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Doing Well by Doing Good – Socially Responsible Investing in 2020

Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA

By Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA

The world of investing is increasingly focusing attention on ways in which capital can be invested to support businesses that are promoting social or environmental welfare, and/or govern themselves in a way that promotes diversity and inclusion of those historically marginalized in corporate leadership, either by virtue of gender, race or other suspect criteria.

For many investors, this approach aligns with their desire to support business that are “doing good” in the world either in terms of what social or environmental issues they are addressing, and perhaps in terms of how they govern themselves and treat the employees within their companies.

What has come to be known as Socially Responsible Investing (“SRI”) or Environmental Social Governance investing (“ESG”) involves using criteria like environmental, social, governance and employment practices to choose what investments will be held in a portfolio. According to Commonwealth Financial Network’s website:

Sometimes referred to as environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing, Socially Responsible (SRI) is a broad-based strategy in which corporate responsibility and societal concerns are factored into investment decisions. In short, an SRI strategy seeks to maximize both financial return and social good.

Companies that deal in tobacco, gambling, fossil fuels, weapons, or involve child labor, employee discrimination, or lack board diversity are the kinds that get attention in SRI/ESG screening. Mutual funds will screen out companies that don’t measure up in those areas.

This has broad appeal for many investors, but for some time there have been concerns that one could sacrifice market performance for social benefit. Over time, the index that measures the performance of mutual funds that screen for SRI companies has shown that the gap has narrowed significantly between the general mutual and exchange-traded fund world and SRI-screened funds.

Most recently, during the first quarter of 2020, some saw better performance from their ESG exchange traded fund (ETF) than the S&P 500 delivered. A June 2020 article “ESG Funds Shine During Pandemic” in Wealthmanagement.com by Lawrence Carrel noted historically high inflows into mutual and exchange-traded funds while the overall fund universe posted higher outflows.

Favorable performance in the SRI and ESG space is not new. According to a US News and World Reports June 7, 2018 blog post entitled Socially Responsible Investing Delivers:

Research and performance history imply that socially responsible investors receive superior absolute returns and risk-adjusted performance, while also addressing sustainability concerns. Dollars invested in sustainable and socially responsible strategies provide companies with better ESG metrics easier access to capital, which reduces the cost of equity and supports higher stock prices.

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-smarter-mutual-fund-investor/articles/2018-06-07/socially-responsible-investing-delivers-for-investors

The author, Kate Stalter, regular contributor to The Smarter Investor noted “Since 1990, the socially conscious Morgan Stanley Capital International KLD 400 index (DSI) of U.S. stocks outperformed the S&P 500 in almost every time frame, and had better returns than the market cap-weighted index in both bull and bear markets.”

The Covid-19 pandemic may have magnified the appeal of SRI and ESG investing. The  Carrel article quoted a senior product specialist at Swiss-based Pictet Asset Management, Marc-Oliver Buffle: “A lot of people have noticed that not having as many airplanes in the sky and cars on the road leads to cleaner air…leading to a global realization…directly playing into the hand of those businesses that we invest in, ones providing solutions to those issues.”

Perhaps as compelling for some investors, the article also quoted Martin Jarzebowski, director of responsible investing at Federated Hermes, as noting …”a new consistency of quality factors among ESG leaders, such as lower volatility and a higher profitability of their business models…taking structural ESG considerations into a normal investing framework is anew form of risk management.” He concluded, after noting the outperformance of ESG in the 4th quarter of 2018 “…ESG has more semblance of being the new quality factor.”

While the positive social and environmental perspective of SRI/ESG investing may be compelling, the quality dimension of these investments may be equally – if not more -compelling for some.

Consider whether a more socially responsible approach to investing makes sense for you. Would knowing that your investments were supporting companies working to improve the environment, or address social causes, or include women and minorities in executive leadership add value to your experience as an investor? As with all investment choices, you should consult with your financial advisors before making any changes to your portfolio or investment strategy.

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Is Now the Time to Buy or Refinance?

June usually marks the height of the spring real estate market—it’s National Homeownership Month, after all. But this June hasn’t been typical. With job loss numbers in the tens of millions, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has put home ownership at risk, with many struggling to make mortgage or rent payments.

There is one unexpected bright spot, though: Interest rates have dipped to historic lows. And, if you’re in a position to take advantage of opportunities to buy a home or refinance a mortgage at an irresistible rate, you may be wondering whether you should.

