Welcome back to the 99th episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast.
This week’s guest is Rob West. Rob is the president of Kingdom Advisors, a membership organization that supports financial advisors who want to serve Christians as their niche market segment. What’s unique about Kingdom Advisors, though, is that they’ve formed not only a community of 2,600 financial advisors from all the different industry channels all serving the niche segment of Christian clients, but they’ve also developed a training program and supporting CKA designation, short for Certified Kingdom Advisor, to be, as they put it, the gold standard for delivering biblically wise financial advice.
In this episode, we talk about what it really means to serve Christians as a niche segment. How you can even have a niche in a target market that’s technically 67% of all Americans, according to the Pew Research Religious Landscape Study, the way that Kingdom Advisors integrates their faith and nearly 2,300 passages from the Bible about money and possessions into their financial planning conversations with clients, and why despite the traditional view that politics and religion should be forbidden subjects to discuss with clients, that the advisors with the CKA designation have actually been able to find success specifically because holding out as a Christian financial advisor helps to connect with clients who share similar values and belief systems.
We also talk about the evolution and growth of Kingdom Advisors itself as the industry has transitioned from its generalist roots to be increasingly focused on niches and specialization. How Kingdom Advisors as an organization focuses on four core pillars of advocacy for Christian financial advisors, that includes a radio show to more than 1,500 Christian radio stations to attract Christian consumers to advisors with the CKA designation, training with both the CKA designation itself and monthly virtual educational programs, community with more than 200 study groups and a 1,500-attendee annual conference, in an effort to become the recognized organization of distinction when it comes to biblically wise financial planning.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Rob reconciles the biblical concepts of stewardship and the industry’s current debates about the fiduciary duty, and why in the long run Kingdom’s focus is really simply on helping advisors discover how their work can be aligned with their own purpose and significance.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- How you can serve a niche with a target market that’s technically a majority. [08:01]
- Key differences in Christian financial planning needs. [12:27]
- An overview of Kingdom Advisors and what they do. [25:27]
- Which universities offer the certification. [31:42]
- Kingdom Advisors’ structure as an organization. [34:04]
- The costs and benefits of being a member. [39:26]
- What their Certified Kingdom Advisor® (CKA) training entails. [58:33]
- What Rob says has led to their impressive growth. [1:00:59]
- What Kingdom Advisors has done to grow as the industry has transitioned from generalist roots to increasing focus on niches and specialization. [1:12:19]
- Rob’s take on reconciling the biblical concepts of stewardship and the industry’s current debates about the fiduciary duty. [1:17:18]
- How Rob defines success. [1:19:50]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Rob West
- Kingdom Advisors
- CKA Designation
- Pew Research Religious Landscape Study
- Kingdom Advisors “Disrupt” National Conference
- Simon Sinek, “Start With Why”
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Welcome, Rob West, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Rob: Michael, it’s great to be with you today.
Michael: I’m really excited to have you on the podcast today because we’ve had this kind of theme of guests over the past couple of weeks of I guess I can only really call controversial niches. Like, not to be controversial for the sake of being controversial, but one of the first things I was taught in becoming an advisor is, you know, if you want to keep connected to clients, basically, you don’t want to step on any landmines. Like, whatever you do, you never talk about religion and politics with clients because you don’t know where they’re going to be on the spectrum and you don’t want to get yourself in trouble. And so I think most of us just get trained either in that dynamic, or I even feel like there’s just a general perception of professionals that, like, you’re supposed to be aloof from things like that.
Rob: Yeah, that’s a good rule for clients and the Thanksgiving dinner table as well I guess, right?
Michael: Absolutely, right? Like just, we always try to keep on the straight and narrow, as it were. And, you know, we’ve had a few guests on lately that have been talking about niches like, “So what happens when you specialize in progressive Democrats?” And that’s who you go after, and you end out with an interesting niche of people that have some shared values. And you come to this from I guess what might be viewed as a little bit of the other end of the religious or political spectrum. You know, I know you’re president of an organization called Kingdom Advisors, which brings together financial advisors of the Christian faith and working with clients that want to have financial planning focused around Christian values. Correct me if I’ve framed that wrong.
Rob: No, that’s exactly right. It’s really based on this idea that there are clear planning differentiators for this market segment we call Christians. And it happens to be a massive market segment. We can talk about how massive it is, but the point is that to the extent there are planning differentiators, and we believe there are, we also think there’s a growing understanding in the marketplace and among advisors that having this values alignment that you talk about, you might call it an integrity of viewpoints, with your client, is key to developing a thriving and trusting advisor-client relationship. And so in that really is why Kingdom Advisors exist. To train and create community for these advisors that want to serve this market segment and really specialize in the planning differentiators around that values alignment that we’re talking about.
Michael: So talk to us about that a little bit more, just this dynamic again, right? Like, we’re, I think, trained like, “You don’t talk about religion.” That’s one of the things, as you said, like, be aware at the Thanksgiving dinner table this week and be aware when you’re talking to clients. And you are kind of literally, like, the opposite possible extreme of this, of like, “No, the center of what we do is working with Christians.” So, like, I don’t know, how do you frame that distinction? Are we just all off base and we don’t get it by trying to run completely neutral when we shouldn’t be or we don’t need to be? Like, how do you view this space?
Rob: Well, I think the first idea is that you have to recognize that behavior follows belief. So everybody has a belief system that informs the decisions they’re making. That includes the advisor and his or her client. And the idea behind Kingdom Advisors is that for those clients who actually hold to a Christian worldview, that when the advisor is better equipped to understand those planning differentiators, those ideas that inform that worldview, that intersect with financial decisions, that he or she is better equipped to serve the client. And for the Christian client, that starts in the Bible. Well, the interesting thing about that is there’s over 2,300 passages in the Bible that speak to money and possessions.
And so these advisors that we serve really have a desire be better equipped to, you could say, specialize in this particular market segment, which for the broad Christian market, that happens to be, according to Pew, the Religious Landscape Study from the Pew Research Center, somewhere around 67% of Americans that would align with this belief system. And so, advisors now are saying, “Well, I can specialize in serving this market to create a deeper, more meaningful advisor-client relationship. Help them reflect their values in the advice that’s being given.” So there’s continuity there. And for the advisor who happens to share that worldview, although not all do, for those that share the worldview, it creates a more meaningful opportunity for them to engage in their work because now something that’s deeply held to them is actually able to be expressed through the context of their work.
How You Can Serve A Niche With A Target Market That’s Technically A Majority [08:01]
Michael: So this kind of raises a couple of questions to me. I guess the first, like, I have to ask this or sort of acknowledge. It’s like, we’re talking about this as kind of working with Christians as a niche, as a specialization, as some way to differentiate, and then as you just pointed out, like, you’re niching in a specialization of 67% of Americans. I mean, there’s still, I think, a lot of active discussion in the industry around, like, is it an oxymoron to say you have a niche in working with women, which are about 51% of the population? So, like, how can you niche with women when it’s the majority of the population? How can you niche with Christians when it’s a majority of the population, more so even than women relative to men in the general population?
Rob: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a good question. And we could get into niches and specializations and how you define that. I think one of the keys here is you’re right, it is massive in size. It happens to be more than 50%, in this case, 67%. And that will vary significantly based on the definition around who is a Christian and who isn’t. But at the end of the day, I think the reason it is such a compelling niche, especially today, is there is a small number of advisors who recognize that and have purposed themselves to be the specialist in these Christian values as they relate to financial decisions. And so when you really move down that pathway and engage in the training and now the designation that we have, Certified Kingdom Advisor, and then hold yourself out accordingly, whether or not you choose to lead with that from a branding and marketing standpoint or not, there is still today a small number of advisors speaking across the industry that have decided to really lead with that and engage in this market niche, which I think brings a finer point to the opportunity.
