Yesterday I described E*Fund, a relatively new quasi-checking account that pays 6% interest, yet charges almost no fees. Write as many checks each month as you want. Use it with CheckFree. No minimum balance.

E*Fund is the brain child of Sophia Collier. Other funds may copy her idea, but so far none has. E*Fund leads the pack. So, is this tall 40-year-old the typical Harvard MBA who cut her teeth at, say, Morgan Stanley?

Actually, she didn’t go to B-school.

Or college.

She was born in Brooklyn. At 19 published her autobiography, Soul Rush. Library Journal described it as a tale of “hop-skipping and ego-tripping through the Seventies,” and Book of the Month picked it up as an alternate. It deals with, among other things, the time she spent living in an ashram. My dictionary defines ashram as “(1) A Hindu hermitage.” (Nah.) “(2) A religious commune.” (Nah.) “(3) A commune of hippies.” (Bingo!)

Anyway, that was the Seventies. In the Eighties, she helped pioneer the all-natural beverage business by founding Soho Natural Soda, which she later sold to Seagram. I don’t know how much she got for it, but when for some reason she was moved to announce her net worth to Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, Mrs. Graham apparently replied: “How touching, dear.” (Proving yet again that one woman’s windfall is another’s wine-and-cheese budget.)

Part of the windfall went to buying the mutual fund business of Working Assets, which Sophia renamed Citizens Trust and which now has seven different funds and $370 million under management. In the words of the press release, Citizens Trust “is becoming recognized for its socially-responsible investing and product innovation.”

Well, E*Fund is an example of product innovation. But “socially-responsible investing?” Isn’t that just a code-phrase for substandard returns dragged down by an inability to invest in as wide a range of alternatives (like tobacco companies, say) as everybody else?

That’s the question we’ll explore tomorrow.


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