Are you a risk-adverse investor? Then you may want to avoid choosing a mutual fund that’s headquartered in an area with lots of Catholics.
New research from the University of Georgia and Southern Methodist University and published in Management Science shows that the dominant local religion—whether Protestant or Catholic—significantly affects mutual fund behaviors.
Specifically, the findings show that mutual funds headquartered in heavily Catholic areas tend to take more risks and funds in heavily Protestant areas take less risks, said lead author Tao Shu, assistant professor of banking and finance in UGA’s Terry College of Business. The paper was co-authored with Eric Yeung of the Terry College and Johan Sulaeman of Southern Methodist University.
“Finding evidence that a local culture’s religious beliefs affect mutual funds’ risk-taking decisions is surprising because this a very competitive industry. One would expect that profit chasing would eliminate all the impact of culture or anything else,” Shu said. “But, surprisingly, a local culture’s religious beliefs still impact risk-taking decisions.”
Because mutual funds make up about half of all institutional investments in the U.S., the findings have widespread implications for how investors manage their money, he added.
Shu also notes that surveys show Catholics are more tolerant and Protestants less tolerant to speculative risk than the general population. “One suggestion is that many Protestant congregations are against gambling,” said Shu, “but Catholic churches are more tolerant of it—they may even use lotteries to generate funding for the church.”
Despite the risk-preference differences, the study showed that end results are about the same and that the risk-taking associated with local religious beliefs does not lead to superior fund returns. So rather than pouring over prospectuses when choosing a mutual fund company, just look at Google Maps and pick one that is surrounded by Baptist churches.