To Buy or Not to Buy?
It depends. There are pros and cons to buying now, and it really hinges on your specific situation. Here are a few things to consider:

Time, and numbers, are on your side. If you’re a first-time buyer or an investor looking to seize the day, you probably don’t need to rush. Although most of the job losses seem to be behind us and consumer confidence appears to have bottomed out, rates likely will remain low for some time. And, though home values are showing more resiliency than they did in 2008, prices may decrease a bit more, getting you a little more for your money.

Supply, and available credit, are not. Even if you’re willing to brave a fluctuating market, overall inventory is relatively low and there’s little to choose from. Not surprisingly, many sellers are reluctant to list properties during the pandemic and are holding out for more favorable economic conditions. If you’re having trouble finding what you want and are unwilling to wait, don’t rule out working with a developer. Many need cash flow right now, so it could be your chance to make a deal.

Keep in mind the mortgage market hasn’t been immune to the impact of the pandemic, with liquidity dipping along with rates. May saw a tightening of lending standards, according to a recent Mortgage Credit Availability Index report issued by the Mortgage Bankers Association. Cautious lenders are changing underwriting guidelines, so you may expect more stringent credit score and down payment requirements—and your credit will factor into whether you get the best available rate. First-time buyers, in particular, may need to look at various financing options, such as conventional loans with private mortgage insurance or FHA loans, if they have a lower credit score or want to put less down.

Is Refinancing the Right Move?
Historically low interest rates are causing a flurry of activity for existing homeowners, too, and with good reason. Refinancing offers possibilities like reducing your monthly payment, switching from an adjustable to a fixed rate, shortening the life of your loan, or even cashing out a portion of your equity to use toward paying for college, home improvements, or other outstanding debt. Although it may seem like a no-brainer, it’s not always the right move—and you could find yourself with less money in the bank instead of more.

Think long term. The traditional rule of thumb was to refinance if you could lower your current mortgage rate by at least 2 percent. Not anymore. If you can lower your rate by 1 percent or more, you may see significant savings. How much, though, may depend on how far along you are in paying your current loan. For example, if you’re 3 years in and want to shorten your loan from 30 to 15 years, you can save on interest, even if you end up with the same or slighter higher monthly payment, but over much less time. If you’re 10 years into a 30-year loan, however, and want to lower your monthly payment by refinancing for another 30-year term at a lower rate, you may end up paying more in interest over 40 years.

Shop around and do the math. Although refinancing can often save money over the life of your mortgage loan, it can come at a price. In addition to the interest rate, pay attention to things such as closing costs, up-front fees (e.g., appraisal, legal, loan origination, and title search fees), points, and whether the lender will service the full life of your loan. You may find some lenders offer “no points, no closing costs” options at slightly higher interest rates. Finally, consider the costs of the loan against how long you plan to stay in your home. Ideally, you want to break even on your refinancing costs within one year. Be sure to shop lenders and run the numbers with your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional—making meaningful comparisons can help you snag the best possible deal and ensure that savings outweigh costs.

 

Final Thoughts . . .

Taking advantage of low rates is attractive, but your personal circumstances will dictate whether it’s a good time to buy or refinance, especially with lingering uncertainty around the economy. One caveat: If you’re an investor looking to become a landlord, plan to have an emergency fund of about three months’ salary on reserve (as well as enough funds to cover transactional costs). The economic fallout of the pandemic could affect the ability of residential and commercial tenants to make rental payments.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.

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Meesha Luce Earns Safeco Insurance® Award of Excellence for Superior Underwriting Skill

Meesha Luce, ACSR

Meesha Luce

Meesha Luce, ACSR, a personal insurance account executive with Allen Insurance and Financial has earned the Safeco Insurance Award of Excellence, an honor recognizing superior underwriting skill.

This is Luce’s sixth consecutive year earning this recognition, which is achieved only by a select group of agents across the country who sell Safeco Insurance.

“Meesha is part of a personal insurance team working hard every day to make sure we deliver the highest level of service to our customers. We are all very proud to say that Meesha is again part of this elite group of insurance agents honored by Safeco,” said Michael Pierce, president of Allen Insurance and Financial.

The Safeco Award of Excellence honors outstanding agents who have developed a solid underwriting relationship with Safeco and whose agencies have qualified for the Safeco Insurance Premier Partner Award, the company’s top recognition program. Fewer than 10% of agencies who sell Safeco have agents who receive this award.

Luce, a resident of Jefferson, joined Allen Insurance and Financial in 2006. She has been a member of the Maine Insurance Agents Association Young Agents Committee since 2013, was named Maine’s Young Professional of the Year in 2017 and is the vice chairman of the Maine Young Agents Committee.

