By Louis P. Barbarin
How Do You Define Financial Confidence?
Does it spring from having steady retirement income or minimal debt? Is it reflected in the ability to have emergency funds on hand for that inevitable rainy day? Maybe it has to do with the satisfaction that comes from improving your credit score. Or does financial confidence come about as a result of gaining the knowledge and understanding to handle the varying financial situations that occur over a lifetime? Any of these examples can be the foundation on which to build financial confidence; partnering with MMBB can help you to lay a solid foundation. What would it mean to have a trusted partner to help you create a core set of values about money and provide the expertise needed to make wise choices that can help you to reach your goals? Every aspect of our ministry is focused on becoming the trusted partner you can count on.
At MMBB, our goal is to help you to achieve your goals so you will feel confident about your future. But confidence for us is not only quality we encourage in our members and employers. It also speaks to the approach that we bring to our ministry, and our ongoing commitment to help you cultivate financial wellness for you and your families. So many people rely on you, the clergy and lay staff we serve—which is why we make it easy for you to rely on us.
We are with you every step of the way to create a plan that makes the most of your income and assets, provide you with the resources to understand how it all works together, and walk with you toward your destination. We understand that as people of faith, confidence is central to our belief that God is guiding our lives and our assurance is firmly rooted in the recognition that our efforts are sustained by God.
Regardless of where you are in life—whether you’re an administrator at a faith-based organization purchasing your first home, a well-established pastor in mid-career who needs to save more for retirement, or a recent seminary graduate preparing to accept your first call to ministry while juggling credit card debt, MMBB understands your ministry and the tools you need to make wise choices—choices that can lead to increased financial confidence and wellbeing.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13, NIV
Generating Confidence for Pastoral Leaders through the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
2017 was our second year of the three-year Lilly Endowment Inc. grant we received under Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders initiative. The overarching goal of our grant program is to reach a broader network of pastoral leaders and churches to increase the financial wellness of church leaders and staff. We believe this can have a ripple effect that favorably impacts the financial health of their congregations.
Each of our grant initiatives have had a significant impact on participants and many of them have experienced renewed confidence about their financial futures. The Strategic Pastoral Excellence Program (SPEP) is one of the core Lilly initiatives. It is designed to strengthen the personal and organizational financial skills of pastors who have been identified as key leaders of healthy congregations. The primary goals of SPEP aim to lay the groundwork for pastors and their spouses to create a solid personal financial foundation, and to build the necessary skills to engage in healthy conversations around money and the financial challenges facing pastors.
This first group of pastoral leaders, and several spouses, met for three days in January 2017 and a second group met in October. Both were facilitated by leadership from MMBB, to work through an agenda that would help them understand their own views of money and enhance their theological perspectives about money. During this first year of the program, participants also learned how to track monthly cash flow, build a budget, manage debt effectively, and have a better understanding about financial planning with MMBB.
We were excited by the enthusiastic engagement and meaningful lessons that occurred for participants and facilitators alike. One pastor remarked, “I didn’t expect the week to go as it has. For me the experience has not only been financial, but more relational – relationship with God, with myself, with money, and with others. It has been a profoundly deep experience.”
Another attendee commented that, “This was a transformative experience for me. It has changed my life and given me new hope. I look forward to this journey and how it will affect me and those in my sphere of influence. Thank you so much for allowing God to lead you in this manner. I am eternally grateful.”
Each participant and spouse were assigned to one of MMBB’s CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals who will work with them throughout the three-year program. Participants were also encouraged to take part in quarterly conference calls that would reassure them in their ongoing work.
With the aim of reaching pastoral leaders at the grassroots level, our second initiative, the Financial Wellness Program began conducting workshops and seminars in 2017 at various denominational venues to help address the day-to-day challenges that pastoral leaders face by providing financial education resources and financial literacy workshops. The goal is to visit as many venues as possible, working at the national level, as well as the state and regional level. In 2017 the Financial Wellness Program (FWP) offered 20 workshops to pastors and pastoral leaders. These sessions included five full-day in-depth workshops covering an extensive amount of financial planning issues as well as 2-hour seminars covering introductory material. Participants were provided with contact information to follow-up with MMBB’s financial planners.
