Almost a decade ago, Bill Pope found himself in the wilderness, both literally and figuratively. After 23 years as a pastor at churches in Alabama and Georgia, he wanted a new challenge for his life and his career. There was only one problem: he had no idea what he was going to do.
So, he did what many men of faith have done throughout history: He took to the woods. “When I left the pastorate, I took about a three week sabbatical, and I went to a cabin that my brother-in-law owns up in the Tennessee Mountains,” Pope says. “I took a stack of books with me, and my job, every day, was to get up, go for a long walk early in the morning as exercise, and then come back and read a book a day. That was my job.”
In those rugged Smoky Mountains, Pope had no distractions. The reading gave structure to his days. And, it just so happened, one of the books he’d brought along was an introduction to financial planning. Pope says there was a great passion the author had in describing the clients he met. “Those relationships and how he helped people, that really resonated with me.”
Pope says it isn’t the leap of faith you might think, making the move from the church to financial services. In the pastorate, he worked with members of his congregation, counseling them on spiritual matters as well as financial issues. Sometimes their marriages would be suffering due to financial concerns. Other times, the problems dealt with ailing parents or children who had gone astray morally or financially.
“I felt that as a pastor I already had a lot of experience talking to people about their finances,” Pope says. “I just needed to get more training in knowing what I was talking about. So it was a comfortable transition to me rather than a drastic shift.”
At the end of the day, Pope adds, “I found that the conversation has remained the same (between his congregation and clients). It’s only the starting point that this changed.”
As a pastor, his parishioners would come in and talk to him about family or marriage, or issues of faith, but eventually they would get around to all facets of their life, including finances. Now, he says, the entry point of the conversation begins with finances, but they end up talking about their faith and family. “It’s just a different starting point but we get to the same place.”
After that sojourn to the wilderness, Pope had the epiphany that he would make financial services his career. A contact from the church put him in touch with people at Northwestern Mutual, where he worked for two years before striking out on his own as an independent advisor.