From Vanguard investments to Refugees from Christianity
I empathise with Christine Hayes’ concern about Vanguard investments (5 May). My short article in the Friend (22 October 2020) outlined the laudable history and investment ethos of the company, which is effectively owned by the people investing in its funds. It can almost be viewed as a kind of cooperative, and comes highly recommended by Which? magazine.
Having invented tracker funds as simple, low-cost investments to benefit ordinary people, Vanguard simply buys shares on behalf of its investors in companies proportionally to their value in various share indices around the world – for example: FT100 (the UK’s top 100 companies); FT250 (next largest 250 companies); Dow Jones; and so on. Founded in the USA by Jack Bogle, his motto was, ‘Don’t search for the needle in the haystack, buy the haystack!’
But by tracking a market, you can’t exclude any of the companies that are part of that market. It’s like our income taxes that fund schools, hospitals and bombs. We can’t choose spending priorities directly, only through our votes for different political parties come the general election.
US Quakers have been in dialogue with Vanguard for many years, originally regarding investment in arms companies. Jack Bogle personally was a ‘friend of Friends’, and often quoted William Penn. Vanguard does offer a newer range of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) and SRI (Socially Responsible Investment) funds, but most investors simply choose the cheaper general tracker funds.
By offering ordinary people simple, good-value tracker fund investments to help secure their financial futures, Vanguard has become a huge investment company recognised as a consumer champion. I offer this as explanation rather than defence, but it’s quite hard to see how Vanguard can say to its savers, ‘You invested your pension in a fund that tracks the Dow Jones index, but we’re now going to exclude all the arms and fossil fuel companies’. They’d be sued for breach of contract!
My feeling is, if you want to invest your pension or ISA in stocks and shares, Vanguard’s ESG and SRI funds may suit, but if you want to be squeaky clean, you need to look at building societies and direct (riskier) investments in wind farms and solar energy – but this is not investment advice!
I am moved to write in response to the letter by Roger Hill, ‘Quaker tradition’ (12 May). He speaks my mind so clearly. I too find it sad and disquieting that we cannot express our Quaker Christianity in Meeting or discussion groups for fear of upsetting someone.
I now feel separated from Friends in Meeting, uncomfortable expressing my spirit-led leadings in ministry in case they upset somebody, wondering if I am in the wrong place to experience the friendliness of a shared spirituality.
I welcome all to our Meeting in friendliness, presuming they are drawn to the spirit of the Quaker tradition. Not a yoga group or a meditation group but a Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.
Am I in the wrong place?
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