Allen Insurance and Financial is a multi-year President’s Award and Premier Partner agency, recognition given only to the best independent insurance agencies that sell Safeco. Safeco is a Liberty Mutual Insurance company.

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Insurance Superintendent Says Even Mainers Outside of Flood Zones Should Consider Flood Insurance

From the Maine Bureau of Insurance, 6/1/2020

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting more named storms, more hurricanes and more major hurricanes during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa strongly recommends that all Mainers consider purchasing flood insurance, even those who live outside of federally designated flood zones.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that in recent years hurricanes have caused above average flooding, with more than 40% of flood claims submitted from outside of high-risk flood areas between the years 2014 and 2018.

“No matter where we live, it’s important that we all understand our flood risk, and what it could cost us,” Cioppa said. “Don’t wait until there’s an imminent threat. Now is the time to call your agent to get a quote and purchase coverage. You can purchase a flood insurance policy at any time, but there is usually a 30-day waiting period for coverage to take effect.”

Mortgage lenders generally require homes in flood zones to have flood coverage, but it is usually an optional purchase for all others. Many people assume incorrectly that their basic homeowners or renters insurance policy will cover damage from flooding, but flood coverage must almost always be purchased separately.

A homeowners or renters policy may pay for water damage inside a house, such as damage from an ice dam or a burst pipe, but it will usually not pay for unusual or rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters, such as those caused by snowmelt or torrential, soaking rain.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs between June 1 and November 30 each year.

Recommended related resources include:

Flood Insurance: Details are available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by calling 1-800-427-4661 or online at https://www.floodsmart.gov.

Inventory Checklist: A checklist can help establish an insurance claim. Start one at https://www.maine.gov/insurance/consumer/individualsfamilies/homeownersrenters/homeinventorychecklist.html and keep a hard copy in a secure location away from your home, with insurance policies, medical records, and other important documents.

Emergency Preparedness: For information about preparing yourself and family for emergency situations, such as floods, storms, power outages and home fires, visit https://www.ready.gov/ The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) provides Maine specific information at https://www.maine.gov/mema/maine-prepares/.

Consumers with questions about insurance matters can obtain information and assistance from the Maine Bureau of Insurance by visiting maine.gov/insurance, calling 800-300-5000 (TTY 711), or e-mailing email hidden; JavaScript is required

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Current Topic: Employment Practices Liability Insurance

In the time of COVID-19, employers in Maine and across the country have had to make numerous and significant decisions about how to manage their business, developing and implementing policies and procedures addressing remote work, layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, workplace conditions, and a host of other issues.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance for employers covers employment-related liabilities other than on-the-job injuries. This can include legal fees and damages for suits such as wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and other alleged violations of employees’ legal rights.

Recognizing that smaller companies now need this kind of protection, some insurers provide this coverage as an endorsement to their Business owners Policy (BOP). An endorsement changes the terms and conditions of the policy. Other companies offer EPLI as a stand-alone coverage.

The cost of EPLI coverage depends on your type of business, the number of employees you have and various risk factors such as whether your company has been sued over employment practices in the past. The policies may reimburse your company against the costs of defending a lawsuit in court and for judgments and settlements.

Your EPLI policy could cover legal costs, whether your company wins or loses the suit. Policies also typically do not pay for punitive damages or civil or criminal fines. Liabilities covered by other insurance policies such as workers compensation are excluded from EPLI policies.

The number of lawsuits filed by employees against their employers has been rising, especially during the current pandemic. While most suits are filed against large corporations, no company is immune to such lawsuits.

These are important and complicated matters. We find the best way to address them is by personal conversation. We’re here to help.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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SBA Unveils PPP Loan Forgiveness Application

The instructions for the loan forgiveness portion of the Payroll Protection Loans have been released. This document (PDF) provides you with some guidance if you have been able to take advantage of the loan. Your primary resource will be the bank with which you secured your financing. We are providing this as a reference tool only. Click for a PDF.

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Insurance for Aquaculture Operations

Insurance is just one tool used to manage risk for a business. This basic guide is designed to help make you aware of the various exposures you may have and the types of insurance protection available. Identifying risk and determining methods and techniques to address that risk is the key to our relationships with our clients.

Aquaculture businesses offer a unique combination of activities and exposures which are both land and water based – and results in a unique set of risks. You should always feel free to ask questions of your insurance agent.