As the pace of workshops picked up through the year, The Director of our Financial Wellness Program worked with MMBB’s Communications Department and other MMBB CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals to prepare a Financial Wellness Workbook. This workbook has been distributed at succeeding FWP events and in conjunction with other initiatives that are part of this grant.
The second session of our third initiative, the Financial Stress Workshop was held in September in White Plains, NY. We promoted this workshop through emails and/or letters to members and denominational leaders who lived within a short distance of the location. Thirteen clergy and several spouses attended the day and a half workshop with content focused on three areas:
At the end of the workshop each pastoral leader and spouse were matched with a coach that will provide six coaching sessions over a twelve-month period, via phone or video conference. In addition, financial planning assistance is available to them as a benefit of their MMBB membership. One member shared how “talking to MMBB has made it easier for my wife and me to talk to each other about our finances. What once was a pushed-off conversation has now become a reflection of our financial accomplishments. By continuing to cross off goals from our list, we feel a lot lighter.”
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;” Hebrews 13:6a, NIV
Service—the Heart of Our Ministry
The Service Center staff continued its endeavors to obtain additional designations in financial planning and retirement planning. The Service Center now has individuals who are qualified as CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®), Accredited Estate Planner (AEP®), and Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP®). These designations function to complement those who are also ordained as well as lay staff who are strongly committed and passionate about serving the churches they attend.
The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system has now made it possible for our satisfaction survey to track responses in real time both positive as well as in areas of improvement, so the Service Center can more nimbly address questions from our members. It is critical that we receive feedback from members immediately so that we may deliver the highest level of professional service possible. Service Satisfaction Survey Scores remained high in 2017 finishing the year at 94%.
Our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals have adopted a goals-based approach to financial planning that focuses on the recognition that people have different needs at different stages of their lives. It is not unusual for most people to have multiple goals that often compete with each other and for the resources needed to accomplish them. A financial planner can help you understand some of the complexities of your financial life. We also know that financial literacy is a key factor in helping members to plan confidently for their day-to-day needs and for the future. With this in mind, we have worked diligently to highlight topics that increase your financial know-how and address your most pressing needs. In 2017, our Financial Planning team expanded personalized outreach to members with Vestorly, a digital tool which allows us to engage members through a bi-monthly email of financial news and information aggregated with specific demographic needs in mind. The response to the service has been very favorable and we look forward to expanding it to meet the diverse needs of our membership.
Our financial planners held 11 Seminars around the country that were attended by over 400 people. These seminars provided an opportunity for members and their spouses to join our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals and learn more about money management, investing and retirement planning. During these seminars, participants gain exposure to sound financial habits that can help them achieve their goals including a dignified retirement. Members were also able to take advantage of 6 webinars covering various topics including financial planning basics, college planning, social security, long-term care, estate planning and retirement income planning.
In our quarterly newsletter, Tomorrow, we covered a broad range of topics in 2017 including a three-part series on Debt Management, a reminder about the importance of a beneficiary form, a year-end financial planning checklist and tips for securing your home when you are away. We were pleased to welcome The Rev. Marvin McMickle, Ph.D., president and professor of Church Leadership at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY as our guest writer. He brought a wealth of knowledge from his rich and extensive ministry in a series that featured timely articles on aspects of clergy leadership and financial preparedness.
A critical aspect of our commitment to service is staying connected to members and reminding you that MMBB is always available to offer assistance. To that end, in 2017, several annuitant luncheons were held in Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Massachusetts. The luncheons are a welcome opportunity for attendees to keep up-to-date on new developments, hear how the global economy may impact our investment portfolio and reconnect with colleagues in ministry. Heritage of Sharing continues to be a lifeline for MMBB members and churches in times of need. We distributed nearly $4M in noncontractual benefits in 2017. Due to the disastrous hurricanes that devastated the United States and Puerto Rico, our focus on emergency assistance quickly became a disaster recovery effort to aid pastoral leaders and congregations—many of whom lost homes, automobiles and personal belongings and salaries. We are grateful for the generosity of donors who continue to give to this worthy endeavor.
