by Sheila Julson
As a devoted environmentalist and career financial planner, Derek Eckert grew excited about the ethical investing options that became available in the last several years, but distraught in his limited ability to offer them to his clients at his previous firm. This past year, Eckert became an independent advisor and formed Syntropy Wealth Management, a firm that specializes in environmentally and socially responsible investing that secures client assets at the Charles Schwab Corporation.
“After reading the news, I felt obligated to contribute to the solution, because this issue is too important to ignore,” he says. “I am excited that my profession offers one of the best ways for people to make a difference.”
As a certified financial planner (CFP), Eckert personally meets with clients to review their situations and produce comprehensive financial plans. His certified employee benefits specialist (CEBS) designation equips him to educate and guide clients in choosing employee benefits to best suit their needs. Eckert offers fee-based hourly consultations without money management, or he will manage a client’s money for a percentage of the assets. “If I do the latter, it may cost a bit more, but I attend to the portfolio and handle everything related to financial planning, including taxes, insurance analysis and estate planning,” he explains.
Eckert describes the three pillars of socially conscious investing (ESG): Environmental, driven by the objective to reduce our carbon footprint; Social, to avoid investing in corporations known for using child labor, sweatshop labor or gender pay inequality; and Governance, to consider factors such as an independent and diverse board of directors. He specializes in the environmental and socially conscious pillars because of the opportunity for greater impact in these sectors.
Eckert uses a process called negative screening to build environmentally responsible portfolios by removing the most negative offenders from each investment category, referring to oil corporations as an example, noting, “You can’t remove 100 percent of a portfolio’s exposure to energy, because oil is a large portion of our overall economy.” He explains that building a portfolio with no representation of oil could cause it to suffer when that sector of the economy outperforms others. Eckert provides clients with a choice of companies that persevere in finding alternative energy sources.
If clients voice concerns that financial returns may be sacrificed when making environmentally conscious investments, he provides studies and examples showing their positive impact. Overall, corporations are now better educated and realize that environmental business practices improve long-term viability and reduce liability from fines and lawsuits.
“The bottom line is that people realize every time there’s an incident, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there’s likely to be litigation costing billions, followed by regulation, forcing companies to change their business models,” Eckert explains. “Companies that are progressive and change their business model in advance of regulatory changes can generally offer their product at a premium, thus generating higher profit margins.”
Eckert offers comprehensive holistic planning and asset management, as well as retirement planning, insurance needs, tax information and addressing long-term goals for clients and their children. Because personal health often leads to wealth, he also discusses how staying healthy plays into the whole picture of financial security.
“At first, I thought talking with clients about their health was none of my business when I’m talking about their money, but if they eat fast food every day because it’s cheap and convenient, or smoke, those choices could have a negative impact on their health,” he says. “One thing that will singlehandedly dismantle financial security is a health crisis, so conversations with clients about whether or not they are taking care of their health is very relevant.”
Syntropy Wealth Management is located at 7500 Rialto Blvd., Bldg. 1, Ste. 250, in Austin. For more information, call 512-740-7333 or visit SyntropyWealth.com.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee freelance contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.