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February 09, 2007
Social(k) Catalyzes SRI Retirement Opportunities for Employees
    by Anne Moore Odell

Social(k)ís online retirement platform expands companiesí retirement options by offering over 100 SRI funds.

As companies try to realign their business plans with their retirement plans, a new option is being offered to businesses looking to be more socially responsible. Social(k), based in Springfield, MA, was created to help companies interested in putting their retirement funds into a diversified socially responsible platform. With more than 100 socially responsible mutual funds for companies and their employees to choose from, Social(k) is leading the way, offering companies more socially screened funds than any other plan.

Social(k) founder Rob Thomas explained "I was developing retirement plans for Honest Tea and the Organic Trade Association, and I saw an opportunity to expand the SRI options from one that focused solely on Calvert Investments to a more all-encompassing plan that would include more of the available screened funds in addition to conventional funds, to provide investors with choice."

In its first year, 35 companies and organizations either changed their existing 401(k) to Social(k) or started offering Social(k) as an option to employees alongside their existing plan. Among them are two well known SRI mutual fund companies, Parnassus Investments and Winslow Management, both of which have signed up Social(k) for their own employees. Other companies making the switch to Social(k) include Honest Tea, Organic Trade Association, MoveOn.Org, Fiduciary Investment Advisors, Social Investment Forum, and Green Star Co-operative Market.

"Taking this plan was a no-brainer," Ethan Berkwits, Marketing Director of Winslow Management, advisor to the Winslow Green Growth Fund, told "We can choose from many top fund families, including the top SRI funds. Everything is online so it uses a minimum of paper. And Social(k) costs the same as the leading 401k providers."

One of the strengths of Social(k) comes from its collaboration with ExpertPlan, a retirement record-keeping and administration firm from East Windsor, NJ. ExpertPlan offers its services over the Internet, dramatically cutting the use of paper. Not only does ExpertPlan simplify Social(k) plan administration for companies, employees themselves can easily monitor their retirement funds. Set-up and installation are all online, as is payroll processing. Employees can go online 24 a day to take care of loan, distribution and rollover requests.

"On my way to the 1999 Organic Trade Associationís All Things Organic conference in Austin, Texas, I read about a paperless 401(k) provider called ExpertPlan," said Thomas. "Given that environmental factors are part of the screens that many socially responsible funds use, I thought ExpertPlanís web-based operation would be an important element to incorporate into an SRI plan."

Almost 300 financial advisors signed up with Social(k) in 2006 to offer their clients socially screened funds. One hundred and fifty of the advisors are with the First Affirmative Financial Network (FAFN). Aside from SRI funds, Social(k) also offers another 500 mutual funds to advisors setting up retirement plans for companies.

"I work with a lot of organic farmers and small businesses, folks who are questioning what their investment dollars are supporting," said David Meucci, CFP, ChFC, working with Progressive Asset Management, and the Financial West Group, located in Sebastopol, CA. "Both non-profit and for-profit businesses are looking to match their values and missions with their retirement plans. Social(k) offers a plethora of investment options."

Social(k) not only talks about sustainable development, it actively supports sustainable development with 8.5% of its pretax gross profits donated to causes it supports. Through its donations to Heifer International, Social(k) is a member of 1% For The Planet.

Thomas said he believes employers and employees are drawn to Social(k) because "people are realizing that everyone has an obligation to live a responsible and sustainable life." He added, "Businesses using Social(k) choose to operate this way and have that focus as part of their mission statements."

He thinks employees are drawn to socially responsible retirement investing for the same reason. "So when employees review their 401(k) or 403(b) options and see companies such as ExxonMobil, Halliburton, and/or Wal-Mart, among others, the employer and employees now can refuse to invest retirement dollars with those companies. Why not? There is now a full range of other options!"


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