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Close-up: Judith Seid

Blue Summit founder advocates socially responsible investing, living

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Judith Seid likes to keep the big picture in mind, particularly when it comes to investing.

The financial adviser and head of Blue Summit Financial Group in La Mesa practices socially responsible investing, also known as SRI, an area that has been gaining momentum with investors over the last few years.

In SRI, investors look to place their money with companies and funds that match their political, social or moral beliefs, whether it's gun control, workers' rights, energy efficiency or abortion.

Clients can avoid investing in weapons manufacturers, for example, or seek out companies that support land conservation.

"To put it simply, socially responsible investing is a way to align your values with your money," Seid said in a recent interview.

It's not just about making money for these folks. It's about making a difference.

"Eventually, I think it (SRI) will be the only way to invest," Seid said. "I don't think it will be a separate type of investment approach. It will just be incorporated into the wider investment arena. There's no reason why it shouldn't be."

Judith Seid is a financial adviser and head of Blue Summit Financial Group in La Mesa. Photo: J. Kat Woronowicz

For Seid, socially responsible investing has simply made sense from the beginning.

After giving birth to three children, Seid started working in 1992 with San Diego investment adviser, family friend and SRI pioneer Jack Brill, author of "Investing from the Heart" and "Investing with Your Values."

Seid is a "very sharp, very caring lady" who instantly recognized the value in SRI back in the early 1990s, said Brill, who is currently senior adviser with Natural Investments LLC and lives in San Luis Obispo.

"I had never heard of it (SRI) before," said Seid, who by that time was already recycling regularly and using her bicycle as her primary means of transportation.

"But I thought, 'Well, that makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't you invest that way? Why wouldn't you look at that criteria?' ... It just fit."

Seid became fully licensed in 1994, taking over Brill's clients when he moved into semi-retirement in 1998. Seid hasn't looked back since.

Today, she is a well-respected member of the small, collegiate SRI community and one of only a handful of exclusively SRI financial advisers currently in San Diego.

Four years ago, "Judy was the only one I could find" who practiced SRI in San Diego, said financial adviser Shane Johnston, who joined Blue Summit Financial Group in 2005 from Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC).

"People are coming to us because they see opportunity," Johnston added.

Seid and her team work with First Affirmative Financial Network, a Colorado-based independent investment advisory firm that screens for socially conscious companies and designs investment portfolios.

Screening can be exclusive, in which investors and funds purposefully steer clear of specific companies in order to avoid promoting a product or practice. Seid remembers a new client -- whose mother had died from lung cancer -- crying when he found out his existing portfolio contained tobacco stocks.

"A lot of people don't know what's in their portfolio," Seid said.

Screening can also be inclusive: Investors and funds seek out companies that uphold certain standards or share similar values.

SRI also emphasizes the presence of shareholder activism and community investing in identifying SRI-compatible companies.

Community investing, the fastest SRI investment area according to Social Investment Forum, refers to supporting companies and businesses that provide opportunities and services to the less privileged. Examples include microfinance, job training, affordable housing, etc.

Seid's clients fill in questionnaires identifying issues that are important to them, along with life goals, investment philosophy, appetite for risk, etc.

Seid and some SRI advocates maintain that investors don't lose out on returns by becoming more socially conscious. As financial advisers and money managers, they still adhere to the principles of risk management and profitability.

SRI proponents also point to indices like the Domini 400 Social Index, an index constructed using environmental, social and governance factors that has outperformed the S&P 500 since its inception in 1990.

"Once people find out they don't have to give up returns, they're very, very happy," Seid said. "They want to be invested with the things that they believe in."

Investors are starting to take note, as are their advisers.

The Social Investment Forum, a nonprofit SRI advocacy group, identified $2.7 trillion in total assets under management using SRI in 2007 -- an increase of 18 percent from 2005. In comparison, total dollars under professional management in SRI in 1995 totaled only $639 billion.

Approximately 11 percent of the $25.1 trillion assets under management in the United States are involved in socially responsible investing, according to the Social Investment Forum Web site.

When Seid entered the finance business, only eight mutual funds employed SRI screening tactics, she said. In 2007, that number had climbed to 260, with more than $200 billion in assets.

As for Blue Summit Financial Group, the firm has experienced what Seid describes as "slow growth" of 15 percent to 20 percent. She currently manages $75 million for around 250 clients, she said.

The firm also practices what it preaches: Client interaction often takes place via webcam or phone to further cut down on travel and pollution.

One of her largest, out-of-state clients "didn't meet me for the first five years," Seid said. "We're living the eco-lifestyle to the best of our ability. You do the best that you can."

Blue Point Summit prints its brochures on 100 percent recycled, chlorine-free paper with soy-based ink.

Johnston gave up his car about a year ago and rides the trolley into work.

Seid often cycles into the office, although her regular routes are much more intensive: Seid, after all, is an avid cyclist, triathlete and outdoors aficionado who has biked the 620-mile Qualcomm Million Dollar Challenge from San Francisco to San Diego, raising money for challenged athletes.

Blue Summit Financial is also a carbon-neutral firm and buys carbon credits to offset any carbon emissions, Seid said.

She admits the financial crisis had made the past year more difficult. Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the Blue Summit team decided to cut approximately 120 inactive clients nine months before the crash to better focus on its top clients.

As markets spiraled, she often worked 12-hour days, reaching out to clients to make sure they felt safe.

"I haven't taken a vacation," she said.

Seid's hard work has not gone unnoticed: The Small Business Administration and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce honored Blue Summit Financial Group as Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year in April.

Also, most recently, Boomer Market Advisor Magazine, a national finance publication that targets the baby boom generation, named Seid as SRI Advisor of the Year. She and her firm were chosen among hundreds of qualified advisers to be featured in the upcoming August cover story.

"What we liked about Judy is that she's immersed in socially responsible investing, both in her work life and in her personal life," said John Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Boomer Market Advisor. "She really sets an example for her clients."

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