Kane: If you care as much about the state of the world as you do about the state of your investment portfolio or your wallet, you may choose to pick companies or funds that make it a point to do what they do in a sustainable fashion, which is sometimes called ESG.
Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: We are blind people learning from each other how to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Chris: Today, we are going to be talking all about investing, and more specifically, sustainable, or ESG, investing, with Penny Forward board member and podcast sponsor Kane Brolin. I’m not gonna spend a lot of time talking about Kane, because he is a podcast sponsor, and we talk about him every week on the podcast, but he’ll introduce himself right after this.
Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at
Chris: We’d also like to thank Kane Brolin of Brolin Wealth Management for sponsoring the podcast. Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to take action. But depending on how far away your goals are, the decisions you need to make will be very different. Kane Brolin is a blind certified financial planner, and chartered special needs consultant, who may be able to help you, no matter how much you have, or what stage of life you are in. Learn more by visiting
or by calling 574-254-7180. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network. Member Finra SIPC. A registered investment advisor.
Chris: Kane, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Kane: Delighted to be here, and delighted to be a part of the Penny Forward team, Chris.
Chris: Well, we’re delighted to have you, and so people who aren’t us can get a chance to get to know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your blindness?
Kane: Well, my blindness has always been with me. My blindness was caused by what happened pretty frequently back in the 1960’s when I was born. Retinopathy of prematurity. I was born three months before the end of the term, weighed less than three pounds, placed in an incubator, and my understanding is that it was called oxygen toxicity, which caused damage or burns to the retinal tissue in the back of my eye, and it just kind of spiraled down from there. As a child, I do remember some pin point light perception. I could tell if the sun was out, I could tell if there was a light on in a room, but could never distinguish colors or shapes or shadows with that. And now, I don’t have any visual acuity at all. I tell people that that’s okay. The fact that I’ve always lived with this condition simply means that I’ve always done things to adapt to it.
Liz: Now tell us about your career as a financial planner. How did you get involved in that field, how long have you been doing it, and what do you enjoy most about it?
Kane: Well, I stumbled across the career. My goal, as a child and even as a young adult, was to be in the broadcasting industry, and I worked in that for six years after I graduated from college, but found out that really, the radio industry did not love me as much as I loved it. And so I switched gears, got a masters degree in management, is what it was called, from Northwestern University, most universities refer to it as an MBA, worked in the corporate world, had a lot of different other things happen in my life, and I think just over the years, my wife and I decided that we were more suited to being entrepreneurs than to working in the corporate food chain someplace, and I got into the financial planning industry just by answering an advertisement, a billboard I think, for American Express at that time. And I had no idea what that was going to be, but it seemed like a career where I could work with individuals, and be a self starter, and it turned out that I got hired when I interviewed for the position, and then I realized later that it was really a sales job. And not really a financial planning job in the beginning because if you don’t have people to be in front of, it really doesn’t matter what you know, or what degrees you have. So, I did the telesales thing for awhile. Until building up enough of a client base in my practice that I actually could do some good for somebody working as a financial planner, or making investment choices for them. I’ve done it for 22 years. Along the way, I’ve picked up different certifications and designations that don’t come with your licenses to sell. So, as an example, I am a certified financial planner professional, and have been that way since 2006, and I also have a specialty that proves that I have the knowledge to work with people that have issues around special needs. Either for themselves or in their family. So, I’m also a chartered special needs consultant, and have been able to use that title since the beginning of 2017. So a little over five years with that.
Chris: You mentioned helping people make investment choices, and I think that’s the first thing that people think of when they think of a financial planner is investing, but I wonder how many people actually know what investing is. So could you talk about that in general terms? What is investing?
Kane: When somebody has money, they usually got it in one of two ways. Either someone gave it to them, as in a birthday present, Christmas present, inheritance, or they earned it. Through a job. We know what it’s like to have money because we earned it or because someone gave us some. But if you have a little bit of money, there’s another way to earn it. You can pool the money that you have with other partners. Maybe thousands of partners or millions of partners that you have never, ever met, and you pool that money together to own pieces of a company. So, even if all you have is a couple of thousand dollars, as an example, you can own a little tiny piece of
or Apple, Inc, or Shopify, or you name it. You can put that money, with a bunch of other people’s money, into a company, and then when they make money by selling a lot of what they have, or if they pay you a dividend, then your piece of that money can grow, even though you didn’t have to do anything actively to earn it on a job.
