The brokerage business is just about the last place you'd expect to find Phyllis Albritton.
After all, she is a former state coordinator for the human rights group Witness for Peace. She helped raise $25,000 to build a school in a small Nicaraguan city. She organized a desegregated preschool program for poor children in Charlottesville, Va., before kindergartens or the Head Start program came to the state.
So what, exactly, is Albritton doing as a rep at First Union Securities in Blacksburg, Va.? Simple: She's practicing what she preaches.
Albritton is a believer — as in true believer — in socially responsible investing, a movement driven by the notion that the bottom line isn't necessarily the bottom line. “Throughout history and emphasized by Adam Smith's model, greed is a driving force,” she says. “Fortunately, there are many businesses that don't think that way and are trying to make a difference.”
Those businesses, Albritton explains, meet criteria that include environmental sensitivity, community involvement, concern for workers, volunteerism, and a demonstrated record of promoting minorities and women to executive positions.
For individual stocks, Albritton uses the Socrates screening system from Boston-based SRI research firm Kinder Lydenberg Domini (www.kld.com). She sticks with A- or better rated issues, and those with a one or two rating for safety from Value Line. For funds, she consults the socially responsible fund rankings put out by Natural Investment Services, a Paonia, Colo., advisory firm (www.naturalinvesting.com).
Albritton laughingly concedes that her commitment to socially responsible investing occasionally elicits unusual responses. “Some people look at you askance, like you're a liberal kook.”
She admits she was an unlikely broker prospect. When Albritton worked at a bank in 1973, she says, “I never felt comfortable in the industry.” Then 16 months later, she heard Wheat First Securities was looking for a front-desk person, winning the job after telling her interviewer she didn't know a lot about the business, had little respect for those she knew in it, but liked the hours.
All that changed in 1978, however, when Albritton accompanied her husband on a teaching sabbatical overseas. Before leaving, she had a talk with her boss at Wheat First about what the future might hold. He suggested she get registered, which she did upon returning in 1980.
Albritton found her true calling in the field a decade later when she heard a conference speaker encourage audience members to find a niche. “From my own experience of divorce, I decided to work especially with women and to offer socially responsible investing,” she says.
Today, she balances her career as a participant at church, an instructor at the YMCA-sponsored Open University at Virginia Tech and a director of the local Boys and Girls Club.
Despite what might be termed an activist life, Albritton bristles at being called a radical. “I don't see myself as a radical,” she says. “I love my country. I just want my country to be the best it can be. I want our companies to be the best they can be.”
Socially Conscious In Style
According to the Social Investment Forum, the investment style accounts for one in eight U.S. investment dollars and more than $2 trillion in assets under professional management. Between 1997 and 1999, socially responsible investments grew by 82% — roughly twice the market's overall growth.
None of this surprises Phyllis Albritton, a broker with First Union Securities in Blacksburg, Va. While conceding that no company is perfect, “Ultimately, a company that treats its people, the community and the environment well is going to do well,” she says.
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