UMGSA considering ‘ethical’ investment practices

Organization’s financial advisors says investment income likely to take a hit

The University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) executive is exploring the possibility of moving toward “ethical” investing practices.

Vice-president of finance and administration (VPFA) Cody Ross discussed the possibility at the organization’s Oct. 23 council meeting.

While no motions regarding the idea were brought forward, he said it would be an ongoing discussion over the next few months.

“I originally actually brought it up before I was an executive, when I was a council member about two years ago,” he said.

“It wasn’t a very popular opinion when I brought it up then. There’s a little bit more traction now, and we kind of started the conversation last year.”

He mentioned wording in UMGSA policy documents suggests all purchasing should be ethical.

“Purchasing also applies to our purchase of stocks, so we’re looking at how to integrate that ethical approach to investing money in the UMGSA, but what we want is basically to get the opinion of graduate students of how fine of a filter we want to use, because when people say ‘ethical investments,’ there’s a broad range of definitions for that,” he said.

“If we don’t want to invest into, say, rail companies, or other banks that support the oil industry, things like that, then it needs to be a bigger conversation.”

While the move to ethical investing has been in the air for a while, the organization has not made any concrete plans.

However, Ross has discussed the idea with the UMGSA’s financial advisors.

“What will happen is that if there is support from council members to look at it further, it wouldn’t be a decision that was voted on immediately,” he said.

“We would invite some investment bankers who we’re currently in touch with to come and make presentations to show us what our options are in terms of transitioning very quickly or very slowly from our current investments to an ethical portfolio.”

Ross said the final decision may be made through a referendum of the graduate student body.

Ross, who is helming the initiative, admitted the organization’s financial advisors have warned that a move to ethical investments would likely result in a decrease in investment income.

“The annual returns of our investments would likely decrease if we were to switch to an ethical investment product that’s available right now,” Ross said.

“So, some of the bankers that we spoke to, they do have options for us that we could transition to very quickly, we would just have poor returns.”

Just how drastically depends on how quickly the organization would like to make the change, with a slower, more controlled transfer resulting in less of a decrease.

As time goes on it is expected that more ethical investment opportunities will open up, lessening the impact on income that is expected.

The current UMGSA investment portfolio is valued at over $1 million.