Study: Financial services firms are going green

Advisers are creating work environments that are eco-friendly

Jun 23, 2008 @ 12:01 am

By Andrew Coen

In a move that likely will make environmentalist and actor Ed Begley Jr. proud, financial services firms are taking steps to make their offices green.

In a recent survey of 124 financial services firm executives, 54 at firms planning to build a new facility or remodel their current one in the next few years were considering using green building materials.

Moreover, 109 said green initiatives were important to them, according to the survey, "2008 IBT Market Pulse Survey: A Different Shade of Green," commissioned by IBT Enterprises LLC of Norcross, Ga., and conducted by Arketi Group of Atlanta in April.

Fully 86% of the survey participants worked at financial institutions with more than $101 million in assets under management.

While the majority of firms that participated in the survey were banks and credit unions, advisory firms also took part.

To be sure, financial planners are taking steps to make their offices environmentally friendly. Briaud Financial Planning Inc. in Bryan, Texas, is designing a building that takes advantage of natural light, minimizes the amount of energy the firm consumes, and will use building materials with the environment in mind.

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"We will be closely looking at the requirements for [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification and trying to incorporate as many of the approved materials, methods and equipment as feasible," said Peggy Sherman, director of financial planning at Briaud, which has $460 million in assets under management.

The Natural Resources Defense Council of New York established LEEDs to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental effects of buildings.

The catalysts for green initiatives are rising energy prices and increased awareness of global warming — a result of former Vice President Al Gore's 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," said Shaun Pond, senior vice president at IBT.

Undertaking green initiatives can help financial services companies increase the satisfaction of customers and employees.

"If I'm a small firm, I've got to give the customer a reason to do business with me," Mr. Pond said. "People like to feel good about the place [where] they do business."

There were several reasons why firms decided to invest in environmentally friendly building. Fully 70% were "going green" because they wanted to take good care of the planet, noted the survey; however, 68% were going green to reduce their costs.

Fluorescent lighting or skylights were already in place at 115 firms. Fully 43% of the organizations had installed energy-efficient windows, and 90% were setting up electronic billing, statements and online applications for customers.

Even the smallest of financial advisory firms can take steps to reduce the amount of pollution that they produce.

For instance, More For Less Financial Solutions LLC of West Hartford, Conn., is planning to replace its roof with a more environmentally friendly one this summer, and it is installing energy-efficient light bulbs.

"We have taken, and plan to take, many green initiatives in our office," said Martha Kapouch, managing partner at More For Less Financial Solutions, which has more than $100 million in assets under management.

Firms such as Summit Financial Consultants Inc. will soon move into a new building that will feature ceiling fans to cut down on energy usage and fluorescent lighting.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," said Neil Elmouchi, president of the Westlake, Calif., broker-dealer, which has $150 million in assets under management.

Some advisory firms would like to institute green initiatives, but their options are limited because they lease office space.

Rinehart & Associates, a Charlotte, N.C.-based advisory firm, is committed to recycling print cartridges and paper. "As a little firm in a big building, I don't have much say on anything except for what I buy," said Mary Rinehart, chief executive of the firm, which manages $250 million in assets. "I do what I can."

E-mail Andrew Coen at acoen@investmentnews.com.

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