Liz: How would people decide what investment choices to make for themselves?
Kane: So, as I understand the question, it would be like, okay, let’s say that you have three thousand dollars lying around that you don’t have to spend just to pay the bills this month, and you can invest it for a longer period of time. To meet some goal that you personally have out there in the, in the future. Well, a lot of people would buy a stock, or a collection of stocks, with that money. And it used to be that back in the 1950’s and 60’s, when my father was starting to do that, you just invested in companies that you thought were gonna make money. That were good companies. That paid a regular dividend. We can talk about dividends later. And it was assumed that a big, American based company that made stuff that everybody bought, was probably a good company to invest in. You bought Marathon Oil. You bought Ford or General Motors. Because people were driving Ford or General Motors cars. Right? Pontiacs and Buicks and this kind of thing. Because it was said that what was good for General Motors or Ford was gonna be good for the country. And we always felt patriotic and wanted things to be good for our country, good for our wallets, and, and good for the companies that made them. Well people have grown a little bit more discerning, and maybe a little more sinical in the last fifty years. We’ve had wars that America was involved in, that we didn’t necessarily win. The good guys didn’t always seem to win. And then, we found out that some things that, for example, big oil companies did, or the big food companies did, weren’t always good for workers. Weren’t always good for the environment. And so a growing number of people who know that they need to invest money in order to build their nest egg, are not just satisfied with investing in a company that’s earned a lot of money over the years. They want to invest in something that is also good for the environment. Companies that treat their laborers well. Companies that are concerned about the impact that they have on the world. And these types of companies are known as “sustainable.” Having sustainable processes. You know, maybe they use things from the environment to make what they sell, but they also want to spend some of their capitol to rebuild rain forests around the world that have been depleted. Maybe they want to make sure that they are not building what they make on the backs of folks in third world countries that are living in almost slave type conditions, making fifty cents an hour, or a couple of dollars a day, being exploited to do what they do. So, if you care as much about the state of the world as you do about the state of your investment portfolio or your wallet, you may choose to pick companies or funds that make it a point to do what they do in a sustainable fashion, which is sometimes called ESG. And that’s an acronym that we can talk about later.
Chris: So, that sounds very nice, and I want to help the environment, and I want to make things better for workers, but can I really make money that way, or, or is that just kind of a bleeding heart thing that’s gonna lose me money in the long run?
Kane: I think you’ll find that you can make money that way, and I’m not just saying that ’cause I think I’ve got a formula for doing it. There are the hugest companies right now in the investment universe that you will read about in the Wall Street Journal, are companies like Black Rock, as an example. Vanguard Group. Companies that manage a great deal of people’s retirement assets that did not start as bleeding heart companies, but even these firms will admit, the Maryl Lynches, the RW Bairds of the world, BlackRock, it has been reported that one out of every three dollars invested in the stock market today is invested with an eye toward sustainable, or ESG, investing. Even in 2020, when we had a very anti ESG individual serving as President of the United States, the firms that made the most money during that year in the midst of the Covid lock down and everything else, were ESG related companies. A lot of them were producing technologies, for example, designed in electrified vehicles. Or in other types of technologies. Solar, wind, or other things that were designed to protect or rebuild the environment. So, this is definitely a trend that we are seeing a lot of people with a lot of money insisting on before they put dollars into a firm, making sure that firm has a policy to make the world better, and not just make themselves a profit. So, would I say that ESG, or sustainable investments, will earn you more money than other things? No I can’t say that. But are many mainstream companies adopting screens that basically add a sustainable component into what they do day to day? Absolutely yes. And it’s not always because they wanted to from the beginning, but the market is driving all kinds of companies, in all kinds of industries, to think about this before they initiate their project.
Chris: Before we move on, can … can we define that acronym ESG?
Kane: ESG is an acronym that stands for three important components of sustainable investing. The E is “environmental.” And I think it’s been shown that about 80 to 90 percent of those people who want a sustainable portfolio will want companies that are doing something good for the environment. S stands for “social.” So, this could be lots of things. Employing, or promoting women in the organization to positions of middle and upper management. Demonstrating support for the LGBTQ plus communities. Promoting or employing, or paying particular attention to market segments that involve African American communities, Latino or Latin x communities. Folks in different parts of the world that might have been exploited by other types of business practices. So doing things for the social good. Making sure that people, especially in brown and black communities, are not being hurt through environmental damage in their communities and have a chance to enter the American middle class and live the American dream. And G stands for “governance.” Corporate governance. Being fair in the way their companies are being governed, about how, the labor practices that are used in … in their firms, or industries, so E is “environmental,” S is “social, G is “governance” overall, and those three combined make up what one could call a sustainable investment.