Michael: Well, in which to me is part of why I’ve long maintained that even framings of areas like specializing with women as a majority of the population is still a valid niche because as long as you’re working with a segment that in any way, shape, or form has some difference in needs than just the general population, the average person, at the point you’re creating a solution that is specific for their need and different than what a generalist would offer, you’re serving a niche. Now, it may be a huge one, and if enough people show up, at some point you’re going to have to maybe slice that a little bit more finely because at the point that everybody serves the same niche, now it is the general population again, but, you know, as long as you’re doing something that’s different for people that’s specific to their need, you know, you really can have essentially underserved majorities in a population and differentiate by trying to serve them, whether it’s working with women, whether it’s working with Christians.
Rob: Well, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think it was 10 years ago that I was at the large firm symposium of the Financial Planning Association conference when they said successful firms…financial planning firms of the future will do three things. Number one, they’ll specialize, number two, they’ll understand the emotional needs of their clients, and number three, they’ll connect values to goals. And that’s precisely what we’re doing here for this market segment called Christians, which again have these unique planning needs. And when advisors lean into that specialization and are properly trained, I think it creates, as we said, a much deeper advisor-client relationship and better overall planning results.
Michael: So can you talk about that a little bit more? Like, when you…you framed a few times of the needs of Christians, the planning issues for Christians, the solutions look a little bit different than what we would typically do. Like, can you talk a little bit more about that? Like, just, what differences are we talking about? Because I feel like for a lot of us in the advisor world we’re like, “Hey, I can do anything under the sun.” Like, “You know, I’ve got an open architecture platform, I can do anything my clients need.” So, like, what are you guys doing that’s different than what I can do for any of my clients with my open architecture platform?
Key Differences In Christian Financial Planning Needs [12:27]
Rob: Sure. Well, I think the first thing to recognize is that this most often presents itself at the why more so than the how. There are unique products that are created for this market segment, and those would often be seen in the faith-based investing space. But much bigger than that, in our view, at Kingdom Advisors is the opportunity on the planning level. And that begins with recognizing that there’s a language differentiation here. There are keywords, for instance, that a Christian will use that if an advisor has been trained to understand those, either because he or she hears those words because they’re a part of that community, the Christian community, or there’s been training there, I just think there’s a better opportunity for understanding as a part of the planning process. So words like stewardship have significant meaning. Word like tithe. Words like Kingdom, which happens to be in our name. Words like calling and treasure and reward. I mean, all of these things are a part…they come out of Scripture, but they would be a part of the regular conversation for a Christian. So I think that’s the first piece.
The second piece is just the planning differentiators themselves, beginning with really the foundational idea for a Christian that comes right out of Scripture, and that is that God owns everything and therefore I am a steward. And so, when an advisor goes into the relationship, the engagement with a client, recognizing that that’s their worldview, that they’re a manager of God’s resources, nothing belongs to them, that’s a critical lens through which a Christian views the responsibility they have to manage wealth entrusted to them, which is why it makes it so important that they then, as a manager or a steward or a trustee of God’s resources, they understand these 2,300 passages that address the topic because that really gives them then the principles or the framework to apply.
Another big idea in Scripture is that money will compete with God for first position in your life. And so an advisor who understands that that’s the perspective or the worldview of the client can help with that. Another would be that it’s more important to pass wisdom than wealth to the next generation. So that gives rise to a focus on legacy planning and preparing the next steward. So the difference between wealth transfer and estate planning, and really considers the impact, including the spiritual impact, of the transfer of wealth on the next generation as the highest priority. There’s a huge differentiation in how the Christian would approach retirement. That retirement is not automatic. Now, you may retire from paid work but service to God never ends. And so we don’t really see a model for the current cultural view of retirement in Scripture, and so, you know, an advisor who understands that can really bring that into the equation.
Michael: I was going to say, so I’m just imagining this conversation right now when a client says, “Hey, you know, I’m accumulating,” or, “I’m ready to retire,” it’s not, you know, “Great. You’re going to retire, and, you know, which golf course are you going to start hitting regularly,” it’s, “Okay, well, that’s wonderful, you’re retiring from your paid work, but, you know, what are you going to do next in service to God?”
Rob: That’s exactly right. And what we’ll see is many of these folks will actually stop their paid work and perhaps redirect that time and energy to a non-profit, to charitable work, perhaps even taking an official position, paid or unpaid, to continue their service. Others may choose to take that experience and wisdom, you know, go overseas and work in mission to serve those in impoverished areas of the world or whatever it might be. But that’s just a part of the thinking because really a Christian would have this idea that my calling, which is God-given, never expires. So when the advisor understands that perspective, it’s really helpful in the planning. It doesn’t mean you don’t save. Actually, saving and investing is a very biblical idea. It just answers the “why” question a bit differently.
Couple of others, one would be generosity is a big idea for the Christian. Bible says you should give generously in proportion to what you have been entrusted. So this places a high value, Michael, on charitable planning when serving the Christian client. The tools and the strategies and really helping to understand what that looks like.
And then last one I’ll mention, and there’s many more we could talk about, but this idea of debt. That debt is not prohibited in the Bible, but it’s clearly fraught with peril, according to the Bible, and it changes the relationship between the lender and the borrower. And so understanding that idea perhaps would help an advisor approach this topic, in particular, a bit differently than otherwise.
Michael: So I get it. I feel like there’s still some lingering, I don’t know, question or, like, pushback from some advisor that might still say, “Well, you know, I talk about charitable planning strategies with my clients, and I, you know, discourage them from taking on unreasonable debt. And, you know, we talk to a lot of our clients about, they may be bored in retirement, that they should find something to motivate and engage themselves after they’re done. And we do estate planning for all of our clients, not just around the estate taxes, but all the planning.” Like, can I still say as an advisor I’m doing all of this? Like, what makes it different in how you view it or frame it as a Kingdom Advisor versus the average advisor that says, “Well, I do retirement planning and charitable planning and estate planning and cash flow planning and debt management and budgeting,” and, like, all the things on the CFP Board topic list that we have in these areas?
Rob: No, I certainly get that. I think, again, it comes back to this idea that starting with worldview, starting with belief does inform the decision-making process differently. And this idea that we can’t gloss over that’s really the starting point for the Christian is that they are a manager of God’s resources. And so it causes them to look completely differently from the outset at the role of money. Money is not an end, which is often the way it’s presented in our culture, money is a tool. And it’s a tool to be used to accomplish God’s purposes. And the question is how does that advisor who understands that help his or her client live that out and really kind of lean deeply into the discovery process, lean deeply into the values conversation, the legacy conversation? What does it look like to hold money loosely? How do I recognize that the management of money has a lot to do with how money will occupy perhaps a position that should be held by God in their life and helping them to protect against that?
So, so much of this I think just begins with that foundational understanding of the biblical viewpoint of money, the role of money as a tool and not an end, and perhaps addressing some of the issues, you know, that are prevalent in our culture that says money equals success. Money can buy significance or purpose. When in fact a Christian would say, “I don’t think any of those are true. That ultimately my purpose is not found in money itself or in the accumulation or abundance of things but really placing ultimately my trust in God and seeing money as a tool.” That seems perhaps like a nuanced differentiation, but in fact, it is a major game changer, we believe, when serving folks who really come from that approach or worldview.
