Like politics, religion is a hot-button, emotion-fraught subject financial advisors typically steer clear of. They figure: Better avoid such a touchy, indeed controversial, area within the client-FA relationship.
Yet many advisors have integrated religion—their own beliefs, those of their clients or both—into their practices to varying degrees. For some, religion is in fact a major focus.
Advisors are generally in one of three camps: They never mention religion unless clients do; they address religion indirectly; or they openly position religion at the forefront—vigorously, in some cases.
“A lot of people are scared to talk about religion. So advisors might not bring it up at all,” says Hil Bowman, portfolio manager-advisor with Morgan Stanley in Dallas, who invests client funds chiefly in accord with biblical teachings.
Some FAs insist that the financial services industry is paying closer attention to faith-based investing.
“There are advisors who are very committed to applying biblical principles to the way they manage money; and wirehouses are recognizing the Christian audience as a market,” says John Moore, president of John Moore & Associates, in Albuquerque, N.M., whose broker-dealer is Raymond James.
The Bible, says Moore—author of a study guide, The Almighty and the Dollar—teaches “not to spend more than you earn, to be careful about borrowing and owing money, and to give generously, such as with charitable planning.”
Bowman’s Christian faith is interwoven with his practice: “It’s part of who I am. It isn’t that I’m religious on Sunday and not on Monday to Saturday.”
Bowman uses biblical principles to help determine how clients view risk. “If you’re scared to death of losing money, you’re not going to take the same risk as someone who sees it as a vehicle to help the world or help God and pay for His bills, and try to grow it so He can give more money away,” the FA says.
On the other end of the spectrum, Angela Thomson, president of Coastal Financial Planning and practicing in Lincoln, R.I. —the state with the nation’s heaviest Catholic population—makes no effort to broach the subject of religion in speaking with prospects and clients.
“It’s a Pandora’s Box—and I do not open it. Unless they bring it up, I don’t ask,” the CFP says. “People either are extremely religious and opinionated or couldn’t care less. If it’s important to them, they’ll speak up. So you tell me what you want, and I’ll try to meet your expectations.”
Such was the case when a devout Catholic client directed that Thomson deploy none of her money in companies manufacturing or connected with birth control products.
Says Thomson: “That woman got me thinking about the whole concept of socially conscious investing. ‘Socially conscious’ and ‘religious’ are synonymous with a lot of people. But everyone has a different perception of what that means; so you need to get clients to be specific. For example, from a religious perspective, some don’t approve of same-sex marriage.”
Meanwhile, in San Diego, Sheryl Rowling, founder of Rowling & Associates, does not hesitate to bring up her own Jewish beliefs in client conversations.
“We talk about all kinds of things,” says the RIA. “The basic values of Judaism go nicely with community-minded people of any religion.”
At Chanukah and Christmastime, instead of giving clients trinkets, Rowling makes donations in their names to charities such as Jewish Family Services’ local food pantry program, which serves all faiths.
Rowling isn’t an observant Jew who attends synagogue regularly or keeps kosher; but she adheres to Jewish principles of morality, conducting her practice based on a central tenet of Judaism called, in Hebrew, “tikkun olam,” which means it is people’s responsibility to repair the world.
“I take that seriously,” says Rowling, “because I want to help enable clients to live the life they want and have the capacity to help others through charity.”
The depth of advisors’ own faith typically dictates how big a role, if any, religion plays in their business.
In 1987, seven years after kicking off his career with EF Hutton, Moore felt he was “called or led” to apply biblical principles to managing money, he says.
“The Bible has over 2,000 verses that address money, more so than other [issues], like prayer and heaven,” says Moore, a member of Kingdom Advisors, a ministry of Christian FAs.
Prospective clients of Jeffrey Rogers, founder-chair of Stewardship Advisory Group, know prior to their first meeting with the Orlando, Fla., advisor that he’s guided by a faith perspective. Such information comes via a referring client or colleague, or by checking out the FA’s website, which states his firm’s primary goal: “To honor God in all that we do.”
“We’re upfront and honest about our faith,” says Rogers, a born-again Christian. “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I want the whole world to know about His love for them. As Jesus [counseled], we don’t hide our [light] under a bushel; but we don’t shove it down people’s throats either.”