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Liz: What are other strategies people use for picking investments?
Kane: A lot of it has to do with the amount of risk that someone chooses to take on. As an example, if someone came to me as a financial advisor and said, “I’ve only got two thousand dollars to put into something.” Would I encourage them to put those two thousand dollars into a start up company that specialized in solar technology, or electrified vehicles or hydrogen powered vehicles? I probably wouldn’t. Even if that individual understood that they wanted to do sustainable investing, one of the issues that you face as an individual is, “What happens if I’m gonna need that money out of that account? I don’t necessarily want to expose that money to quick or hard to recover losses.” And I learned that lesson early in my career as a professional investor. Even if someone had an interest in a sector of the economy that was really praiseworthy, if that sector carried with it a high amount of up and down risk, it would be very easy, under some conditions, for that two thousand to all of a sudden erode to fifteen hundred. Because the economy had a hiccup. We went through a correction, a negative correction in the stock market, then all of a sudden, three front months from now, a bill comes due for that client and they said, “I really need to have my money out of there.” Well, how would I feel if their two thousand dollars, when they needed it, was only worth twelve hundred? That’s a leading consideration. So you don’t just want to invest with your heart, you want to invest rationally, knowing that you don’t want to expose the entirety of that money to a high amount of short term volatility. Which means way up, but way down, risk. In the market place. So, it might be that we want to put that two thousand dollars into a bond investment where instead of being a part of the ownership group of a company, you are a part of the lending group for the company, and you’re earning interest. Or, maybe you want to invest in a more established, really large cap company, that pays a dividend on a regular basis, but may not grow or diminish its stock value by a whole lot, but maybe it pays you 3 percent a year in addition to whatever the value of the stock grows by. Or maybe we want to pick a mutual fund, which invests in a particular way, but doesn’t put all your eggs in the basket of one particular stock, but maybe you own eighty different positions with that two thousand dollars, so that if a few of them, uh, tank out, and lose value for awhile, others can gain at the very same time. So there are a lot of ways that we can grow what you have in good times, but still have a protective component that makes it less likely that you’re going to lose a lot of money in the short run. And so the first thing I look at is not someone’s social values, or their environmental concerns, but their individual stomach for up and down risk. And we can give somebody a questionnaire that helps to answer that individual question about, “How much short-term, day to day, month to month, risk of loss can you take on?”
Chris: So I think a lot of us know about how stock prices vary over time, and that you want to buy low and sell high, right? But you’ve mentioned dividends a couple of different times, and that is another way to earn money, One that makes my eyes light up when I hear about it, and yet I don’t think it gets talked about nearly as much as, as stock price appreciation. Can you talk about dividends and how they work?
Kane: Sure. Let’s take the wayback machine back to the 1950’s and 60’s again. A lot of times, those people who were the generation of my parents, that came up during World War two, as an example, they invested in things that they knew. You could invest in General Motors. You could invest in IBM. You could invest in your local utility company. Or, somebody that maybe hired you even back in your local community if they were big enough to be a public company. A lot of people where I grew up in Cedar Rapids Iowa worked for a firm called Rockwell Collins, and that later got turned into a company called Rockwell International. Out here, there is a company in northern Indiana that was known as Bendix for a long time, and they’ve been absorbed in Honeywell, but a lot of folks spent forty years working for that particular company. And they didn’t really concern themselves a whole lot with the value of that company growing, but what they really loved is, they received a check in the mail that they could deposit in their bank from that investment, and that check came to them usually once every three or six months, and that was called a dividend check. And that meant that when Honeywell, or Rockwell International, made a profit, they paid a sum of that profit back to the investors that put their money into that company. And that was, and is, called a dividend. Now, most people don’t receive a dividend check in the mail, because that stock, if they own it, is held inside of a mutual fund, or it’s held inside of a brokerage account, so you can have the money from the dividends spill back into that brokerage account, in the form of cash that you can spend, or it can get reinvested back into that stock. If you like owning, I’m just gonna mention McDonald’s, because that’s been a tried and true provider of dividends for many people for a lot of years. You can actually have that little dividend that you get buy one or more shares of McDonald’s corporation, and you can just own more shares of that stock by having that dividend reinvested through a program. In fact, that’s an acronym, DRIP. A dividend reinvestment program. And stocks have that. And that’s one of the ways that you can develop your own personal nest egg and grow more money, is having a well established, mostly bigger company, pay you a dividend, and that’s part of the way that you can draw benefit from having invested in them, it’s a reward that they give you by giving you back a piece of that profit, every quarter, or every half a year.