Michael: Now, I’ve got to ask it on the flip side as well, like, are there challenges where you want to serve clients of the Christian faith who may not be up on their own Bible verses and study that…? I guess I’m wondering like, at what point do you or do you end out with any advisors that start morphing from, you know, something that looks less like being an advisor and more like being a pastor who’s actually helping to instill maybe some religious values or religious perspective for shall we call it the slightly less than devout Christian?
Rob: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think the idea here is that the advisor needs to be really skilled at, first of all, having this understanding of what is a proper view of money in light of Scripture. What we see is that 68% of Christians say their religion is very important to their lives, and so Kingdom Advisors believes that offering financial advice that’s consistent with their values and priorities is critical.
But to your point, perhaps they may not be as well-versed in those passages. And what we find is that the role of the advisor is not to proselytize anything. This is not about converting anyone to a certain faith. It’s not even about perhaps helping them to understand that they haven’t applied the Scriptures appropriately, it’s really about helping them work out their own personal convictions. And to the extent they want their faith reflected in their financial decisions when an advisor is really confident and equipped to bring those passages to light and help a client process them in light of the beliefs they have and ultimately the decisions they want to make, there is a role there for helping them work that out in terms of, “How does my belief system then inform the decisions I want to make even if I’m not as confident that I understand fully what Scripture says?” So part of that interpretation role of the advisor I think is key, but ultimately, it’s about the client being able to live out their faith appropriately based on their personal convictions, not the advisor’s.
Michael: Well, and you make an interesting point there that, you know, it starts with clients, as you said, to the extent they want their faith reflected in their financial planning decisions and want an advisor to help in that process. You know, again, I think that’s to me what actually starts to really capture this as the difference between, just call it an affinity group. Like, I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian, or, you know, I’m a Jew, you’re a Jew, I’m Muslim, like, there’s lots of ways that we have affinity groups that we connect with each other and say like, “Hey, I’m in this group, you’re in this group, we should work together,” versus what you’re talking about, which to me really is a step beyond that. It’s not just, you know, we share a religion, we should work together. It’s a more direct, you are trying to figure out how to make financial planning decisions in the context of your faith, which is a particular faith-based framework that almost by definition the average generalist advisor doesn’t do because we’re trained in the exact opposite, which is to not go down that road, rather than leaning in to embrace that road of, “Let’s have some faith-based conversations around financial planning decisions.”
Rob: Absolutely. And again, this would be based on the invitation of the client to say, “I want to have my faith expressed in the decisions I’m making, and how can you as my advisor help me to do that? Here’s some of the things I’m wrestling with. Perhaps here’s what I’ve read in Scripture and I want to know how to apply that. Can you help me work through some of these issues?” It’s not about the advisor projecting his or her beliefs on anyone. And I think you’re right, it does really speak to the opportunity around the differentiation and the specialization when the advisor has confidence to be able to lean into that appropriately and help the client navigate their own belief system and then have that appropriately reflected in the decisions and the planning that takes place.
Michael: Yeah, I think at the point we start talking about this as a need of a particular segment of clients, even a particular segment of Christian clients to express their faith in their planning decisions, like, that to me is really when you start morphing from, “We’re just talking about an affinity group connection,” into, “No, no, this really is a niche of a group with a particular need because they’re not viewing their financial planning decisions in the way that everybody else is.” That’s kind of literally the point of what makes it a niche, even if it’s 67% of Americans.
Rob: I think you’re exactly right.
An Overview Of Kingdom Advisors And What They Do [25:27]
Rob: Yeah. Well, Kingdom Advisors really is about serving the advisor who we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes. And we do that really around four key areas. First of all, we provide advocacy for what we call the industry of Christian financial advice. And so we’re seeing a growing community, really a growing, now, industry of Christian financial advice that exists in the form of advisors seeking our designation. So now we have over 1,400 that have earned Certified Kingdom Advisor, the designation. We advocate for the public in the sense that we exist to protect the public so they can have access to these advisors who really have, you know, through rigorous training and exams and the like are now able to hold themselves out as being able to serve this market segment.
We advocate in the media. So we have a growing presence in the financial media really as a thought leader and as an advocate for this industry of Christian financial advice. There’s a growing number of vendors, service providers and others who are creating platforms and investment products and solutions specifically for advisor who wants to serve this market segment. We advocate with industry leaders like yourself and recent visit with the leaders of the CFP Board and others, and even the regulators and compliance departments. Helping them to understand this market segment, helping them to understand the advisors who want to serve them and how they can do that appropriately within the bounds of rules and regs and yet helping them to really get a handle on that and do that appropriately. So that advocacy piece is a key and a growing, I would say, part of what we do.
The second is training. So we provide ongoing training and tools for advisors that want to serve this market segment, starting with our CKA educational program, Certified Kingdom Advisor educational program, which earlier this year was moved into the two largest Christian universities in the country as an online three-credit hour equivalent certificate program with a proctored exam. It’s about a 50-hour program, followed by about a 3-hour exam. And that’s kind of the core of our training. But then beyond that, we provide new training and tools every month for those that are a part of the organization.
The third would be community. And we do that through our annual conferences. So, you know, we’ll have 1,500 people in Orlando, February, at our national conference. And that continues to grow at a pretty good clip. In addition to that, we’ve got 205 small groups that we call study groups. These are local groups that meet all over the country in the U.S. and Canada every month with advisors that come together to be able to enjoy our original content that we create in our studio each month. We produce with a listening guide and discussion questions. And so they get to unpack one of these topics every month around, “How do you provide this faith-based advice to your clients?” And then talk about it in community. Yeah, go ahead.
Michael: I just want to ask there for a moment. Like, when you talk about training, help me understand a little bit more of what… I mean, what that mean. Like, what does that mean in a world where, like, I can already go get my CFP certification and my years of experience and learn the 89 topics or however many we have now? Like, what are you doing in your training? Like, would you position yourselves as an alternative? Like, instead of getting the CFP marks, come get the CKA designation, or does yours sit on top of CFP?
Rob: Yeah, it’s definitely not an alternative. We would sit on top of CFP and provide this specialization. So CFP would be the how of financial planning, and then we would provide the contextualization, if you will, for the Christian market segment. So once an advisor has a base of competency, as evidenced by CFP or years of experience, we then build on that so that they’re able to come alongside this Christian client and have this additional learning.
In fact, we’re working now with three universities that are integrating the CKA with the CFP as a dual program that offers both designations or the ability to sit for both exams at the end of the course. Right now we’ve actually just submitted to the CFP Board a brand new approach to that where CKA is actually integrated into the seventh-course capstone that we have a number of Christian universities that want to deploy. Because they’re then able to offer as a part of their CFP program the idea that you can graduate, whether you’re a career enhancer or an undergraduate student, you can graduate ready to sit for CFP and CKA. And so they’re able to bring this biblical worldview differentiation into their program.
Michael: Very cool. So in essence, like, it’s a dual degree program functionally. Like, you’re a CFP/CKA dual program.
Rob: That’s right. And one of the exciting things about it is that it’s creating a career path for these, in particular, undergraduate students. So if you talk to a professor at Liberty University, the largest Christian University in the country, more than 100,000 students, he’ll tell you that the majority of the students graduating from his CFP program with the CKA built in are being hired by the members of Kingdom Advisors. In fact, they’re getting on airplanes and flying to Lynchburg so they can interview his students because, as you can imagine, a member of Kingdom Advisors who’s earned our designation, who’s positioned his or her business this way would be delighted to hire a junior planner coming out of a CFP program with all this CKA training built in on the front end.
