Changes Ahead for Pension Board Investments

January 22, 2015

[caption id="attachment_1376" align="alignright" width="150"]Photo by Choness, iStock Photo by Choness, iStock[/caption]

By Heather Hahn Jan. 22, 2015 | UMNS

Being good to the planet and its people ultimately will be good for United Methodist workers’ bottom line. That’s the principle behind two changes to the investment policy of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. In November, the board’s directors voted to exclude certain investments in coal and avoid investing in companies meeting certain thresholds that operate in countries with “a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights violations.” These changes are just starting to take effect. The changes — part of an investment policy called the management of excessive sustainability risk — come with an eye toward both church values and the long-term financial returns of United Methodist beneficiaries, say board staff. “What this means is that we feel that the companies that we identify (for possible exclusion) have policies and practices that are not sustainable and will ultimately result in losses in value for the companies,” said Dave Zellner, the board’s chief investment officer. For example, Zellner and other board staff foresee only diminishing returns from companies that extract the thermal coal used to generate electricity. With the increased international focus on climate change and the attendant regulation, coal — the most carbon-intensive fuel — is losing steam as people turn to other energy sources. Human rights violations pose a similar problem for investors, board staff say. A country that abuses its people isn’t just immoral — it’s bad for business. The pension board manages retirement plans for more than 91,000 participants, including United Methodist clergy and lay employees. Through its Wespath Investment Management division, the board also manages the assets of United Methodist-affiliated endowments, foundations and other institutions. Altogether, the board oversees $21 billion in assets, including the largest church pension fund in the United States.
PENSION BOARD'S PRESS RELEASE The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church, and its Wespath investment management division, today announced the implementation of two new investment guidelines.

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