Strengthening Those Who Serve
For over 200 years, Lutherans have been supporting the well-being of faith leaders and their families. Why? Because those leaders help others to live out their purpose. And that’s not easy work.
Portico is the ELCA’s modern-day benefits ministry. We offer quality, affordable benefits designed specifically to help our members strengthen their overall well-being, find resilience, and live into their calling to serve.
Rev. Jeff Thiemann
Portico President & CEO
Guided by a Shared Philosophy
It’s powerful when a community agrees on what’s important and works together to meet shared needs.
For decades, Portico has partnered with the ELCA’s churchwide organization and synods to understand and meet the evolving benefit needs of our community. A key product of this work is the living document called the ELCA Philosophy of Benefits.
ELCA organizations of all kinds rely on this document to maintain benefit programs that align with ELCA priorities. It affirms the:
- Importance of rostered minister and lay employee health and well-being
- Shared cost responsibility between those receiving benefits and those providing them
- Financial value and equity gained by taking a unified approach across the ELCA
- Historical context of today’s philosophy
Investing for the Sake of the World
The ELCA calls its people and institutions to encourage corporations to act in socially responsible ways and to invest in alignment with ELCA priorities.
In alignment with the ELCA’s corporate social responsibility ministry, Portico has maintained a social purpose investing strategy for over 30 years — starting well before this type of investing became popular.
Always, our social purpose-related decisions and actions follow ELCA social teachings and policies.
Retirement plan members can feel proud to be answering this corporate social responsibility call in the following ways.
- Across all our funds, Portico identifies companies we’re invested in that do not demonstrate responsible, sustainable business practices — and advocates for change.
- Through our social purpose funds, Portico seeks to deliver attractive returns over the long term while also investing in companies creating positive social impact and screening out those creating negative social impact.
- 1988: Well before socially responsible investing became popular, Portico introduced its first social purpose investment funds. Since then, our commitment has strengthened, our experience has deepened, and our social purpose fund options are broad enough to meet the needs of those wanting to be 100% social purpose fund investors.
- 1993: The ELCA social statement, Caring for Creation, was adopted. In the years following, Portico took multiple steps to strengthen our focus on the environment and continues to make this a priority.
- 2015: We approved and implemented the private prisons investment screen following the ELCA’s 2013 adoption of its criminal justice social statement.
- 2017: We researched and made a five-year investment focused on community development in the Holy Land, as the ELCA developed its human rights screen.
- 2020: We made social purpose funds our default fund for new members.
As Shareholder Advocate
Via all our funds, we wield a collective shareholder voice to create change.
Shareholder advocacy is all about speaking up, as investors, to advocate for more responsible corporate behavior that increases shareholder value. Like all smart change strategies, it starts with dialogue.
First, We Talk
Together with other like-minded shareholders, we invite corporate leaders into conversations to offer them an alternative way to look at their bottom-line risks and competitive opportunities, and encourage them to act in the best interests of shareholders.
If That Fails, We File a Resolution
When dialog fails to prompt change, we file a resolution calling for a specific action that appears on proxy ballots to be voted on at the company’s next annual meeting. If the company commits to take action, we withdraw the resolution before it comes up for a vote.
If That Fails, We Vote
When we don’t get a favorable response, we vote our proxies in support of that resolution. Even votes of less than 50% can capture a company’s attention and bring its leaders back into dialogue.
See Portico’s Shareholder Resolution Outcomes
How We Hold Board of Directors Accountable
When board of directors come up for election and the company or board members are not acting in the best interest of shareholders, we vote against approval of that board member, and clarify our reason in a letter to company management. With many shareholders using their vote to voice their disapproval, companies pay attention. We sent 55 letters in 2020.
Example: We consider a company’s executive compensation excessive. In response, we’ll vote against the company’s compensation strategy. We’ll also vote against re-election of the responsible board members, and explain that vote in a letter to the company.
We’ll likely take the same approach if:
- A board director is nominated who is too closely tied to the company and not able to be an unbiased conduit between the board and corporate management.
- A company only puts a portion of its board directors up for re-election each year rather than all of them.
Thanks to many shareholders like Portico expressing their opinions through voting over the years, it’s become more common for large companies to practice good corporate governance. For this reason, Portico is now able to focus this kind of advocacy on more mid-size and smaller companies.
As Social Purpose Investor
Via social purpose funds, we invest to create positive impact and screen out companies creating negative impact.
In social purpose funds, we’re able to invest a portion of a fund’s assets in companies demonstrating measurable social impact in alignment with ELCA social teachings and policies. We call it social impact first investing.
Fund guidelines allow for the possibility of somewhat higher projected risk and/or somewhat lower projected return on up to 10% of a fund’s assets. Using this strategy, Portico can invest in companies who work to create strong financial returns while also tackling issues like affordable housing and threats to the environment.
Importantly, these companies must commit to measuring and reporting the social impact they create so that we, in turn, can share it with our social purpose fund investors.
In social purpose funds, we’re able to screen out companies whose business practices conflict with these ELCA social criteria screens:
- Military weapons
- Political and civil human rights
- Private prisons
In response to ELCA calls for action, Portico has, over the last five years, strengthened screening related to climate change and fossil fuel companies and implemented new screens related to private prisons and human rights.
Using the ELCA’s current social criteria screens as a guide, Portico reviews thousands of potential companies on an ongoing basis and typically screens out about 10% of those it reviews.
