What does spirituality have to do with financial planning? That was my first thought when Stephen Brody, CFP, ChFC, EdD, contacted me about being interviewed for his doctoral dissertation on "Assessing Spirituality in Financial Life Planning." The incongruity of the idea intrigued me, so I agreed.
In order to understand Brody's work, I first needed to know his definitions of both financial life planning and spirituality. Financial life planning is an integrated approach sometimes described by terms such as client-centered financial planning. It includes investment advising, but the scope of the engagement is much broader and emphasizes clients' overall well-being.
Brody writes that financial life planning "is literally a matter of connecting your money and your values with your life. . . .the life of the client becomes the axis around which the financial plan develops and evolves. The client is at the center of the plan, and the money is simply the details to support a life well lived."
Spirituality, for many people, is equal to religion. I used to believe that a spiritual person was a religious person and one couldn’t be a religious person without being a spiritual person.
That is not Brody’s definition of spirituality, which he views on a faith-neutral basis. One of his cited definitions of spirituality that makes sense to me is that it relates to searching for meaning, purpose, and a moral framework for connecting with self, others, and the ultimate reality.
Financial life planners use a number of methodologies which lead clients to a greater level of meaning and well-being. They look at money as a tool that supports someone in finding and living a life of meaning and purpose. Seen from this perspective, I have to agree that what a financial life planner does is spiritual. After all, I’ve never heard of someone’s last words being, "Life was so good—my financial planner helped me earn 5.76% compounded annually for 20 years."
Brody’s research finds there are three types of intelligence needed by a financial life planner. They are IQ (intellectual intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), and SQ (spiritual intelligence). Brody describes IQ, which deals with knowledge, as the learning stage of the financial planning process. I contend that education is 50% of what a financial planner does. The psychological factors of dealing with money require EQ, or what he calls the understanding stage.
Brody defines SQ as "The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, all the while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation." This refers to the character and moral factor involved in planning, which Brody suggests is the enlightening stage. This is where money supports meaning.
Like both intellectual and emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence has its own skill set. Brody discusses 21 specific skills. Eight of them are summed up in just being aware of things like one’s own world view, purpose, values, and limitations.
From his research, Brody suggests that the ideal financial planning engagement is based on deep and meaningful conversations. He says it is "a process that seeks the development of the whole person," as opposed to just focusing on concerns like rates of return and tax strategies. From these more meaningful conversations comes "a discovery and awareness that leads to the understanding of your life’s meaning, purpose, and moral framework."
One participant in the survey said that appropriately sequenced questions help clients have a "glide path into self-discovery" and greater clarity of what’s important to them in life. From that understanding, planner and client can work together co-create a financial plan that aligns with the person’s vision of their ideal self and supports a fulfilling life.