THERE ARE POLICIES TO PROTECT

Liability arising out of your operations or the products you sell: Commercial general liability insurance is a standard insurance policy issued to businesses to protect them against 3rd party liability claims for bodily injury and property damage arising out of premises they own, operations they conduct and products they sell.

Your property: Insurance can cover physical assets which can be classified as real property – this includes buildings and structures built on the land and business personal property (contents), which includes furnishings, fixtures and equipment and inventory in/on or adjacent to those structures.

Your equipment: Coverage known as inland marine insurance is property insurance designed to cover the things which can be moved around (mobile equipment, gear, etc.).

Shipment of your property: Transportation insurance is a policy offering coverage on the insured’s property while it is in overland transit from one location to another on any necessary mode of transport, including transport by land, air and water. Coverage applies when insurance is desired on property owned by you, whether the property is shipped in your vehicles or in public conveyances. Coverage can include spoilage arising from overturn or failure of refrigerating equipment

Shipment of your product overseas: Ocean cargo insurance is a type of insurance covering goods being shipped overseas (air or ocean), with coverage provided from the point of origin (your place) to final destination.

Piers/docks/wharves insurance: This provides property insurance for your (owned or leased by you) piers, wharves and docks, floats, platforms, gangplanks, pilings, wiring, pipes, (water lines, gas lines, electrical power, lighting fixtures and equipment permanently affixed).

Your heating-cooling-refrigerating-circulating equipment: Equipment breakdown insurance provides coverage for loss due to mechanical or electrical breakdown of equipment, Coverage applies to the cost to repair or replace the equipment and any other property damaged by equipment breakdown. (Spoilage of your product.)

Your money/your assets: Commercial crime insurance protects a business from losses arising out of business-related crime. Protection through the policy can cover cash, assets, merchandise or other property loss when someone perpetrates fraud, embezzlement, forgery, misrepresentation, robbery, theft or any other type of business‐related crime on the company.

Any and all online activities: Cyber insurance is designed to cover consumers of technology services or products. More specifically, these policies are intended to cover a variety of both liability and property losses which may result when a business engages in various electronic activities, such as e-commerce, collecting confidential data (customers & employees) within an internal electronic network and the myriad of banking activities. An increasing exposure is created by connection to the grid for utility services and the operation of manufacturing equipment with Internet or cloud-based systems.

Damage to your vessel(s) including barges and floating work platforms: Commercial hull insurance provides coverage for physical loss or damage to a vessel’s hull and machinery (for those listed on your policy). Trailers can be included on a hull policy as can coverage for simple pollution cleanup.

Liability arising out of your ownership and operation of vessel(s): Protection & Indemnity provides coverage for a vessel owner’s or operator’s liabilities arising out of the operation of vessels listed on your policy such as damage to third party property, third party bodily injury or injury/death to a crew member.

Clean up and expenses arising out of a pollution event: This is a type of coverage created specifically to manage the costs associated with pollution clean-up (from a vessel) as defined in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and or state and local regulations.

Vehicles and trailers you own or lease: A commercial auto policy includes auto liability (injury or property damage to a 3rd party) and auto physical damage coverages (comprehensive & collision) as well as medical payments for passengers within your vehicle (excluding employees).

Injury to your employees: Coverage for injury to an employee may be provided by either your state act workers compensation or the Jones Act. Understanding which applies to your employees is essential to managing this risk.

Employment practices liability: This type of liability insurance covers wrongful acts arising from the employment process. The most frequent types of claims covered under such policies include: wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.

You may want or need a number of insurance policies (including those listed above or others), depending on your operations, activities and your appetite for risk.

Your insurance policies may all come from the same company or they may come from several different companies. As an independent insurance agent, we can help you identify risk, formulate solutions to address those risks and develop insurance coverage appropriate and specific to your business.

Information provided by:
Sally Carlisle
94 High St.
Belfast, ME 04915
800-439-4311

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Taking Care: Elder Financial Exploitation

By Sarah Ruef-Lindquist

Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA

Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA

The cases of financial abuse targeting the elderly are increasing. A February 2019 article on AARP’s website cited a four-fold increase in suspicious financial activity involving elders between the years 2013 and 2017 as reported by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

We read almost daily about the topic of elder financial abuse. Often perpetrated by family members or caregivers, and even less often reported, the elderly  are particularly vulnerable to this kind of crime. In addition to betraying trust and depriving an elder person of rightful agency over their property, elder financial abuse often thwarts the intent of the victim as to the ultimate beneficiary of their property, be they family, a loved one or a charitable cause. It is financially and emotionally devastating, and may contribute to higher mortality rates. [i]

This kind of abuse is perpetrated at all socio-economic levels. Cases involving ultra-wealthy individuals tend to get the most media attention. When a charity had understood there was it be a gift from a donor following their death, it can put a charity in the difficult position of having to decide whether to challenge an estate plan, incur legal fees and unwanted publicity in asserting their rights as beneficiaries of that estate.

