September 15, 2019

2019 Churchwide Assembly Again Calls Portico to Action

Kurt Kreienbrink, senior manager of Portico’s socially responsible investing, describing ELCA social purpose funds at Portico’s booth.

As the primary decision-making body of this church, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly gathered its more than 900 voting members in Milwaukee Aug. 5 – 10 under the theme “We are church.” In addition to re-electing the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop and Deacon Sue Rothmeyer as ELCA secretary, the assembly spoke, voted, and marched on a host of social issues — gun violence, immigration, sexism and violence toward women, and racism.

Jeff Thiemann, Portico’s president and CEO, speaking with Barbara Rossing, a Lutherans Restoring Creation board member.

Portico, as the ELCA’s benefits expert, largest institutional investor, and benefits policy advocate, attends this triennial event to lend its perspective as the church conducts its business. As in years past, Portico was called to action — this year, in memorials focusing on ELCA social purpose funds and health benefits.

Portico President and CEO, Rev. Jeff Thiemann was a steady presence at the assembly for the entire six-day event. “On so many occasions, I and other Portico representatives were able to provide fact-based input to discussions related to benefits, investments, and wellness,” Thiemann said. “When Portico is named in a memorial or resolution, being present gives us valuable opportunities to listen and ask questions.”

Portico Called to Increase Awareness of Social Purpose Funds

Social Purpose Funds (D5) was submitted as a memorial from the Greater Milwaukee Synod and passed en bloc (together with a large block of memorials). It pointed out that over 40% of retirement plan members are invested only in the plan’s default fund, the ELCA 60E Balanced Fund, and urged Portico to conduct an education campaign designed to increase awareness of the ELCA social purpose investment funds and update the Church Council by November 2020.

“We understand the importance of this call to action, and are now seeking input from synod staffs and members as we make plans to begin this work,” Thiemann said. “At the request of the Memorials Committee, we reviewed the memorial, provided background on Portico’s current educational efforts, and clarified what Portico can and can’t do given its fiduciary responsibility as plan administrator.”

Portico Called to Help ELCA Review Its Health Coverage Recommendation

Health Care Benefits (D7) was a substitute motion originating from memorials submitted by the Lower Susquehanna Synod and the Delaware-Maryland Synod. It calls on the Church Council, in partnership with the Conference of Bishops and Portico, to review the Church Council’s current Gold+ health coverage recommendation for all rostered ministers and employees of the church, and develop an updated recommendation by the Church Council’s spring 2020 meeting for the 2021 enrollment.

“As the ELCA’s benefit provider, Portico will be supporting this effort in many ways,” Thiemann said. “We will continue to help sponsoring organizations understand the key differences between Portico’s four ELCA-Primary health benefit options, and this fall, I’ll be discussing this issue with the Conference of Bishops and the Church Council.”

Portico Reported on Actions Taken Since 2016 Assembly

Like this year, the 2016 Churchwide Assembly called Portico to action. Then, the focus was on climate change and a peaceful resolution to conflict in the Holy Land, and Portico delivered on every one of the ELCA’s requests.

Portico’s booth this year demonstrated to attendees how its social impact investing specifically addressed the 2016 Churchwide Assembly’s calls for action around climate change. “We want the church to understand the positive impact we can have when we stand together,” says Thiemann. “And we want this year’s voting members to know they can expect a no less energetic response from Portico going forward.”


Portico’s Response to 2016 Churchwide Assembly Calls to Action

Memorial Requested of Portico Portico’s Response
Toward a Responsible Energy Future (B3)
  • Evaluate viability of an optional fossil fuel-free fund
  • Step up shareholder advocacy
  • Support companies taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment
  • Avoid investment in largest fossil fuel companies
Fossil Fuel-Free Fund

  • Researched possibilities
  • Determined that members prefer environment screening along with positive investments in renewable/clean energy, energy efficiency, etc. through our existing social purpose funds over fossil fuel-free fund

Shareholder Advocacy

  • In ongoing dialog with 40+ companies on environmental issues
  • Filed or co-filed 27 environment-related resolutions with large industry players — and agreed to withdraw 16 because company returned to negotiations and/or agreed to take positive action
  • Cast 240+ environment-related proxy votes

Positive Investments Through Social Purpose Funds:

Screening Through Social Purpose Funds

  • Adjusted Environment screen in 2017, screened out 27 additional companies with thermal coal reserves
  • Adjusted Environment screen in 2019, screened out 23 additional companies with reserves of oil shale and/or tar sands
  • Now excluding from SP funds companies responsible for about two-thirds of potential CO2 emissions from the Carbon Underground 200TM list
Justice for the Holy Land Through Responsible Investing (C2)
  • Engage in shareholder advocacy in support of human rights
  • Increase positive investment in Palestine
  • Implement Human Rights social criteria investment screen
Shareholder Advocacy
Joined Wespath (affiliated with United Methodist Church) in 2019 shareholder corporate dialog with Caterpillar (its products associated with West Bank occupation) to encourage strengthening of its human rights policy and related disclosuresPositive Investments Through Social Purpose Funds
Invested in $1 million, 5-year certificate of deposit social impact first investment in Bank of Palestine in 2017 to support economic development, affordable housing in Palestine

  • Resulted in about 200 micro-loans in West Bank with 60 going to women business owners
  • Created over 400 new jobs with 30% going to women

Screening Through Social Purpose Funds