We had great success in 2017 at the Biennial Mission Summit of American Baptist Churches USA where our theme was Financial Wellness. In my keynote address at the MMBB luncheon, I concentrated on our wide-ranging efforts to assist our members in gaining the confidence and tools needed to achieve financial wellness. The Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque, lead pastor of the Community Church of Barrington in Illinois was our keynote speaker. More than 600 members attended the luncheon. Attendees enjoyed a sneak preview of a video from our Debt Management course that was produced for MMBB’s Financial Wellness Institute (FWI). Designed as an educational component to support our Lilly initiatives, FWI will be launched for Lilly participants in 2018. The response to the video was very enthusiastic and we look forward to eventually making the FWI available to all members. MMBB CFPs also provided two workshops, “Know Your Benefits,” and “Personal Financial Planning.” Turnout was strong for both workshops with over 100 people in attendance. Our CFPs conducted 64 financial planning sessions at the MMBB booth. At our annuitant reception, attendees heard updates from MMBB Board of Managers, Chair, Gwynn Perlich, as well as myself and an appeal for Heritage of Sharing.
Cybersecurity prevention and precautionary measures are continuously at the top of our agenda. Given the heightened attempts by unauthorized individuals (or entities) to steal information, The New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) has been closely monitoring the evergrowing threat posed to information and financial systems. The financial services industry is a significant target of cybersecurity threats and DFSNY has mandated tough new standards for financial services organizations.1 MMBB is in compliance with these standards and we protect the information of our members and employers in multiple ways.
MMBB uses several methods to protect nonpublic information including:
Protecting material data at MMBB is our number one priority. We have taken a proactive approach to keeping this data safe and have developed a strategy for approaching risk. By performing yearly training with staff and volunteers, we take every precaution to ensure that common sense practices are applied day to day and in turn protect the data from inside exposure risk.
“Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.” Hebrews 10:35
I am pleased to announce that 2017 was a great year for investment performance for all MMBB funds. The returns for all of our stock funds and multi-asset class funds had high double-digit returns. However, we are always mindful of potential challenges in the global investment environment and we continue to exert rigorous oversight of all assets under management. Keeping this in mind, MMBB reconfigured the emerging markets asset class in two ways. First, by diversifying from two external management firms to four and second, we modified the asset class strategy to take advantage of the type of companies that typically benefit by being in growing markets with growing demographics. Our long-term investment approach continues to focus on remaining well diversified while maintaining adequate liquidity and we have confidence in our highly trained, high caliber investment staff. We remain cautiously optimistic about the investment horizon for 2018.
During the Fall 2017 Board of Manager’s meeting, MMBB’s Board approved the 2018 annuity payout at $73.39 per unit, an increase of 2.9% above the 2017 payout of $71.33.
Of special note, in November as 2017 drew to a close, we had the rare pleasure and distinction of recognizing Muriel Penn Jerigan, a dedicated and devoted member of our MMBB staff, for 50 uninterrupted years of dedicated service. Muriel’s momentous achievement as a valued member of our organization says as much about her as it does about us and demonstrates the unflagging confidence she has had in our ministry. Not only is Muriel the longest serving employee at MMBB, she is also the longest serving employee in the American Baptist Churches USA. Muriel was presented with a proclamation from MMBB’s Board of Managers and a conference room was renamed in her honor.
We are ever mindful that the confidence you place in MMBB can never be taken for granted. Confidence is a confluence of several critical factors, each of them a necessary ingredient that leads to the confidence others can rely upon. The phrase, “trusted partner” is a reminder that true partnership is built on trust that is born out of the respect, integrity and what Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to as “faithful protection and unselfish performance.” We understand our fiduciary responsibility with respect to the assets that you entrust into our care and our calling to offer guidance that is knowledgeable and unbiased. Our ministry is founded on the confidence we believe God has placed in us and the tools he has placed at our disposal to serve you with excellence.
Louis P. Barbarin
Chief Executive Officer