Which Universities Offer The Certified Kingdom Advisor Certification [31:42]
Rob: Yeah. So there’ll be many more in the future. Today, the certificate program, which would be for the career enhancers, the advisor who already meets our requirements to earn CKA and just wants to go through the training to be able to sit for the exam, they’d come to Kingdom Advisors and then they’d be redirected to one of two schools offering the certificate CKA online, either Indiana Wesleyan University or Liberty University, which are the two largest Christian universities in the United States.
And then beyond that, there’s three schools offering CFP with CKA. The two I mentioned plus Mount Vernon Nazarene. But there’s a number of additional schools actually in the queue, if you will, all Christian universities, that either want to add CKA to an existing CFP program, or even more exciting than that as it relates to the future of CFP and their growth desires, we’re bringing universities to the table that have never offered a CFP program that want to add CFP with CKA as a new program. And we’ll actually go into those universities with one of the team members from the CFP Board to actually help onboard those schools.
Michael: Very cool. Very cool. So, yeah, I can certainly see the whole career track building out and the appeal for advisors that are in this space and specializing it that would really like to find advisors, again, who share the same values, who share the same interests, so finding a student who comes through a CKA program or particularly a CFP/CKA program just kind of serves right up to them at that point. The fact that they’ve gone down that path has largely self-selected and identified themselves for where their interests already are.
Rob: That’s exactly right. And we’re seeing them really embrace this in a big way. For instance, at our conference this year, we’ll have somewhere between 70 and 80 undergraduate students from one of these programs coming to the conference, and we’ll do a job fair as a part of it. And we see that only continuing to grow.
So I mentioned advocacy, I mentioned training, I mentioned community, which are the conferences and the study groups, and then the last area would be that of distinction, which is really our role in granting the designation, Certified Kingdom Advisor.
Kingdom Advisors’ Structure As An Organization [34:04]
Michael: Okay. And you had mentioned at the beginning, you know, the framing of Kingdom Advisors itself as, you know, existing to protect the public in, you know, training and developing advisors in this space. So I’ve heard that framing before. That’s usually the framing…a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Is that how you guys are actually structured?
Rob: We are. Yeah. So we’re a not-for-profit 501(c)(3).
Michael: As opposed to being like a 501(c)(6) association like FPA and NAPFA and Investments and Wealth Institute and the others?
Rob: That’s exactly right. And I think a part of this has to do with this idea of protecting the public by offering a rigorous and accepted designation out there. You know, you mentioned the idea of affinity growing in our industry, and at the same time, there’s affinity fraud. Where, you know, fraudsters prey on members of identifiable groups that would include religious groups. And so one of the things we’re excited about is by putting out a true designation with rigor, again, a 50-hour program, you know, proctored exam, code of ethics, public disciplinary process, continuing education, and a host of other requirements to even qualify to earn the designation, we believe we can help to counteract some of that fraud that has existed in the past around religious people group.
Michael: So in essence, you come even to the Christian community and say, you know, “It’s wonderful for you to work with a fellow Christian advisor, but if you want to find a credible fellow Christian advisor, we encourage you to find a Certified Kingdom Advisor who’s had the training, education, and experience and ethics requirements to serve you the way that you expect to be served.”
Rob: Absolutely. Both initially and ongoing as they have to recertify each year and as we have the ability to then, you know, accept public complaints and, you know, the whole host of issues, not to mention the continuing education that they do. Sure. So that’s all under the idea that we want to protect the public.
Michael: And recertify means like they have to sit for a new exam and new courses or just you have to renew this certification?
Rob: Yeah, it’d be a certification renewal. You’ve got to meet the requirements on CE. We’ll do an industry review, regulatory review as a part of that. Making sure there’s not any new disclosures or any problems that have been uncovered, review any complaint history, things like that. But yeah, no additional required training or test other than continuing education.
Michael: But you do, in essence, have the means to oversee and, call it, police your Kingdom Advisor members and those with the CKA designation, in particular, to make sure they’re actually operating appropriately or at least responding to complaints that they’re not if someone alleges that they’re not.
Rob: That’s exactly right. And that’s really important to us.
Michael: Yeah. Well, and it’s an interesting distinction to me that, you know, particularly when you get into just the world of both (c)(3)s versus (c)(6)s and just, you know, trying to build towards this higher level of excellence than solely being the open tent, that, you know, you don’t see a lot of the membership associations kicking people out for bad behavior, but organizations like yours, CFP Board, you know, we do this in XY Planning Network as well, if complaints come in, like, advisors get removed from the community. We actually take that stuff seriously.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And we do as well. And that’s part of our role in being in the association world in a sense and the designation-granting world. That, you know, we provide a dual role there in creating that community and training but also in granting the designation and upholding it as the standard of excellence, which you can’t do unless you have a removal and revocation process.
Michael: So how many people are under this umbrella? Like, I think you mentioned there are now over 1,400 who have earned the CKA designation, so is this kind of similar to CFP Board? Like, there are 1,400 people who have earned the designation, so, like, that is your stakeholder group and constituency because you’re not functioning as a membership association or is there, like, a broader community of Christian advisors under the umbrella and then some of them have earned the CKA?
Rob: Well, it’s actually the latter, Michael. We are a membership organization in addition to offering the designation. So in total, we have just over 2,600 members of Kingdom Advisors. We actually enjoy about a 95% retention rate, well above association norms. And we’ve grown 70% in the last 5 years. So for instance, in 2013, we had just over 1,500 members. As I mentioned, 1,400 of those have earned Certified Kingdom Advisor. We’ve had 110% growth of that number in the last 5 years. So, as you can see, it’s increasing rapidly. And 205 study groups. And as I mentioned, we’re expecting north of 1,500 at our conferences early next year.
The Costs And Benefits Of Being A Member [39:26]
Michael: Interesting. And what does it cost or entail to be a member?
Rob: Yeah, membership dues, $360 a year for a professional member. And we have lower price points for what we call emerging advisors, those five years or less in the business or faculty of a university. We have a retired rate and student rate as well, but $360 a year for a member.
Michael: Okay. Okay. And so in essence, like, my $360 a year brings me under the Kingdom Advisors umbrella. So now I get to benefit from your advocacy. I get access to your training programs. I can participate in your community. You’ll, you know, support me as an organization of distinction. And then I get my own choice about whether I want to go one step further and get the CKA designation as well.
Rob: That’s right. You would also get access to some industry continuing education credit as a part of that. You would also get discounts to our annual conference. But yeah, you have the idea there.
Michael: Okay. And what’s the cost for and structure for CKA if someone wants to explore that?
Rob: Yeah, $1,149 would be the program that we have today, which includes the university training, 50-hour program. It would be followed by the proctored exam. And that includes one year of membership dues as a part of that package if you will.
Michael: Okay. So help me understand, like, who joins Kingdom Advisors and… Well, yeah, let me just start there. Like, who joins?
Rob: Yeah. So this would be, for the most part, a professional who wants to be better equipped to serve this market segment, to be able to align values with clients who hold to a Christian worldview. So this would be any number of advisors, whether they’re in a wirehouse, an independent. In fact, our members, although the majority of them would be in the financial planning space or the wealth management, investment management space, we do even have some members that would be in other financial advice-giving roles like CPAs, estate planning attorneys or insurance professionals, but largely, financial planners and wealth managers. And again, these are folks that say, “I want to join this community. I want to have some role in being a specialist in bringing this Christian worldview advice to my clients. I want to partake of the training and the community and the conferences.”
