Will the performance of my SRI portfolio deviate from my Betterment portfolio?

When some first consider ESG investing, they assume that they must pay a heavy premium in order to have their investments aligned with their values. However, industry research, our historical backtesting, and our forward looking returns analysis all show that we should not expect the performance of SRI portfolios to significantly deviate from the Core portfolio over the long term, although there can be return differences over shorter periods.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. Nonetheless, our analysis of historical returns is consistent with our assertion that the performance of SRI portfolios should track the performance of the Core portfolios very closely. Our analysis uses the returns of SPY as a proxy for the returns of VOTE because of their similar investment natures and VOTE’s brief trading history. After reducing returns both by weighted expense ratios and a 0.25% annual Betterment fee, the performance of the Broad Impact portfolio ended up being similar to that of Core portfolio for the consecutive four year period ending on May 28, 2021, with the Broad Impact portfolio outperforming over this specific period, with a +10.41% annualized return compared to +11.02% for the core portfolio.

We have conducted similar backtests for the Climate and Social Impact portfolios, but key ETFs that lack other reasonable proxies in these portfolios were first issued in 2018, so backtests on historical returns are limited.

When comparing IRA portfolios with a 70% stock allocation since valid pricing data became available for these ETFs, we show that the returns of the portfolios are not only directionally aligned, but also that the Social and Climate Impact portfolios have outperformed the Betterment Core portfolio over a shorter time horizon.

  • The Climate Impact portfolio had a cumulative return of +43.27%, vs +39.45% for Betterment Core during the period from November 28, 2018 to to May 31, 2021.
  • The Social Impact portfolio had a cumulative return of +47.37%, vs +43.90% for Betterment Core during the period from October 24, 2018 to May 31, 2021.

In our forward-looking analysis for each of our three SRI portfolios, the expected net total returns for the SRI portfolios are only slightly below those of the Betterment Core portfolio. This is largely due to the higher weighted expense ratios of the SRI portfolios versus the Betterment Core Portfolio Strategy.

You can read more about our historical backtests and forward looking returns analysis in the full SRI portfolio methodology.

Disclosure relevant to all returns calculations above: The Betterment portfolios historical performance numbers are based on a backtest of the ETFs or indices tracked by each asset class in Betterment’s portfolios as of July 2021. Though we have made an effort to closely match performance results shown to that of the Betterment Portfolio over time, these results are entirely the product of a model. Actual client experience could have varied materially. Performance figures assume dividends are reinvested and daily portfolio rebalancing at market closing prices. The returns are net of a 0.25% annual management fee and fund level expenses. Backtested performance does not represent actual performance and should not be interpreted as an indication of such performance. Actual performance for client accounts may be materially lower. Backtested performance results have certain inherent limitations. Such results do not represent the impact that material economic and market factors might have on an investment adviser’s decision-making process if the adviser were actually managing client money. Backtested performance also differs from actual performance because it is achieved through the retroactive application of model portfolios designed with the benefit of hindsight. As a result, the models theoretically may be changed from time to time and the effect on performance results could be either favorable or unfavorable. See additional disclosure https://www.betterment.com/returns-calculation/. Source: Price data from Xignite. Calculations by Betterment.