(Boston) The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) voted unanimously on May 20, 2010, to secure the services of TIAA-CREF as the new recordkeeper for the Unitarian Universalist Organizations Retirement Plan. The transition of the UUA’s roughly 2,800 retirement accounts (a total of $178 million in investments) to TIAA-CREF will begin this fall, ending a ten-year relationship with Fidelity Investments.
The change in companies was spurred by a growing commitment by the UUA to genocide-free investing coupled with its disappointment in Fidelity’s persistent refusal to consider human rights in their investment choices.
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales said, “We are morally bound to consider the impact of our financial decisions. We couldn’t continue to watch passively as money we earned through religious service was directed to companies profiting from a genocidal regime. As clients of Fidelity, we tried to create change from within, but after four years, it became clear that Fidelity’s position on investing in the Sudan hadn't changed one iota.”
Beginning in 2007, the UUA tried unsuccessfully to persuade Fidelity to divest in companies with ties to the Sudanese government, particularly two giant Chinese oil companies, PetroChina and Sinopec.
The UUA was an early member of the Save Darfur Coalition and has worked closely with Investors Against Genocide in their “Fidelity Out of Sudan” campaign. The UUA’s concern for the situation in Darfur dates back to 2005, when Rev. William Sinkford, president of the UUA from 2001-2009, visited refugee camps in Chad and met with survivors of the genocide.
“The Unitarian Universalist Association is a leading example that Americans, once they become aware, are overwhelmingly opposed to being financially connected to genocide,” said Eric Cohen, co-founder and chairperson of Investors Against Genocide. “Fund managers, such as Fidelity, who resist making a commitment to genocide-free investing, should see that UUA’s action reflects a competitive marketplace in which customers have clear, mainstream alternatives that are genocide-free.”
The change in recordkeepers is the culmination of the UUA’s two-year search and discernment process. After a broad request for proposals, the organization narrowed the choice to proposals from two firms, Fidelity Investments, the UUA’s current recordkeeper, and TIAA-CREF. Five broad issues were considered: recordkeeping and administrative capacity, investment performance and fees, customer service, ease of transition, and compatibility with the mission of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Tim Brennan, the UUA’s Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, believes that TIAA-CREF is clearly more aligned with the denomination’s values, but he explained that he would not have supported the switch unless the due diligence process demonstrated that TIAA-CREF could deliver outstanding performance, value, and customer service.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to our retirement plan participants,” Brennan said. “We are committed to protecting the savings of our ministers and employees, and I’m confident that TIAA-CREF will do an outstanding job.”
Brennan noted that there were striking differences between Fidelity and TIAA-CREF in the area of mission compatibility. At the institutional level, the UUA has long been a shareholder activist in investments held in the organization’s own endowment fund.
The UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing works to make corporate policies more just and inclusive. For example, as part of its shareholder advocacy efforts the UUA sponsored eighteen shareholder resolutions on various subjects in 2008 and 2009, only five of which were supported by Fidelity. By contrast, TIAA-CREF, a leader in socially responsible investing, supported seventeen of those eighteen UUA-sponsored resolutions.
TIAA-CREF’s commitments include the full range of environmental, social, and governance issues as expressed through its record of corporate engagement, social screening of investments, and community investing. Most importantly, earlier this year TIAA-CREF sold all of its holdings, worth $58 million as of September 30, 2009, in four companies tied to the genocide in Darfur. This decisive action earned the praise of Investors Against Genocide and convinced the UUA that TIAA-CREF was the best choice to manage the organization’s retirement plan.
“Our unanimous decision to form a new partnership with TIAA-CREF reflects our shared core values of justice, peace, and compassion,” said Morales. “This is an opportunity to live our faith and extend our influence in the world with our combined financial resources.”