Michael: Okay. So it’s not as though you’re like an alternative to a broker-dealer platform or RIA custodian or even necessarily an alternative to other membership associations, you’re, well, I guess some people might choose between, “Do I want to do something like FPA and NAPFA versus Kingdom Advisors” for finding their community. But you’re, I guess I’ll call like channel agnostic in who you’re working with. Just anybody that wants to serve this clientele holding a Christian worldview and aligned values in their planning with their clients.
Rob: That’s exactly right. In fact, many of the firms will immediately think that they have to recommend certain investment strategies. Not true. Our clients run the gamut of investment offerings. It doesn’t matter what platform broker-dealer they’re a part of. And again, to your point, most of them would be a part of the FPA or NAPFA in addition to Kingdom Advisors. This is a niche community, if you will, where they can find like-minded professionals, grow in their understanding of how to offer financial advice that aligns with the values of Christians, and engage deeper in being better equipped and more confident to bring this into their practice.
Michael: And so, when advisors join Kingdom or pick up the designation, like, how do they tend to represent this to clients? Like, do you see advisors, you know, marketing and saying like, you know, “We serve a Christian clientele and here’s what they do?” Does it tend to take more of a backseat and they just kind of bring it up in conversation? Like, how does that influence them in practice? Like, I get the training in the background, but what does that look like for advisors that want to come in this direction when we’ve all been trained like you’re not supposed to bring this up and talk about this stuff?
Rob: Right. Right. Yeah, it really varies quite significantly across our membership. You would have a segment of our community that would lead with this. In fact, we have a number of advisors that over the years, and these would be the independents, that have gone through significant rebranding processes within their firm. Hired, you know, outside branding firms and the like to lead with this idea that they serve Christians and bring this values-based advice to the table. And that’s really overtly who they’re marketing to. We have others that you won’t find any reference to that on their website. They may or may not bring it up with a client in the meeting, it’s just better equip them to serve their clients by having this understanding of some of these foundational belief systems and frameworks that the client comes from. And so the advisor is then better equipped to serve that.
And then there’s others that kind of ride in the middle. You might have some that lead with saying, “I just want you to know that I have a worldview and I have an approach and it comes from these principles found in the Bible. And, you know, that doesn’t mean that you need to share that, but I just want to let you know that’s kind of how I bring my advice from this basis or this worldview. And that informs the advice that I’m giving.” And we’ve heard from members that say their clients have said to them, “We appreciate that. I like knowing that my advisor’s advice is rooted in something.” And if it’s rooted in something, it might as well be ancient wisdom that everybody would agree is just sound thinking. So it really runs the spectrum.
Michael: Well, and to me, this just reminds me all the way back to the famous, you know, Simon Sinek “Start with Why” discussion. That, you know, clients don’t really buy what you do or how you do it at the end of the day, they buy why you do it and, you know, where you’re coming from in your approach. Which to me speaks very directly to, you know, this kind of leading with that conversation that says, “Look, you know, like, I’m not here to proselytize you or convert you, but just, here’s my belief set and where I’m coming from. If that’s in alignment to you, we’re probably going to work very well together. And if that’s not in alignment to you, we probably weren’t going to work out in the long run anyways, but let’s get this figured out right now.”
Rob: Right. Yeah, exactly. Well, and a lot of this too, Michael, has to do with the firm’s position on CKA. So we have some firms that say, “First of all, you just can’t use it. It’s not an approved designation.” And that’s changing now that we have the university training and the proctored exam and all the other stringent requirements so that CKA can stand toe-to-toe with any other industry designation. And in fact, right now we have as of today 28 firms actively reviewing CKA for approval. But some of them had just said, “You can’t put it on your business card. You can’t put it in your bio.” Others have said, “Absolutely. It’s fully approved and able to be used with the public.” So a lot of obviously how advisors use it is dictated by and they operate within the guidelines of their firm that.
Michael: And I guess that speaks back to the comments you made earlier around advocacy both for Christian financial advice and for CKA is that part of that is, you know, figuring out what you need to do with your own standards so that firms will approve your standards so that advisors can use the marks.
Rob: That’s right. And that’s a big part of my role, I mean, there’s not a week that goes by that I’m not talking to a compliance department somewhere. Because, as you might imagine, they come to the table with some preconceived ideas about why it’s a bad idea to allow religion and their advisors marketing or planning to intersect.
Michael: So not only do we have to overcome advisors who have been trained, “You’re not supposed to talk about this stuff,” but now we have to overcome compliance people who have been saying that their advisors are not supposed to talk about this.
Rob: Right. And they’re just doing their jobs to protect their firms and protect their advisors. And we get that. And I think part of our job is just to help them understand as much as what this is, we need to help them understand what this is not. That this, you know, is not a PR nightmare waiting to happen, and this is not about any social issues. This is about advisors who are skilled at understanding the worldview of a certain client segment that they want to serve. And that makes their advice more holistic and more meaningful. And that’s good for business. It’s good for the firm. It’s good for the advisor. It’s certainly good for the client.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. And where did Kingdom Advisors come from? Because I’ll admit, you know, the organization only hit my radar screen in maybe the past year or two of becoming aware that you were out there and serving this client segment, and with a very sizeable organization, with 2,600 members. So where did where did Kingdom Advisors come from in the first place? How long have you been doing this?
Rob: Yeah. Kingdom Advisors was founded in 2003. Originally it was called the Christian Financial Planning Institute and then became the Christian Financial Professionals Network, and then finally rebranded to Kingdom Advisors. It was originally CFPI under a gentleman by the name of Larry Burkett, who had a national radio program on Christian radio called “Money Matters.” He really popularized the application of Scripture to modern personal finance and wrote a number of books and built a huge ministry.
Larry transitioned the organization to Ron Blue, also an author in this space, very well-known among Christians in the area of biblical finance, in 2003. And actually shortly after Larry passed away, Ron took the organization. It was rebranded at that time CFPN, the Christian Financial Professionals Network, and Ron then began to build it. I joined the organization in ’05 and then full-time after selling my own financial services practice in ’09. So we’ve been at this 15 years, Michael. And as you might imagine, a slow build because not only are we creating kind of a new category, if you will, but just, you know, it takes 10 years to do anything. And so we’re just, you know, experiencing that.
Michael: With all of the growth that, you know, you were 1,500 a few years ago and 2,600 now, you know, I’m doing the math in my head and, like, you’ve added almost as many in the past 4 years as you did in roughly the first 10 to 12 cumulatively.
Rob: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And a lot of that just is it takes time. The other piece of that is the industry is really aligned with this idea, in large part because of the work you’re doing and many others to really bring awareness to the value-add opportunity, the niche market, specializations. I mean, we’re really in sync with where I believe this industry is and is continuing to head in the future. Not to mention that we’ve been at this long enough to know what it looks like to operate. We have university credibility. We’ve got some major firms that have embraced what we’re doing. Financial media is picking up on it. So it’s just beginning to snowball, and the trajectory of where we’re headed is changing significantly. In fact, we really believe that the opportunity for Kingdom Advisors is eventually 30,000 CKAs.
Michael: Wow. So that’s the BHAG as it were? The big hairy audacious goal is 30,000 CKAs?
Rob: It is. Absolutely.
Michael: Wow. And do you have any sense as to how many advisors now are in this space? I mean, I guess just, if we’re going to assume advisors are at all representative of general population, there’s…you know, if 67% of Americans are of the Christian faith and ostensibly about two-thirds of advisors are. Cerulli I know estimates about 300,000 financial advisors total. So, you know, there could be at least 200,000 in your target market, of which, you know, maybe 30,000 or 15% want to go much deeper into this and make this into their specialization in their way that they differentiate with clients.
