TIAA-CREF Gets Social

For first time, pension company hires official to oversee socially conscious investing.
June 8, 2005

TIAA-CREF announced last week that it had created a senior level position to oversee "socially responsible" investing and hired a well-respected official to fill it.

The pension giant, which has faced a campaign from some of the academics who participate in its funds to use criteria of social and corporate responsibility to guide more of its investments, hired Amy Muska O'Brien as its director of social investing. She will both oversee the company's Social Choice Account, which it created in 1990, and promote other kinds of socially conscious investing within TIAA-CREF.

O'Brien was director of corporate social responsibility at the Pension Board of the United Church of Christ, where she developed and oversaw many of the policies -- on such things as social screening of investments, guidelines for using proxy votes to influence corporate policies, and community investing -- that social investing advocates favor. She has also worked as research manager at the Council on Economic Priorities, which was a leader in rating companies' stances on corporate responsibility.

"Amy is a nationally recognized leader in the socially responsible investing community," Scott C. Evans, TIAA-CREF's chief investment officer, said in a news release. "She is the ideal person to join our team and will be instrumental in helping to ensure that our social investing advances the goals of our 3.2 million participants."

Neil Wollman, a psychology professor at Indiana's Manchester College who heads Social Choice for Social Change, which has pressed TIAA-CREF to do more socially conscious investing, said he was heartened by the hiring of O'Brien, about whom he said he had heard good things.

Wollman said he was disappointed, though, that TIAA-CREF officials had told him in a letter last month that they did not plan to engage in community investing. It is ironic, he said, that O'Brien has a record of promoting community-based investing in her past positions -- and that gives him hope for TIAA-CREF."If they let her go and really have an influence," he said, "the kind of things we want could happen."


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