In the summer of 2019, a superior court jury unanimously awarded the Portland Museum of Art more than $4M, including punitive damages, in a case that highlighted the undue influence that caregivers can impose on their patients, threatening the charitable intent of those patients.

That decision was reaffirmed by the state’s highest court in May of 2020.

The museum brought suit after a donor, Eleanor Potter, died after changing her will to leave substantially all of her estate to her caregiver, Annmarie Germain. Potter had within the prior year created an estate plan through a different lawyer, leaving the bulk of her estate to the Museum.

The Museum was put in the unenviable position of having to challenge the will and assert that the caregiver had abused her position and unduly influenced Potter to dramatically change her estate plans to give most of her wealth to Germain. The unanimous jury verdict finding that Germain had coerced Potter into changing her will was upheld on appeal.

The pandemic may have an acute isolating effect on those who by virtue of their age or infirmity are already vulnerable, and maintaining contact with those who would help to create a buffer between them and the unscrupulous is challenging in the era of self-isolation and quarantine. We have the opportunity to help those neighbors, friends and family members by maintain regular contact with them and paying close attention to any indicators of abuse, such as unusual expenditures or transfers of money, sudden changes in financial or estate plans, or neglect of self-care. If you suspect that someone is the victim of elder abuse in Maine, contact Adult Protective Services, www.maine.gov/dhhs/oads/aps-guardianship/how-to-reporthtml.

 

 

 

[i]Burnett J, Jackson SL, Sinha A, Aschenbrenner AR, Xia R, Murphy KP & Diamond PM. Differential Mortality across Five Types of Substantiated Elder Abuse. Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 2016; 28:2, 59-75

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Post-coronavirus Workplace Preparedness Checklist

By taking workplace preparedness steps such as updating office layouts, encouraging new behaviors and evaluating existing policies, employers can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of employees. To get started, employers can review topics on this checklist. Click for PDF.

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In the Spirit of Helping Others

Our clients include many of the small businesses and non-profit organizations we count on in our communities. News and social media include stories daily of Mainers helping Mainers and raising money to help others  We thought we would highlight some those efforts.

Opportunity Knox: Hosted online by the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, this is a centralized way to send funds to Knox County area businesses and non-profit organizations. You decide how much you want to give in support, and the website allows you to divide that amount among the businesses and organizations listed. Many, though not all, of those listed are our clients. Participation is not automatic – businesses and non-profits have to ask to be listed. More information: opportunityknox.me

In Belfast, the City of Belfast has set up the Belfast Keep the Faith Fund, which is providing grocery vouchers to residents and grants to small businesses. Individuals can call 338-3370 x131 for more information. Donations can be made by check to the City of Belfast with subject line: Belfast KTF Fund and mailed to: City of Belfast, Attn: Belfast Keep the Faith Fund. 131 Church Street, Belfast, ME 04915. A donation to the Belfast Keep the Faith Fund is tax deductible. More information: cityofbelfast.org/groceryvoucher and cityofbelfast.org/smallbusinessgrant.

On MDI, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce is highlighting those businesses staying open on their website here: visitbarharbor.com/open. To the best of our knowledge there’s no formal effort launched in Southwest Harbor yet, but we are monitoring the situation and should that change we’ll update this information asap.

Statewide, a host of organizations have banded together to launch Pay It Forward Maine which works in a similar fashion to the Pen Bay Chamber’s Opportunity Knox. You can find full details here: payitforwardmaine.com

Also, there is the statewide Maine Helps program, designed to connect Mainers looking to volunteer time, treasure or talent so that their impact is maximized and everyone stays safe in the process. Maine Helps connects you with ways to immediately help support nonprofits, businesses, and your community in the fight against COVID-19. More information can be found at this link.maine.gov/covid19/maine-helps

Update 4/27/2020:
The UMaine Cooperative Extension is providing an updated  list of agricultural (cheese, eggs, produce, etc.) and seafood pickup locations where consumers can purchase food from the people who produce or grow it. Many local fishermen and producers are organizing more informal efforts. Additional information about these can be found on social media outlets like Facebook. Here is a link to the Cooperative Extension web page: https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/farm-product-and-pickup-directory/

Any support for these efforts– however small it seems – can make a difference for our communities.