Just six weeks after I started training to be a financial advisor, the stock market crash of 1987 came along. While it seemed like the sky was falling for many investors, the markets soon recovered. Coming so early in my new career, this huge event made a lasting impression on me. For the previous 20 years, I had studied and engaged in what I and other called a sacred vocation. Much of my work centered in vision, empathy, communication, and counseling with people as they searched for meaning while moving through life’s stages. When I made my career change, I had worried that I would be poorly prepared for I was a total novice in the world of finance. However, as I talked to people in the wake of the crash in October, I began to learn that there were many more dimensions to what I had now chosen as my life’s work than just dollars and cents. What I quickly came to understand was that these people were moving through the same stages of life to which I was accustomed in my previous occupation. Vision, empathy, communication, and counseling were just as important in my new work as they had been in my previous career.
So, in addition to learning about investments, financial markets, and financial planning, I also needed to learn about the meaning of money in my clients’ lives. Where were the roots of their hopes and fears that were connected with money? Were they children of the Great Depression who would always worry that they would never have enough? Was their financial wealth all self-made or did it come from the work of their parents? Did they have a bigger vision of wealth than money alone?
Understanding all of this, of course, has not come all at once. It has been an educational journey, and while much of the coursework on this journey has come from books, the greater part of it has come from wise mentors, most of them marvelous clients. They have shared with me their fears and their dreams by telling me their own stories of the stages of their lives. They have told me about their grandparents and parents, their partners, their children, and the other giant influences in their own lives which helped them shape not only their financial world view but their life world view as well. They have referred to us the people in their lives who are most precious to them, the greatest affirmation they could ever offer. They have taught me how the meaning of money influenced their life journeys. I have learned from the young who have found themselves with lots of money because of inheritance or a family business or stock options, and then have made surprising decisions which brought goodness to the lives of others. I have learned from the old who have been savers and investors since they were very young and wanted to pass on a legacy not only of financial wealth to their children and grandchildren, but also a legacy of philanthropy and ethics. All of these have had their own stories. Some have shared with me the painful passages in their lives caused by death, divorce, family conflict, or drugs and alcohol. Some have been amazingly successful very early while still others have been forced out of a career after long service when they were at the most productive stage of their lives.
As all of these have let me share their journey—through both the good and the bad—I have come to understand that working with people and their money is so much a bigger challenge than I had ever dreamed. What is most important is not the details of the numbers, but the big picture—the dreams and visions, the meaning of money—behind the numbers. Because of all they have taught me, I now feel I have so much more to offer others. This vision, this big picture, is what I have tried to teach my intelligent, empathetic, young team members. As we have analyzed our practice we have realized that most of our clients have begun their relationship with us because they are trying to navigate a significant transition in their lives. It may be a transition that is caused by sadness: the loss of a spouse after a tragic illness or accident, the painful search to find one’s way through a devastating divorce or learning to go on with life when Alzheimer’s strikes someone you love and both of you are left alone.
Whether the transition is the result of something happy or something sad, we have discovered that while these folks come to see us about money, our conversations usually become much bigger because their questions and concerns are often grounded in what the money means to them. While one may want to explore just how big his dreams can be, another may despairingly ask “How can I continue on?” “Will my children be secure?” “How will I get through the choppy waters that surround me?” “Is there a time down the road when things are going to be okay?”
When people invite you to share these sacred spaces of family crises, personal tragedies, and new adventures—these transitions from one stage of life to the next—there is an awakening within that evokes an understanding that financial planning at its best is really life planning. You see, money is not just the currency of coins and bills. It is instead one of life’s currencies that helps us turn dreams in to reality. It is sometimes the currency of happiness, but it can also be the currency of bitterness and resentment. It is the ethical currency of hard work and sacrifice taught to us by our parents and that we seek to pass on to our children, but it can also be the currency of bitterness and resentment. It is the ethical currency of hard work and sacrifice taught to us by our parents and that we seek to pass on to our children, but it can also be the currency of avarice and greed. If we have learned one thing from our dear clients over the years, it is that money has many more levels of meaning than most people have ever thought about. Some people believe that money carries with it the moral accountability to be good stewards of what they have, not only for themselves and their loved ones, but also for the greater good. To them money is an important currency of compassion, charity, and philanthropy. We have clients who believe that money must be used up doing good in their own lifetime, while other want to save so that their children can do good when they are gone.
Our views about money are as different as our individual life stories. So, we hope that you will share your story with us and what the meaning of money is for you. It is extremely important for it will help us develop your own life plan for your financial goals and security. We believe that what others have taught us about their journeys and stories may be similar to what you are now experiencing. Perhaps this will help us help you—or your friends, family members, or associates. However, we know that your story is different. It is uniquely your own. Therefore, your own plan for the future must be yours and yours alone and it will depend upon the levels of meaning that your money has for you.
The entire Jester Group is committed to understanding your goals and dreams and helping you bring them to fulfillment. Tracie, Cort and David have never known any other approach to our work than what I have written here. We promise that we will bring the best practices of wealth management to our work with you. And, we promise that we will never lose sight of the fact that our relationship with you is much bigger than numbers. Vision, empathy, caring, and communication will always be central to our journey together for we recognize that life has other challenges, passages, adventures and stages in front of you and us. Our vocation is to be your partner, not just today, but in the years ahead, and to build an enduring relationship based on trust and integrity.
We look forward to serving you.
C. Gene Jester, CFP®, CPWA®, CRPS®Director