Rob: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, we would take the larger population and just apply it to financial services. And, you know, when we look at the growth rates that are projected for the industry and for the profession of financial planning, the goals that CFP Board has set and others, you know, you can easily see how when you extrapolate the larger population, although declining in terms of the overall that those who would hold to a Christian worldview, the trend has been down, you still see how you can get there pretty quickly in terms of the overall number of advisors and where this industry is headed.
Michael: So you had said that you actually came to working at Kingdom from your own advisory firm. So was this a world where you were doing this yourself and then found community in Kingdom, or I guess it would have been CFPI back then at the time, or were you just, call it the like, you were a generalist advisor like so many of us and transitioned into this when you became familiar with the approach?
Rob: Yeah. That’s really quite accurate. Actually, my dad had been in the business 30 years with Bear Stearns and Prudential Bache and Oppenheimer Capital. And after graduating college, he and I…he was in semi-retirement, and he said, “Rob, if you want to come back, let’s rebuild the firm together as partners, but let’s do it by specializing in serving Christians.” And it was just something that he and I dreamed would be a great opportunity for he and I to work together but also to do something we were passionate about. So we really became the faith-based RIA financial planning shop in South Florida, in addition to serving clients. Had some radio in my background from college, and so I started doing a call-in show on a Christian radio station down there and just was a part of who we were. And we built the firm up over 10 years to about $150 million in assets under management as an RIA clearing through TD Waterhouse then Ameritrade.
Ended up hearing Ron Blue actually share the vision of Kingdom Advisors, which just intersected so well with who we were serving, a number of high-net-worth Christian families, helping them to be generous, helping them to manage their wealth and pass this on to their kids. And, you know, everything that Ron was sharing just really resonated, as you might imagine, with me. And so it wasn’t shortly after that that Ron started asking me, “Rob, when are you moving to Atlanta to join me?”
Michael: That’s a good recruiter right there. That’s a good leader.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. Began to feel like that was exactly where I was headed. And so it took a few more years. Long story short, ended up selling the firm in ’09 and transitioned to Atlanta to join the team full-time.
Michael: And so what did you…like, what role were you joining the firm to do? Like, what did it look like then? How big was the staff? How big was the organization?
Rob: Yeah, it was obviously a much smaller organization. We were kind of in the midst of making some key decisions as to whether or not we were going to charge for membership and was it going to be dues-based or would we let any advisor join and just support us charitably, and what’s the role of CKA, and what does industry acceptance look like of that. So I came on to really serve in the content and training area. That was an area of passion and of interest to me. I did a bit of writing and really was interested in building out that piece of it. And so that’s where I joined, and then a couple of years later ended up moving into the role of president. But obviously, it was still an organization that was small and trying to find its way, and which we’ve done since 2012. We’ve really just begun to take off like a rocket.
Michael: And so what does the organization look like today from the organization end? Like, I know, you know, traditional membership associations have, like, a whole bunch of people in member services that sort of drives their activities, right? Like FPA has chapters, NAPFA runs a central organization. I know you said you have study groups for your advisors but, like, what does Kingdom look like as an organization?
Rob: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, we do have quite a bit of folks in member services. We’re a fairly lean organization. We’ve got about 15 that work on the team. And it’s everything from member services to…you know, we have a credentialing specialist, a training director, a COO, a CEO in addition to myself serving as president, support services, you know, community relations. We have somebody who oversees all of our communities. And that would include the study groups, the folks out there, you know, volunteer-led leaders of these groups, as well as one person who oversees our large firm relationships.
You know, we have a great relationship with LPL, with a new LPL Kingdom Advisor support group that was formed internally in LPL. We have a great working relationship with Ameriprise. CFAN is the name of their group, the Christian Franchise Advisor Network that just recently crossed 1,000 Ameriprise advisors that are a part of CFAN. And so we have a person on our staff who relates to these firms. Merrill Lynch has the Merrill Lynch Christian Focus Group. There’s the Christian Focus Group at Morgan Stanley. So a growing part of our role is just to serve and support community groups, these affinity groups, if you will, within the firms. And then we have a group that handles production and graphic design. So every month we’re producing original content on video and editing that down and distributing it to these study groups that meet all over the country.
What Their Certified Kingdom Advisor® (CKA) Training Entails [58:33]
Michael: And what does that look like? You know, you’ve mentioned kind of this monthly training content a few times here. So the idea is you’ll do some training video around, like, planning strategies or particular faith-based conversations and then send it out to all the advisors and they’ll watch it in their study groups and then discuss amongst themselves? Is that kind of the format?
Rob: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So they would come together on a monthly basis to watch that month’s teaching. It’s a short teaching followed by a discussion. And, you know, we have our regular faculty. Mitch Anthony is a key instructor for us and teaches regularly. Mitch did our study group actually recently called A Discovery from the Inside Out. That would be an example of something we would do. You know, it could be on generosity. It could be on wealth transfer. It could be on retirement, any number of topics. But each month, we’ll tee up a different topic related to integrating values into financial planning and advice. And then through that teaching and then the discussion that follows, the advisors will unpack that, usually over a breakfast or a lunch meeting of about 90 minutes. Get one hour of CE and go away with not only some community with like-minded peers, but some additional learning that they can take back and implement immediately.
Michael: Very cool. And it seems like you guys are just very well focused on, you do your designation, you do your training, you do your advocacy, and you build a community around it, and just…
Rob: That’s exactly right. Yeah, we try to say no to as much as we can just so we can stay laser-focused on serving and supporting our members. You know, as I said, the advocacy piece is really growing rapidly in terms of the role we play out there in the marketplace to advocate for this whole growing segment of financial services. And then, you know, just putting, as you know, on an annual conference for 1,500 people, we’re now spending 12 months a year on that.
Michael: Yes. Yes, I definitely understand the pain of that. Our XYPN LIVE Conference is only about half that size and we’re already feeling the pain of just, there’s a lot of logistics when that many people show up.
Rob: Yes. That’s exactly right.
What Rob Says Has Led To Their Impressive Growth [1:00:59]
So, as you look at the growth and this trajectory, like, I’m just struck, you know, again, there’s always a phenomenon in businesses that, like, you know, how do you become an overnight success? Step one, grind for 10 years while no one notices. Step two, become overnight success. But I am struck that just you’re having this kind of hockey stick upturn of growth trajectory where you’re up almost as much over the past 4 years or so as you were for the first 10. Like, is that something different about what Kingdom Advisors is executing in the business from your end or is that, like, there’s a shift in the landscape that you’re benefiting from? Like, what do you see is going on in the advisor marketplace?
Rob: Well, I think a lot of this just has to do with the things you talk about on a daily basis related to where this industry is headed and really the need to…really the opportunity, I guess I should say, to lean into niche markets and specialize. And given that many of the large firms are now embracing what we’re doing, creating space for advisors within these firms to come together for best practices and training, permitting them to seek and earn the designation Certified Kingdom Advisor, that’s a big part of it. And the extent to which a growing number of firms allows that to happen is just going to give us the ability to accelerate that growth.
I think beyond that, you know, seeing some recognition from financial media. I mean, we’ve had articles in the “Wall Street Journal” and on “Financial Planning” magazine’s website recently. And I just did an interview the other day with Bloomberg. And, you know, we’re starting to have more and more folks acknowledge the work that we’re doing and see this as credible. There’s also a growing number of investment offerings that we would call faith-based investment solutions, you know, that we’re seeing available to advisors. So you put that all together and, you know, where the industry is headed, the acceptance of Kingdom Advisors in the Christian advice industry, the acceptance of our designation and the grind for 10 years that we’ve been, plus, a part of, and I feel like, you know, we’re poised to continue to see significant acceleration just because of the number of advisors interested in aligning their own values and worldview with the work that they’re doing.