Chris: I love that. And I actually do receive a dividend check in the mail, because I used to work for IBM, and I owned some IBM stock, most of which I sold at one point when I was younger and not as smart, but I kept one or two shares of it, and every quarter, they send me a check for a couple of dollars. It’s not much, but it’s kind of fun to receive in the mail. So, that dividend is really a way to get paid, and if you think about it, if I were to own thousands of shares of IBM stock, that dividend could be several thousand dollars. And if I reinvest that in IBM stock instead of cashing it out and spending it, then my dividend checks are going to get bigger and bigger as I buy more of the stock. So, it is something that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it used to, but it’s a fun and interesting way to know that you can earn money from your investments.
Liz: For those listeners who still may be kind of on the fence about, “Should I invest, or should I not invest,” what is one piece of advice that you can give them?
Kane: Always have at least one month, and preferably three months, worth of your living expenses, in a cash reserve, that is not subject to the down side of investment markets that you can get at when you have to get at it. I think in order to know when is a right time to invest, you need to at least understand enough about your own situation to know, as much as any of us can know, “What could happen that causes me to need a lot of money more than I would usually need in the next three months?” To be generous about that. So, what if I need a piece of assistive technology because my braille display crashed? If I’m a home owner, what do I do if my basement flooded and I need to get work done on my foundation or a new roof put on my home? Or if somebody in my family needs to purchase a vehicle or a transmission for the vehicle that just went out that might be instrumental to my needs living day to day? You should never put the last dollar that you have into an investment market. But if you’ve got some money saved up for cash reserves, or if you think you have some money coming to you that you are not going to immediately need, I would still consider beginning an investment. If you have a job, and if that job has a benefits program, a profit sharing plan, like a 401 K or a 403 B, always subscribe to that program as soon as you can afford to do that, particularly if the person paying you matches that money. There’s always good things when it comes to getting free money given to you by others. And I mentioned one of the ways people get money is to have someone give it to them, a lot of employers will offer to give you a little bit of money, even if it’s only 50 or 75 dollars a paycheck, as long as you put an equal amount, or maybe a little bit better amount, of your own pay into that profit sharing plan. That’s a way to invest, and that’s always where someone should look to start, if you are employed by a company that makes one of those plans available to you.
Chris: Kane, where can people contact you if they want to get in touch with you directly?
Kane: They can contact me at area code 574, 254, 7180, or they can reach out to me via e-mail at
and you can find me on the web at, and that’s just the name of my website,
and I’m also represented on LinkedIn, as an example, so there’s a variety of ways that people can find me, and get in touch, and it’s not just investing that I do, by the way. I can also advise on lots of other issues, including, and I want to just bring this up very briefly, the Able account. Which is a form of investment that not everybody can participate in, but most people with disabilities can find a way to invest in it, and this is a way that you can actually earn money, tax deferred, and pull money out tax free, and make a profit, and be a part of the stock market, in a way that is particularly available only to certain types of people that live with a life long disability.
Chris: We’re out of time. This has been a great conversation, and I hope that you can come back again and talk more about this ’cause I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff we weren’t able to cover today, but, Kane, thank you very much for being here. It was good to have you.
Kane: Thank you. And uh, please. Anybody that wants to get in touch, no matter what you have or don’t have, or don’t think you have, I’m definitely willing to speak. It means a lot to me that we in the blind community are able to benefit from the power that is in investing in other financial planning tools that people around us have been using for decades.
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Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is made possible by a sponsorship from Dennis and Nicole Malinis. They sponsor the Penny Forward podcast because they believe in Penny Forward’s mission; to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. Thank you, Dennis and Nicole, for your generous contribution to sponsor the podcast.
Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee at
and transcription services are provided by Anne Verduin.
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Chris: For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: Have a great week.