Source AP ©

Missouri movement to make college savings investments terror-free

The movement in Missouri got a new plan aimed at making college savings investments "terror-free".

Last year, Missouri became the first state to order its employee pension funds to dump shares of companies that deal with Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, all of which are on the U.S. State Department's list of terror-sponsoring nations.

Also last year, state Treasurer Sarah Steelman helped create the International Alpha Select Fund to screen out the stocks of companies tied to countries that sponsor terrorism.

Similar divestment efforts targeted South Africa and apartheid during the 1980s. More recently, many U.S. states have begun divesting public pension funds from Sudan, where the government and its militia allies are accused of pursuing a genocide campaign in the Darfur region.

The state treasurer's office and UMB Financial Corp. on Wednesday launched what they are calling America's first terror-free investment product to be offered through a state college savings, or 529, plan.

Named after a section of the IRS code, 529 plans allow people to save and invest some of their income for education without paying taxes on that money. Withdrawals also are not taxed if the money is used for education.

Participants in the Missouri college savings plan now will have the option of having their portfolios exclude terror-sponsoring countries identified by researchers working with UMB. Investors do not have to be Missouri residents.

"Today, you can make sure your investments don't support our enemies even when you save for your child's education," Steelman said Wednesday during a news conference at UMB's headquarters in Kansas City.

Missouri has been a leader in pushing terror-free investing, Steelman said, and UMB's new international equity investment product is another example of this.

"The money that flows from our investments into the governments of countries like Iran and North Korea and Sudan and Syria are being used to fund the terrorists that threaten and take innocent lives," Steelman said. "And it is used to fund nuclear missile programs Iran threatens to use on America.

"But unbeknownst to most Americans, that is what has been happening - with our own money."

UMB Chief Investment Officer Bill Greiner said that the amount of internationally invested money that his company manages has risen from $160 million (117.38 million EUR) to $4 billion (2.93 billion EUR) in the last eight years. He said the idea of "socially responsible" investing has gone on for years.

The investment arm of UMB will manage the terror-free college savings portfolios. Conflict Securities Advisory Group, a Washington, D.C.-based research and consulting firm, will handle the screening of companies.

Roger Robinson, president and chief executive officer of Conflict Securities Advisory Group, said the firm has maintained its list of about 550 companies with ties to terror-sponsoring nations since 2001.

But, Robinson said, it is just been in the last three years that people have been demanding terror-free investment options.