An 'anti-capitalist' financial planner explains how to make ethically sound investments
- River Nice is a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist financial planner based in Philadelphia.
- They told Insider they work with clients who want to be as ethical as possible in what they call an unethical system.
Like many young people today, River Nice, 30, believes many of the traditional methods of getting rich under capitalism are unethical.
It's a value system that makes their career as a financial planner unique.
Instead of leaning on the stock market, real estate investments, or passive income schemes, the Philadelphia-based, self-avowed "anti-capitalist" advises clients on how to engage in ethical investing to reach their financial goals.
That strategy often means avoiding investments that support the fossil fuel industry, private prisons, or border control agencies. And it might involve a redistribution of wealth to people who need it, for example, using your excess earnings to donate to organizations that help refugees.
"There are some compromises," Nice said. Clients can't completely avoid everything that goes against their values, because "capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy are all completely intertwined oppressive structures," they said.
A rising majority of young adults are critical of capitalism, one 2021 survey shows, with many denouncing the toll of overwork and the housing affordability crisis, for example. In Washington, calls to "tax the rich" are often based on the fact that wealthy people, especially millionaires and billionaires, grow much of their wealth through investments like stocks and real estate rather than a salary and therefore avoid typical income tax. Advocates often criticize these forms of passive wealth growth, saying they're hallmarks of capitalism and arguing that such investing can never be ethical because they rely on the labor of workers to build wealth for people who already have it.
"Being someone who wants to help people with money, to help people use money and debt as tools to get the best life they can, I found it super important to start acknowledging to my clients that the entire economic model of the United States and the majority of the world is not a fair model," Nice said.
Nice wants to help young people be intentional and independent when it comes to their money
The stock market is a complicated topic in Nice's practice.
They believe it is unethical, arguing that workers often don't earn incomes in proportion to the profits they make for companies. Stockholders are "non-workers" at companies they have partial ownership of, Nice said, but they think that "workers should own the companies that they work for."
Nice said, however, that the stock market is unavoidable for those making financial plans in the current US economy.
"I don't see a way for somebody to have security in old age unless we are utilizing the stock market to some extent, at least not for middle class and working class folks," they said.
After all, not all of Nice's clients at their firm, Be Intentional, are wealthy. They said that they primarily like to work with millennials, especially queer millennials like themself, who are often in financially precarious positions. One study from 2019 found that LGBTQ millennials have greater financial struggles than other demographics.
Often, that involves reviewing a client's current income, expenses, savings, and debt, then considering what that client wants to do in the future. That could look like being able to afford eating out once in a while or taking a trip. Big picture goals might be buying a house, going to graduate school, having kids, or paying for gender-affirming surgery.
"I am trying to educate as many queer millennials as I can about how to be in control of their own money, and be intentional with their own money," Nice said. "I think a lot of folks feel like money is just this big scary thing that they don't have a say in. It comes in, it goes out, and hopefully, there's a 401(k) involved to prepare for retirement."
Which is why Nice's primary goal is to give people a sense of "autonomy" when it comes to their finances.
"If you're just getting started, the best thing you can do is look at how money comes in and goes out on the day-to-day," they said. "Are you spending on things that aren't aligned with your values or priorities? Make small, incremental changes to get your day-to-day habits better aligned with what's important to you."
They added that helping people remove money as a stressor would hopefully give people the time and resources to help others.
"Those folks might have opportunities to be doing more political activism or setting up new structures of living in ways that were too hard to imagine before," Nice said. "I'm imagining a ripple effect where there's more economic power in that community."
How do your views on capitalism and ethics affect your job, your spending, or your investing? Share your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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