We hear from people all the time Michael that say, “I was ready to get out of financial services. I was tired of helping people build bigger barns.” And that would be a reference to a parable in the Bible that talks about the rich fool who just continued to accumulate for accumulation sake and lacked, ultimately, trust in God. You know, I think advisors who say, “I want to help people have purpose and meaning in their lives.” You know my friend Mitch Anthony says, “Money can’t help you find a purpose but it can help you fund a purpose.” And I think advisors recognize that being a part of that kind of work, helping their clients find purpose and meaning and seeing their money as a tool and putting it into proper context is work that is worthy to do and that they’re excited about.
Michael: I love that phrase, “Money can’t help you find a purpose but it can help you fund a purpose.” That is fantastic. I love that.
And so, yeah, it makes sense to me that just, as the industry increasingly shifts towards, you’ve got to find some way to differentiate from all the other advisors out there who say they do the same thing, right? You know, the differentiator. You know, “We provide comprehensive financial planning advice with our years of experience and industry credentials. And, you know, we specialize in individuals, families, small business owners, endowments, charities, and women.” Like, we just kind of list all these different things that we do to the point that everybody else lists the same thing and nobody actually ends out really differentiated anymore. And that yearning for differentiation I think is driving advisors towards a lot of different new channels, new directions, new ways to niche and specialize. For which not only makes sense to me of, “Hey, you know, having a niche with 67% of Americans probably means there’s enough target market for all of us to be successful.”
But, you know, you, to me, have taken it a step further when you actually build a formal designation and a training program around it, right? I think for a lot of advisors, one of the biggest challenges is they say like, “Okay, this niche thing sounds good, but A, I’m not sure which one to choose, and B, I have no idea how to actually get the expertise to be an expert in that niche.” And to some extent, like, part of what makes something a unique and differentiated niche is that not everyone else does it. So if you can figure out how to craft your own expertise, that’s part of what differentiates you.
But when you get a space as big as the market that you guys are serving, it makes a lot of sense to me to have, like, a structured, formalized program, “Here is how you serve this niche effectively and differentiate yourself because the good news is there are more than enough people in this space that we can have.” You know, your BHAG of 30,000 CKAs and each of them are serving 100 clients each in their deep financial planning relationships. You’re serving 3 million people, and there’s 60 or 70 million Christian households in the U.S. So, like, you’ve still got room.
Rob: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And, you know, one of the exciting things we’re seeing is it’s not only that there’s now trainings and a pathway for advisors to serve clients the way we’ve been describing today in our conversation, but it’s all the other things happening around it. It’s the firms creating internal affinity groups. It’s the investment providers creating products specifically for the advisor who wants to serve Christian clients. There are platforms, BD platforms that are being created just for these Christian advisors. We’re not doing that. That’s just happening because, you know, a large part of what we’re helping to create.
Michael: Who are the BD platforms being created for Christian advisors?
Rob: Yeah. Well, some of them are still in development. You know, some of them are still pretty small and just growing as of late, and so, you know…but I think you’ll see more and more of these coming out in the next year or two. Many of them are still kind of behind the scenes at the moment.
Michael: Okay. So stay tuned for yet another emerging trend.
Rob: Stay tuned for that. Yeah. That’s right. You know, so you look at that. And then the whole career path. I mean, this idea that you can go to school and, you know, decide on the front end that I want to get my CFP and my CKA and I’m going to enter this business with a niche market in mind and there’s a job waiting for me with an advisor who wants to bring me into the fold specifically to serve that market segment. I mean, that’s huge. And it’s good for the industry because it’s going to help CFP Board get to their goals, it’s going to help us get to our goals, and it’s going to help advisors further differentiate themselves.
Michael: Yeah, it is certainly to me a trend that starts to build on itself at some point as more advisors and Kingdom Advisors want to hire new financial planners who are trained and have come through the program, which means you create more job opportunities, which draws more students into the program who then become experienced advisors and hire students in a couple of years down the line. And just, it becomes a virtuous cycle that builds on itself.
So where do you look at Kingdom Advisors from here? Like, where does it go in the future?
Rob: Well, I think we’re just going to stay laser-focused on this idea of, “What does it mean to be the leader of an industry of Christian financial advice? And how do we continue to serve our various constituencies more effectively?” So how do we become the world’s best at training and equipping advisors to deliver this kind of advice with confidence? How do we become the world’s best at relating to and serving the firms and the compliance departments and the regulators and understanding this space and being able to see how they can embrace it appropriately?
How do we get the message out? Because, you know, what we find is that Christians don’t know that this kind of advice is available. So just this last year, we started MoneyWise Media as a separate wholly owned subsidiary. It’s a single member LLC of Kingdom Advisors. And that’s just for the purpose of sharing these principles broadly with the Christian public on 1,503, as of today, radio stations around the country with a live call-in radio show, but ultimately, making them aware that they can go to our website and put in their zip code and find a Certified Kingdom Advisor in their area.
Michael: Oh, interesting. So you’re essentially…
Rob: One hundred and six people a day doing that.
Michael: One hundred and six people a day who are hearing the radio show that you’re doing through Kingdom Advisors and the MoneyWise Media subsidiary and then coming to the Kingdom website and entering their zip code in to find a CKA in your area.
Rob: Yeah. And what we hear from them, Michael is that they’re saying, “I didn’t realize this existed. I absolutely want my faith reflected in my financial decisions. I had no idea that there was a group of advisors with competency and rigorous training and a designation that held them out as a specialist in this market segment. I want that.”
Michael: Interesting. So the show is, oh, as you say, I guess just a live call-in radio show talking about personal finances, money, investing with a Christian lens since you’re going out on Christian radio stations, and then just at some point it kind of mentions like, “Hey, and if you want an advisor who can work with you in alignment on these values, go to, you know, kingdomadvisors.com and, you know, enter your zip code to find a CKA.”
Rob: Yeah. We’re reaching over 1 million Christians a week, again, on 1,500, non-commercial Christian radio stations. And yeah, just in the course of answering the questions, if, you know, the question lends itself to somebody who needs professional advisor and doesn’t have one, we’d recommend they interview at least three in their area to find the one that’s the best fit for them. You know, it’s just a straight listing based on the geography of the advisor, you know, in proximity to that person doing the search. It’s a way for us to build out the network.
Michael: It becomes an indirect benefit and appeal to joining Kingdom Advisors, which is, you know, “And you might even get a few clients or leads out of this in addition to just learning the program and the training and getting the CKA designation itself.”
What Kingdom Advisors Has Done To Grow As The Industry Has Transitioned From Generalist Roots To Increasing Focus On Niches And Specialization [1:12:19]
Rob: That’s right. And I think, I mean, very similar to what the CFP Board is doing. I’ve seen their recent new campaign out there now about how a CFP is different from everyone else in the profession of financial planning. And in a similar way, we want to make the public aware that there’s what we call a gold standard for biblically wise financial advice, and it’s Certified Kingdom Advisor. And so Christian radio is a way for us to reach right into that Christian community with a very targeted approach. And, you know, you can use Facebook and you can do broad market appeals and you could take ads out in magazines, but Christian radio, at least today, is a way to tap into that market segment specifically.
Michael: Yeah, I was going to ask like just, why radio verses, I don’t know, all the other things that you can do to market these days? All the fancy digital tools out there to market. What took you to radio?
