A small footprint leads to big success for Judy Seid. Our 2009 Socially Responsible Advisor of the Year says your clients don't have to sacrifice performance in order to invest in their ideals.
Hardly a secret. Baby boomers retain their flower power sensibilities, and want to leave a lasting, positive legacy for those who come next. Witness the rise in popularity of socially responsible investing strategies in the 1990s, during what many consider to be the boomer generation's peak earning years. Judy Seid was there from the beginning, and has immersed herself in SRI in both work and life. As head of San Diego-based Blue Summit Financial, she offers her clients strategies in keeping with their ideals, and makes them quite a bit of money in the process.
She started the firm in 1992, and currently has $80 million in assets under management. She's won the Better Business Bureau Ethics Award, the SBA Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year, National Association of Women Business Owners' Green Business Award, the YWCA TWIN award ... you get the picture.
She's a member and business sponsor of the San Diego Triathlon Club, and she works with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which helps disabled athletes.
"I did a 600-mile bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego in six days," Seid says. "We had a group of 100 people and we raised $1.5 million for the charity."
She rides her bike to work. She has solar panels on her roof and after an "energy audit" of her home a few years back, she retrofitted her lighting, windows and appliances to be low energy.
For these (and many other) reasons, we're proud to announce Judy Seid as our 2009 Socially Responsible Advisor of the Year. We'll make a donation in Seid's name to the Foundation for Financial Planning, an organization dedicated to pro bono financial planning and educational outreach (see the sidebar). In the meantime, we sat down with Seid for a frank discussion on SRI strategies and how they best serve her clients' retirement.
Boomer Market Advisor: Answer the critics. Are socially responsible investing and high returns mutually exclusive?
Judith Seid: This is a myth that has been around for a long, long time. But when I started in the industry in 1992, I heard it a lot more than I do now.
BMA: So it's proven itself?
JS: There have been a number of reputable studies throughout the years proving it's just not true. The myth came about because there were limited investment options for screened portfolios. We didn't have very many choices and perhaps those choices didn't perform well. But now there are so many more options. There are socially responsible investments in almost every asset class, so we have fairly good comparisons.
BMA: And the numbers back it up?
JS: The numbers back it up. The Domini Social Index 400 was started in 1990, and it mirrors the S&P except that the stocks were passed through social screens. But they're similarly weighted. That index, since 1990, has slightly outperformed S&P.
BMA: You started in socially responsible investing in 1992. Was that the leading edge of the socially responsible movement?
JS: Some of the successes occurred before that, but it started to get traction in the 1990s. Socially responsible investing is not new. In fact, when I started, it had been around for hundreds of years. Religious institutions like the Mennonites didn't want their endowment to be invested in things the church didn't agree with. The very first mutual fund that had social screens actually started in 1928. The big initial success with social investing was apartheid and the corporate divestiture from South Africa. So SRI has influenced government policy as well as corporate policy.
BMA: Do baby boomers respond well to SRI investing, given their past? Is that something particularly well suited to this demographic?
JS: Absolutely. I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers and I think people find it surprising that a lot of our clients are older than me. I'm almost 50, so we're talking about baby boomers that are 50 to 65. And environmental issues seem to be what our clients are most requesting.
BMA: How would you say that Blue Summit is doing overall? Is SRI competing well with other market strategies?
JS: We feel as though alternative energy stocks are really well positioned for growth. Almost every major corporation now has a corporate responsibility officer. There was no position like that before. Now they all have them. Every business is trying to figure out how to go green. If that's not a sign that these are the companies that are going to do well in the future, I don't know what is.
BMA: Are you aware of, and are you positioning yourself, for the alternative energy bubble?
JS: We limit our exposure to the solar energy portion of the alternative energy sector. The technology is emerging and it tends to be very volatile, as we've seen in the last couple of years. Last year alternative energy stocks were down much more than the market and the year before that they were up much more. They tend to move in opposition with oil prices. So it's a sector that we definitely want to be in but we definitely want to be cautious with our clients depending on their risk tolerance.
BMA: Obviously, retirement assets have taken a massive hit over the past year or so. What strategies are you using to help clients re-accumulate the assets that were lost?
JS: We're constantly reviewing our clients' portfolios. First, our clients' portfolios have been rebalanced. If you're rebalancing after the market is down, then you're buying back stocks in the market when stocks are down and selling off maybe some of the bond portfolio when stocks are high.
Second, we're finding that there is a lot of opportunity in some of the alternative asset classes. We've got access through our relationship with Pacific West, which is one huge benefit they bring to us. They have a great due diligence team and they are very focused on their real estate due diligence. We have probably 30 or 40 real estate companies that are now buying up distressed properties. So we're not necessarily rebounding now, but we're taking a proactive approach to make sure they're well positioned for the rebound to come.