We currently exclude about 740 companies from ELCA retirement plan investments in the social purpose funds. Guided by the ELCA Environment screen, we have screened out about 200 companies for being most egregious in terms of damage to the environment. These include:
- Companies with a history of significant toxic spills and releases, energy and climate change issues, poor water management practices, and other waste management issues
- Some of the largest fossil fuel-producing companies, including ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and BP
- About 155 companies owning thermal coal, oil shale, and tar sands reserves, the most carbon-intensive (dirtiest) fossil fuels, accounting for about 82% of the emissions tracked by the Carbon Underground 200™’s top 100 coal companies and in total about 2/3 of the Carbon Underground 200™’s top 100 coal and top 100 oil and gas companies.
Stories of Impact
See how our efforts are making a difference. For social purpose fund investors, the outcomes of positive social investing and screening are part of their return on investment.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
Investing in the Future of Our Planet, May 2016
Positive Social Investing
Nuveen Green Bond Impact Results for 2018, Oct. 2020
Targeting Thermal Coal Users, March 2016
BUILDING STRONGER COMMUNITIES
Positive Social Investing
Portico Implements New ELCA Human Rights Screen, April 2019
PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES
Why We Don’t Invest in Private Prisons, Nov. 2015
Advocating for ELCA Priorities
Through the Church Alliance, Portico represents ELCA priorities on many fronts — even on Capitol Hill.
The Church Alliance is a multi-denominational advocacy organization. As an advocate for Portico and other church benefit organizations, it carries the combined voices of over 30 faith denominations into the national legislative and regulatory arena to promote legislation and legal actions of interest to faith organizations.
Portico’s ongoing leadership in the Church Alliance amplifies our voice and has positioned us to help realize these recent positive outcomes.
Advocated for including churches, religious organizations, and their employees in the Cares Act which made significant assistance, including the PPP loan program, available to support ministry and church workers.
Successfully advocated, through passage of the 2020 Fiscal Year Spending Package, to repeal the 40% “Cadillac Tax” on health care coverage and the “Parking Lot Tax” on churches and other tax-exempt organizations.
Educated policymakers, in a closed White House meeting on the opioid crisis, about Portico’s use of care coordinators to successfully steer members toward effective but less costly preventive and outpatient interventions.
Successfully defended the long-standing clergy housing allowance exclusion through years of protracted court action.
Advocated for legislation that now preserves the ability of certain church-affiliated organizations to participate in church-sponsored 403(b)(9) plans.
Healthy, resilient people shape healthy, resilient communities.
Our churches and organizations are stronger when God’s people are good stewards of the lives God has given them. When they care for their well-being, they show up with strength, courage, vulnerability, compassion, and grace.
More than two decades ago, Portico began offering holistic health benefits. Since then, we’ve actively invited our members – and the entire ELCA community — to embrace a faith-based, whole-person approach to living well.
This call to live well invites people to:
- Address the many dimensions of our well-being
- Recognize that our health or ill-health in one dimension affects our well-being in other dimensions
- Understand that one can find healing without necessarily finding a cure
Over the years, we’ve created a variety of cutting-edge inspirational campaigns and resources, each designed to help people live well financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Creating Financially Healthy Leaders
Supporting the financial well-being of those who lead — from seminary to retirement — has much to do with creating and maintaining vital ministries.
Portico’s Seminary Scholarship
More than ever, it’s critical to ease financial barriers for those entering ministry. By investing in future ELCA leaders, we empower those whom God calls to serve as the church needs and the Holy Spirit leads.
Since 2000, the ELCA’s Fund for Leaders has offered scholarships to ELCA seminary students pursuing rostered ministry, providing over $2.8 million in scholarships to 297 ELCA seminary students in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Portico contributes to the ELCA Fund for Leaders by providing one full-tuition scholarship — funded 100% through donations from Portico employees, trustees, advisers, and benefit partners. No funding comes from the benefit contributions paid to Portico by sponsoring employers or plan members.
The ELCA seeks to be a thriving church, spreading the gospel and deepening faith for all people. But it also recognizes that financial strain can keep leaders and congregations from thriving.
The ELCA’s Resourceful Servants Initiative was created to promote financial wellness for ELCA congregations, rostered ministers, and seminarians. It is supported by a grant from the Lilly Endowment and a partnership between the ELCA churchwide organization, the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA, the ELCA Federal Credit Union, the ELCA Foundation, Portico Benefit Services, and Lutheran Social Service (LSS) Financial Counseling.
Portico’s role focuses on the financial well-being of rostered ministers. For many, financial stress stands in the way — due to a lack of emergency savings, a lack of retirement savings, or both.
Resourceful Servants offers two Savings Matching programs:
- One encourages emergency savings through the ELCA Federal Credit Union
- One encourages retirement savings through Portico
Portico also offers resources designed to help leaders shape their own financial wellness — recorded webinars, the online Retirement Planning Tool, and Portico Financial Planners.
Matching funds and learning resources are helping participants develop healthy savings habits and more rapidly grow their savings and retirement accounts.
ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund
When a retired leader or churchworker experiences real financial hardship, the ELCA is there.
The ELCA Special Needs Retirement Fund was established in 1993 to provide financial assistance (monthly retirement income, and in some cases, health plan contributions) to eligible retired leaders and churchworkers and their surviving spouses living on a low income.
Portico co-administers this fund with the ELCA. It serves about 40 people a year, and was founded by generous donations from individuals and congregations, as well as support from the churchwide organization and Portico.
In general, eligibility requires:
- Reaching full Social Security retirement age
- Retiring with at least seven years of retirement plan participation
- Being sponsored in the retirement plan on the date of your retirement
- Total monthly income from all sources to be less than $2,602 if single or $3,522 if married
- Assets valued less than $250,000, with no more than $75,000 of that in cash or investments
To learn more about this fund, eligibility requirements, and how to apply, please call Portico’s Customer Care Center at 800.352.2876