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September 23, 2002
Survey Reveals High Investor Interest in Socially Responsible Investing
    by William Baue

A recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the Calvert Group shows investor interest in SRI, particularly in retirement plans.


The Calvert Group recently commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a survey on investor interest in socially responsible investment (SRI) issues and strategies in the current uncertain economic and political atmosphere. Almost three quarters of respondents (72 percent) say that recent world and economic events have affected their investing behavior. As a result, almost two-thirds (65 percent) seek more disclosure about their investments. SRI promotes greater financial transparency, a strategy it has espoused since long before the recent spate of corporate governance scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and other companies.

"The data demonstrate that recent world events have affected the way the public views their investments," said Louise Barbic, Vice President of Harris Interactive. "In addition, investors clearly show a strong interest in social investing, especially through their retirement plans."

Respondents express keen interest in incorporating SRI into their retirement plans. Only about a third (32 percent) of investors with employer-sponsored retirement plans say that their plan offers an SRI option, while more than two-thirds (68 percent) of investors with such an option choose it. According to the survey, investors overwhelmingly desire an SRI option. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents whose companies do not offer an SRI option for their retirement plan said they would invest in one if their company's plan offered it.

The survey results showed that community involvement and environmental responsibility are the two top issues that concern investors interested in SRI . When asked to choose from a list of mutual funds that invest based on different SRI criteria, almost three-quarters (71 percent) of respondents say they would be more likely to buy a mutual fund that invests in companies that are involved in the community. More than two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) say they want to invest in companies that do not harm the environment.

Respondents who use financial advisers report that their advisers do not understand their interest in SRI well enough. Ninety-two percent of these investors feel their financial advisers have sufficient knowledge of their financial status. However, only 72 percent believe their advisers understand their social and environmental concerns well enough to make appropriate investment decisions.

Harris Interactive, which administered the survey, is a Rochester, New York-based market research and consulting firm. Harris used the random-digit dialing (RRD) technique that reaches listed and unlisted telephone numbers with equal probability. Harris conducted 800 telephone interviews with primary or shared decision-makers about their financial investments. It screened respondents to ensure that they owned at least one stock or bond fund and have purchased mutual funds outside of their employer-sponsored retirement plan. The survey's margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Interestingly, only 41 percent of those polled were aware that SRI mutual funds exist. Of those investors, only 25 percent actually invest in at least one SRI mutual fund. These findings suggest a clear potential for SRI market growth, especially since these investors expressed interest in SRI-related issues such as disclosure, corporate community involvement, and environmental responsibility.

 

 
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