The next time you care to lend a historical perspective to a discussion about saving and investing, you might recount well-worn stories about the dot.com bust or the stock market crash of 1929. Or you could hark back–way back–to the time of the biblical Joseph, who spoke to Pharaoh about the value of storing food during years of plenty to guard against the 7 years of famine that Joseph prophesied.
A growing number of financial advisors are citing scripture in client consultations and winning converts (so to speak) to their practices. A biblical orientation in financial planning, say producers established in this space, speaks powerfully to their Christian clientele, easing the advisor’s ability to establish a trusting relationship with prospects.
“Success in our industry is all about the relationship,” says Larry Rosenthal, a financial planner and president of Financial Planning Services, Manassas, Va. “When you’re teaching biblical principles in financial planning, the bond grows even stronger.”
John Harrison, a principal of Capital Choice Financial Services, Austin, Texas, agrees, adding that a biblical focus “makes Christians feel that much better about our recommendations.”
How large is the Christian financial planning market? Hakeeb Web, a managing partner at National Christian Financial Advisors, pegs the industry’s size at $2.8 trillion in assets under management. The Christian Financial Professionals Network, an alliance of the Crown Financial Ministries, Generous Giving and The National Christian Foundation, counts 735 advisors among its members, a number that it plans to boost to 2,000 by year-end 2006.
CFPN is not alone in helping Christian advisors connect with the faithful. Educational Seminars, Melbourne, Fla., holds courses that teach advisors how to conduct bible-based money management seminars in churches. The seminars feature topics discussed in their secular counterparts, such as retirement and estate planning, taxes and investment choices.
But the gatherings use a 3-step approach in blending biblical teachings with the secular topics, according to Educational Seminars President and CEO Richard Parker. In step 1, the advisor talks about “insight from God’s word,” relating the Bible in a general way to the topic at hand.
In step 2, the advisor cites the relevant biblical verse. (Some 2,000 scriptures address money management, observers say.) In the final step, the producer speaks to the scripture’s contemporary significance.
Parker illustrates the methodology using the example of goal-setting. The advisor, he says, would first explain that scripture encourages people to rest easy about past failures and focus on the future. The advisor might then cite Philippians 3:13 and 3:14 from the New Testament, which says, in part, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Of the scripture’s contemporary significance, Parker says: “No matter where we are today, the Bible tells us that we have to work toward reaching goals. We’ve all made mistakes. Don’t worry about them; let’s move forward.”
To date, says Parker, his company has licensed approximately 250 advisors throughout the U.S. to deliver the seminar content to church congregants and ministers. He estimates that licensees visit from 4 to 6 churches per year, or collectively more than 1,000 churches annually.
He adds that the seminar’s conversion rate–prospects who become clients–ranges on average from 80% to 90%.
A key focus of bible-based financial planning is tithing or charitable giving. Underpinning the principle is the Christian belief that Gods “owns” all our possessions, but has “entrusted” individuals with their “stewardship.”
Clients are therefore encouraged to make gifting a high–if not the first–priority of their financial plan. Thereafter, they can focus on other key components: contributing to a retirement fund, paying off debts, establishing a legacy for heirs, and so on.
To be eschewed, advisors stress, is the unnecessary amassing of wealth.
“There is man’s economy and there is God’s economy,” says Rosenthal. “If you’re greedy and idolatrous with your wealth, then you’re diametrically opposed to the purpose of the Lord’s economy.”
“The Bible tells us to leave an inheritance to our children,” adds Jim Shoemaker, a financial planner and president of Shoemaker Financial Advisors, Memphis, Tenn. “But it doesn’t tell us that we should make them so wealthy that they shouldn’t depend on the Lord.”
Parker notes that because churches and foundations enjoy similarly favorable tax treatment under IRS rules, ministers can with relative ease establish “pseudo-foundations” to which congregants can make charitable contributions. Churchgoers, he says, are more inclined to bestow gifts to such entities than they are to donate to a church treasury for the “purchase of song books and choir robes.”
Says Parker: “If there is a separate fund dedicated to true ministry work, then congregants are much more apt to contribute a portion of their estate to the church. We find that gifting increases dramatically.”
A biblical orientation in financial planning, say producers established in this area, speaks powerfully to their Christian clientele