Socially-responsible fund investors have a new resource on the Web. Jay Falk, a former mutual fund executive, has created a website called SocialFunds.com that provides advice about socially-responsible investing. For a monthly fee, investors can gain access to SocialFunds.com's quarterly newsletter called The SocialFunds Investor. The newsletter provides socially-responsible investing advice.
"To my knowledge it's the only interactive mutual fund advisory newsletter on the Internet," Falk said.
There will be five versions of the newsletter, each aimed at investors with varying levels of risk tolerance. The versions range from conservative to aggressive. The newsletter will provide fund recommendations and portfolio modeling to subscribers who pay $49 a year. The recommendations will vary depending on the risk tolerance focus of the newsletter version. The rest of the site is free.
Falk has been in the mutual fund industry for over a decade and before starting his own business, he helped create socially-responsible investment products for Prentiss Smith & Co., a money management firm in Brattleboro, Vermont. He served on the board of the Social Investment Forum, an industry advocacy and consulting group based in Washington, D.C.
Falk has set up his new business in Williamsville, also in southern Vermont. He says he created the website because he believes there is a need for a centralized resource for socially- responsible investment information.
While a lot of the mutual fund industry's money management is done in Boston and New York, mutual fund websites have been springing up in Vermont. Internet businesses, unlike retail fund companies, do not need to have storefronts. SocialFunds.com went online on Jan. 12, and in early December, a Burlington, Vt. company created two industry search engines called Mutualfundsnet.com and Annuitiesnet.com.
There are other sources of information on socially-responsible investing on the Internet. Most socially-responsible fund companies, like Calvert, have websites. Also there are sites like goodmoney.com, which is an online version of the Good Money newsletter, a publication about socially-conscious investing that is published by Ritchie Lowry, a Boston College sociology professor.
Falk assembled a socially-responsible funds database and hired a website developer to create the site which makes its money from online advertising.
On the home page, the site includes a ticker of socially-responsible mutual fund share prices and running quotes of the major indexes and exchanges. When one scrolls down, one finds the site is broken up into five sections: educational materials; fund information (the Mutual Fund Center); online advice (the newsletter); service (a search engine to find businesses and individuals that provide socially-responsible investment services), and the newsroom, which provides the latest news on socially-responsible investing.
In the next few weeks, Falk plans to add a bulletin board to allow investors to discuss issues online, and an investor activism center which will keep investors informed about shareholder actions regarding socially-responsible investing.
"This will allow users of the site to see which companies are facing (shareholder) resolutions. There's nothing out there like it," Falk said.
The Mutual Fund Center is special because it carries profiles and fund information for all socially-responsible funds. The site can include this comprehensive information because the universe of socially-responsible funds is relatively small, Falk said. There are about 170 funds that have some sort of social objective, which might simply include a prohibition of gambling or tobacco stocks, he said. According to the Social Investment Forum, there are $1.1 trillion in assets under management in socially-responsible investments.
"I think that as more and more individual investors make the connection between their values and how their money is invested, we'll see more and more people move into these funds," Falk said.
Falk believes the Internet is an especially good medium for socially-conscious funds because a lot of those who tend to invest in these funds tend to also be Web-savvy.
"All the studies are showing that financial services are moving onto the Internet, and I think it's a logical place to be," Falk said. "Financial data, financial information and financial services really lend themselves to be on the Internet."
Other niche websites like SocialFunds.com have created their own mutual funds, and one even has plans for an online brokerage. Crosswalk.com, a public Christian Internet company, recently created a family of mutual funds and has plans to team up with an online brokerage to offer online trading. Crosswalk.com also offers a mutual fund social screen on its site.