Aligning Faith and Finances: A Personal Journey
Above photo by Erol Ahmed, Unsplash
I grew up in a typical Irish Catholic household. My parents dutifully made sure that my siblings and I received the sacraments — Baptism, First Confession, First Communion, etc. — and that we attended Mass on major holidays and some Sundays. Other than this, my exposure to God was limited to religious education classes and an evangelical Christian missionary who lived across the street from me. Thus, my faith was not very mature in the early years of my life, but I believed in God and I loved to ask big questions.
My hometown was small. This, in addition to the fact that my mother taught classes in my church, meant that our priest knew our family well. At the age of 14, while attending Christmas Eve Mass, I sensed that the priest acknowledged my presence. That simple act was enough to get me thinking about the Ten Commandments, most prominently the Third Commandment — “Keep holy the Lord’s Day.” In response, I told my family I wanted to go to church each Sunday.
Hearing the Word of God proclaimed each week at Mass marked the beginning of my journey to being a faithful Catholic and embracing more fully the teachings of the Catholic Church. Then, for my 16th birthday, in order to find answers to my big questions, I asked for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I dove into it, wanting to know as much as I could about the social teachings of the Church.
It didn’t take long before I began to recognize some of the real-life applications of what I was learning. For instance, as I began working some part-time jobs I noticed a difference when I was treated with dignity as an employee, and when my fellow employees would in-turn pass on that same respect to our customers. This drove me to start seeking out other businesses that operated with the same kindness, and I preferred to support these businesses over some of their peers that didn’t seem to take the same approach of loving their neighbors through the way they ran their business.
Having developed a view of the social responsibility of business in my teenage years, it was not long before I began to think about what it meant to invest in businesses that were promoting the common good. After graduating from college, I started a regulatory role at a large bank in Boston, compiling shareholder documents for exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As I developed a stronger understanding of the mechanics of ETFs, I noticed two things. First, some of these funds were explicitly investing in companies that promoted or produced products and services contrary to Catholic values. Second, I realized that my 401(k) investments, which were invested in index funds, were doing the same.
For years, I had thought about what it meant to follow Christ outside of church, in my purchasing decisions and in leadership opportunities at work and school, but I now faced the possibility that I had failed to serve Christ as an investor.
Uncomfortable and overwhelmed with this thought, I did some research and found that there were other funds in the Catholic investing space that were listed as being compliant with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Investment Guidelines. I was relieved to see that these funds were not profiting off of one of the most difficult decisions a woman could make (abortion) or off of someone’s addiction to pornography, for example. However, I was still troubled to find that many of these funds were profiting off of the predations of big tobacco and did not mention anything about enhancing the common good, pursuing economic justice, or caring for our common home, the environment (3 out of the 5 categories mentioned in the Investment Guidelines).
Not only this, but I was disappointed in the returns of the funds. Wanting to be a good steward of my assets, I questioned whether God was calling me to sacrifice my financial returns (and, in turn, the amount of funds I had available for charitable contributions) to invest according to Catholic values.
It was several years later, while in business school, that I stumbled across others in the asset management industry who were trying to express their values through their investments and who were perhaps a little further along the journey of pursuing their faith through the practice of investing. On one such occasion, I attended a breakout session where an industry veteran was speaking at a Christian MBA networking conference (Believers in Business). She described an approach to investing that sought to avoid areas that extract value from society by exploiting others and, conversely, promote areas that create value for society.
In line with this theme of values-based investing, she also explained the importance of having a framework to look at how a company treats all of its stakeholders, namely, its customers, employees, suppliers, host communities, the environment, and broader society. I resonated with all that the speaker shared, including her assertion that what is right is also, in many cases, smart. In other words, caring for a business’s neighbors (i.e., its stakeholders) is often good for business.
My personal values that were being formed as I grew more mature in my faith were guiding how I approached every area of my life, including how these deeply-seated values could be applied to business and investing. Realizing how I could invest responsibly and still align my faith with my finances was such a fulfilling step in my journey that I would encourage others to explore values-based investing as well.
Article by Rob Carney who serves as a Portfolio Consultant at Eventide. As a member of the Investment Consulting Group, he helps advisors design portfolio illustrations around values criteria and relevant risk and return objectives.
Prior to joining Eventide in 2021, Mr. Carney spent a summer at Ford Motor Company’s Treasury group, where he identified benchmark and investment guideline improvements to reduce risk in Ford’s fixed-income portfolio for two of its largest pension plans in Canada. Prior to that, Mr. Carney worked in fund administration managing regulatory filings at State Street Bank in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mr. Carney holds an MBA from Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, where he focused on investment research and asset management. He also holds a B.A. in History and a B.B.A. in Finance from University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is pursuing the CFA charter and is a CFA Level II candidate.