Rob: Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, when you look at Christian radio, it is still thriving. I mean, most markets have a Christian radio station with only Christian talk and teach programming. And there’s a void that exists or there has been a void that exists as it relates to the topic of money. So there was an opportunity for us to move into that space and really fill that void so that across the country, all of these communities that have Christian radio stations and didn’t have a program on biblical finance, if you will, could slide our program right in there and we could reach right into the Christian community and not only teach these principles, which we believe are life-changing, but also make these folks aware that there’s a professional out there, if that’s what they need, who can serve them accordingly. So it’s just really, as we evaluated every go-to-market strategy to bring awareness to this space, we really found that because of the uniqueness of Christian radio that exists in this country, that that was the very best way to go about it.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting pathway for it, and I guess you’re seeing a lot of result engagement in people that are coming to the site. And I know that, as with any marketing, like, that only grows and compounds for you over time after they’ve been listening to you for a couple of years. It just cements the brand and brand awareness even more.
Rob: That’s right. And, you know, these days, more than ever, it’s not one thing, it’s everything. So you start with a platform like radio with a nationally syndicated call-in program, and then you build on it with podcasts and social and every other medium that you can offer to reach as many audiences as you can. And so we’re using radio as kind of the base, if you will, but then all the other pieces are built around it.
Michael: Interesting. And so how does membership go for you then? Like, I understand going out to consumers and the consumer side, but the advisor end, is this mostly just word of mouth at this point, of advisor saying, “Hey, you know, I’m part of this organization, you might be interested as well?”
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s right. It is largely word of mouth. You know, as we continue to see more firms allow these Christian focus groups or Christian affinity groups, obviously, that’s a huge awareness opportunity. I mean, when LPL launches the LPL Christian Focus Group and we do a breakout at the conference and senior leaders at LPL are tweeting about Kingdom Advisors and their excitement about creating this community for advisors who want to serve this market segment, that brings a whole another level of awareness to what we’re doing that we could never do on our own. So, as we continue to engage each of the firm’s that are out there, the major firms, to replicate that strategy, what’s happened at LPL and Ameriprise and others, I think that’s probably our most significant opportunity, in addition to just word of mouth. And then obviously, with the addition of the radio program this year, I think it all just kind of works together.
Michael: Interesting. You know, again, advisors have been moving towards niches for the past few years. We know that. We’re starting to see in the data. You know, TD Ameritrade’s latest benchmarking study had, you know, material increases in growth rate and profitability for niches. So I feel like that…we’re starting to see that trend take hold. But you’re one of the few organizations out there that has an entire program structure training designation around it that it’s fascinating to me about what that opportunity looks like for Kingdom Advisors in the coming years.
Rob: Well, I think the other big one here is just seeing more universities come on board to offer CFP and CKA. I mean, that’s going to create a flywheel that will just continue to perpetuate our growth and we hope bring more people into the profession of financial planning.
Rob’s Take On Reconciling The Biblical Concepts Of Stewardship And The Industry’s Current Debates About The Fiduciary Duty [1:17:18]
Michael: So I do have to ask. There’s one thing that makes me curious about this discussion. You know, you’ve talked about, you know, some of the Christian and faith-based values for the organization and what you focus on around terms like stewardship. And I know in many worlds, stewardship is used almost synonymously with fiduciary. Just kind of our industry word for this discussion right now. Although I think some will make the case, stewardship, if anything, is even more encompassing than fiduciary, at least as a principle. But you do exist in this world across multiple channels. Some do more holistic planning, some do less, some are more product-focused, some are less. So, you know, do you look at this or worry about just distinctions across channels of, you know, are there conflicts to being an effective CKA steward under an insurance model or a broker-dealer model versus an RIA model? Like, is that an area you guys spend time thinking about?
Rob: You know, I think because of what I said earlier about this intersecting at the why level and not so much the how, it really doesn’t matter how somebody does business. What type of platform they’re a part of, you know, what their compensation model is. This is really about understanding how our worldview intersects with financial decisions. And in the discovery and the questions that are asked and in the application of the financial planning, you know, we see this come to bear. And so, you know, it really applies to any and every advisor no matter what capacity they serve.
Michael: Well, and it does strike me at the end of the day that, while there’s been some conflict around fiduciary and fiduciary across the channels, you know, the reality is most advisors, regardless of what channel they’re in, are trying to do the best thing for their clients because it’s just literally good business anyways. Never mind, like, the values and the integrity and all the rest, like, it’s just actually good business. So, you know, you can certainly connect with advisors who hold themselves to a higher standard regardless of some of the industry debates we have right now about who in which channel should be subject to which standards, particularly since at the end of the day, you have a code of ethics and an enforcement mechanism. So if they really aren’t doing what they should and the complaints come in, then they get removed and their CKA gets revoked.
So, you know, we’ve talked about the kind of success trajectory for Kingdom Advisors, but I’m curious about what the success path is for you personally. Like, just, I’m fascinated by this transition of building an advisory firm successfully and then winding that down to join Kingdom and then joining in the training department and ultimately becoming the president. You know, you’ve had an incredible career trajectory yourself through this path. And so, I’m curious just for you personally, how do you define success for yourself?
How Rob Defines Success [1:19:50]
Rob: Yeah. Well, you know, my professional career has been at the intersection of faith and finance from day one. And so I really have been fortunate to be able to have clarity around what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And so, although it’s taken on a variety of roles, starting with the guy who was in the seat, advising families, to managing an investment and financial planning firm, to now running an organization that serves and supports advisors and now is the host of MoneyWise Live and running MoneyWise Media, it’s all been around the same idea that there are these life-changing principles that you can find in Scripture that have incredible application to what we do today as we manage the money we’ve been entrusted. And when we take those principles and apply them and realize that money is a tool and that we can hold it loosely and that when we give it away it actually breaks the power of money over our lives, you know, you begin to see how that just has an impact on people that live now more freely.
So my passion is just to, moving forward, help advisors really discover how their work can be aligned with their own purpose and significance and really have more joy and fulfillment in serving families and then helping families who align with this worldview be freed up to have their values then reflected appropriately in their financial decisions. And so if we continue to see this grow and ultimately we see an even bigger and more solidified industry of Christian financial advice out there with a career path and with universities training and with the public aware of this designation and with advisors skilled to serve in it in that virtuous cycle of new people being added to this space, I mean, that’s what I’m all about. That’s what we’re all about. And we just couldn’t be more excited to get up each day and go to work to see it happen.
Michael: Well, amen. And I hope we help you a little at least to share that word and that idea and that concept out there for some of our advisors listening who I guess on the one hand at least can get the takeaway that you don’t have to steer clear of some of these conversations like politics and religion because getting clear about your own values helps you get clear about who you want to serve, who you can serve best, and finding clients that are aligned to your values. And I guess if this is your particular niche or interest in a potential niche, you know, we’ll have links out to Kingdom Advisors and to CKA designation and the rest on the website as well. So this is episode 99, so if you go to kitces.com/99, we’ll have links out in the resources area for Kingdom and CKA if you want to take a deeper look for yourself.
Rob: Well, Michael, I really appreciate your interest in this space. All you’ve done and continue to do to elevate the profession of financial planning. And I was encouraged when the news came out about LPL embracing our designation when you said it’s great to see more pathways and training for advisors to be supported and serving the target clientele they wish to serve. And we were just grateful to see that. And to be able to share this time with you today is really a big deal to us. And we’re grateful.
Michael: Absolutely. My pleasure. Well, thank you for joining us, Rob, on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Rob: It was great to be here. Thank you.