God’s character, to sexuality, to how to relate to refugees… you name it. They’re tremendously shaped by these institutions. And so we as investors have the ability to shape companies. So there’s all kinds of voting mechanisms and shareholder resolutions. There’s a lot of different mechanisms that are built into the market by which an investor ought to be shaping what he or she owns. And so this is an underutilized source of leverage in the world today.
CURTIS CHANG: Yeah. That sounds wonderful. It also sounds a little abstract, Finny. So, Robin, flesh this out. How does Eventide do this? How does Eventide actually create a different value set that Christians are expressing and also being formed by? What are you guys investing in that reflects a set of Christian values in this exchange of formation?
ROBIN JOHN: Yeah, so for us, the first step was understanding what Christian values are. So Finny and I spent, along with a few others, six months prior to starting Eventide fasting and praying. We would do that once a week for six months, and we would meet in Finny’s house and pray together. Romans 12 talks about not conforming to the patterns of the world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. So we asked ourselves what of the world’s stories we have bought into. And we decided it was the story the world tells us about business and investing.
Even in Genesis 1, God is a creator who calls good what he creates. Then the Bible says, “God created us in his image, in his likeness.” It basically says that we could have dominion, right? We also know that the greatest commandment is, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” So what does all that mean?
Well, I mentioned the Avoid, Embrace, Engage framework. We want to avoid things that plunder and harm the world, things like abortion, pornography, tobacco, weaponry, violent video gaming, environmental harm, gambling. There’s a whole list of things we avoid investing in. And then we had to determine what promotes human flourishing. Ultimately, we want to find the best examples in a given industry of value creation, as opposed to value extraction.
For example, we invest in a trucking company that really focuses on having their drivers sleep in their own beds every night. That’s an example of how that company is seeking to create value by loving their employees. They also do a wonderful job with their customers – on-time delivery rates and things like that. So they’re serving both their customers and their employees well. So we look for companies like that within a given industry. So we’re looking for companies that love their neighbors neighbors – their customers, employees, supply chains, host communities, environment, and society.
CURTIS CHANG: Got it. Well, let’s break that down a little more. Finny, Robin’s laid out the avoid part of the framework: avoid doing harm, avoid plundering the world. In what ways do the standard world practices of investing lead people to fund exploitation and how does your investment avoid those things? If I’m just putting my money in a S&P 500 index fund, I could say, “Well look, I’m not actively investing in exploitation or plunder.” I think you guys would say, “Actually you may be unthinkingly participating in those things.” Break that down for me.
FINNY KURUVILLA: Yeah, so I’ll give you an example without naming the specific company. We actually wrote a piece about this several years ago about this company and I’d guess 20 to 30 percent of people who have any kind of investments have invested in this company. It’s a tobacco company. And we ran a piece that I thought was very, very interesting.
It began by talking about a boy in Indonesia named Haddi and how he was stealing money from his parents and from other people in order to fund his tobacco habit. This little boy, this eight year old boy, started smoking at four years old. And you might say, “Okay, that’s some crazy anomaly.” Well, as it turns out, it’s not at all. The whole industry of tobacco is highly regulated in the US. but it’s not so regulated when you go into the developing world. And the average age for starting to smoke in Indonesia has fallen from 19 years old to seven years old.
CURTIS CHANG: Wow.
FINNY KURUVILLA: And yes, I said seven. And it’s because there’s this blitz of advertising and easy accessibility of tobacco. So we asked, “Who owns this particular company that makes many millions of dollars from Indonesia in particular?” And we found that the largest owners were, in fact, American 529 plans. So for those who don’t know what a 529 plan is, it’s where you save for your children’s college education. And here, it was the Virginia 529 savings plan. And in fact, the top owners of this particular tobacco company, out of the top six, all but one were 529 college savings plans. So think about that for a moment.
You have American parents trying to save for their children’s future And how are they doing that? Well, one of the sources is the dividends which come from putting children in Indonesia into a form of bondage, right? The irony is tragic here. So that’s one example of where somebody in a typical ETF or index fund would be owning this company and profiting from it.
And so we said that we don’t want to be profiting from these types of stocks. And it is pervasive. I mean, it is absolutely pervasive how much you will find tobacco, abortion, gambling. Some of the most addictive behaviors that are out there are being sold in these ETFs, in these mutual funds. And then, as I said, the typical American is profiting from this type of activity. We find that to be absolutely tragic and something that we ought to turn away from.
ROBIN JOHN: Yeah, remember is that, when you invest in something, you’re rooting for its success. You want to see this thing proliferate so that your profits will keep growing.
So what are we rooting for in the world? Should it be for more tobacco or something else?
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