SRI Investors: Goldman Sachs Continues to Surprise


Last month I wrote an article explaining my decision to purchase shares in Goldman Sachs : "Goldman Sachs Isn't as Evil as You Think." It was a move that surprised even me: I'm an SRI investor, as well as a student of the financial crash, and the idea that I could somehow find the Great Vampire Squid worthy of what I consider the highest calling in equity investing ... well, I just didn't see it coming.

But I found the much-maligned investment bank up to what I consider genuine good (which I outline in detail in the aforementioned article), and which I wanted to officially recognize. I won't repeat all those details, but I'm happy to report, once again, Goldman has pleasantly surprised me on the CSR front.

Pedal-powered by Goldman
Financial Timesis reporting that Goldman will be quietly loaning $41 million to New York City's bike-share program, the launch of which is running way behind schedule. Citigroup is already publically involved, having committed $41 million of its own capital toward the program. In fact, the program will be named "Citi Bike," and thousands of the rental bikes will carry the Citi logo.

When fully realized, the bike-share program will be one of the world's largest, with 10,000 rental bikes to be made available in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. At least one reason for the delay in getting the program up and running is the still lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, which caused significant damage to the New York City area and, in particular, to equipment necessary for the bike-share program.

According to the FT, the Goldman money is coming from its Urban Investment Group, and will be "repaid by operating revenue from the program." The UIG is designed to make money while making a difference. It was begun after the financial crash, when Goldman changed from being a pure investment bank to became a bank-holding company (that is, more like an everyday bank), and was therefore required by the Community Reinvestment Act to invest locally. The UIG now has more than $2 billion committed. Way to go, Goldman.

The new, quieter-running Goldman Sachs
But wait, you might say, Goldman is obliged to make this kind of commitment to the community, isn't it? So why should it be recognized, and invested in by SRI investors like you and me, for just doing what it has to do?

From my perspective, there are two types of CSR companies. Some, like Starbucks and Whole Foods , have it encoded into their DNA. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey are socially responsible to the core. It's in their personal DNA, and they inject it into their companies. To those kinds of companies, making a difference is as important as making a buck. For other companies, making a profit comes first. This is clearly Goldman's approach, but I have no problem with that. So long as the good they're doing is real, count me in.

And while Goldman is obliged to do some sort of community investment, it doesn't have to be doing as much as its doing. Some of that $2 billion dollars could be out earning a higher rate of return elsewhere. And Goldman's quieter, more behind-the-scenes approach is, I think, to be commended. It's putting up the same amount of money as Citi, but isn't (so far) demanding any public recognition in return. How many companies put serious cash into anything without demanding their logos be plastered all over the planet as payback?

Finally, Goldman is performing well as both a business and as a socially responsible investment. Keep it up, CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and both you and your company will start to turn your reputation around, as well as Wall Street's.

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