As Covenant Estate Planning Services celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary and Covenant Trust Company approaches its twenty-fifth, two key participants share how the driving force behind that ministry is the understanding that people matter more than the bottom line.
Some of my friends seemed to know what they wanted to do with their lives from the very start. Some were going to be doctors, some nurses, some engineers, and others marketing experts. I was one of those with no real sense of one exact career that was right for me. When I was in college my parents each offered a distinct message of direction. “Study what you love,” said one parent, while the other whispered in my ear, “Remember, you have to find a job.” Study what you love and figure a way to support yourself doing it—that was the goal.
Psychology seemed interesting and the internal workings of the mind exciting and unpredictable, so that became my major of choice. But that “get a job” objective, which seemed to have something to do with money, lurked in my mind and led to a minor in economics/accounting. The world seemed to value money a lot, I thought from the lofty perch of a college student supported in great part by Mom and Dad. Maybe learning about money and what to do with debits and credits would be helpful.
Successfully completing my accounting studies led to my first job out of college with Covenant Estate Planning Services (CEPS), the forerunner and older sister to Covenant Trust Company. The growing office needed a junior accountant to provide additional support with investment documentation and trust accounting. Perfect, I thought. I’d pay for graduate studies in psychology by using the accounting skills I had learned. In the meantime, I could learn a bit about this world of business that some seemed to think was so important to making the world go round.
It’s amazing where life takes you while you are looking in another direction. Early in my time at CEPS, I had the opportunity to sit with LeRoy Johnson in his office for a short teaching moment on trusts. In LeRoy’s nicely appointed office were pictures of his family, of course, and images of landscapes. But there was also a very large print of a very large bull hanging on the wall. I think it was the only picture of a farm animal anywhere in the entire building, and the bull’s place of prominence in the office obviously had to mean something. So I asked about the picture.
“This bull,” said LeRoy, “is a very important asset for one of our clients. It has generated great wealth that is being shared by its owner. The bull’s ‘attributes’ are actually held in a trust account.”
This was interesting news to a city person. I was used to stocks and bonds as assets of trusts, and sometimes real estate, maybe a commercial property or land—but bull “attributes”?
LeRoy went on to tell me about the client, a longtime member of a California Covenant church. He was known to be a generous man, and he fully intended to give away half of what he earned and what he owned. And what he owned was a valuable dairy farm and a prized Holstein bull whose semen commanded a very hefty price.
It was a turn-around moment for me. Suddenly the trust business became incredibly interesting with this real-life demonstration of what might be possible when a creative thinker managed resources well. This wasn’t just about accumulating money. It was about using resources. The resources of the people around us, no matter what they were—stocks, real estate, or bull semen—could be managed well for the benefit of family, friends, and community. Trusts could be used to benefit family members for their lifetime, and charity after that. Or the other way around—benefiting charities today and family after that. Both ways provided familial and charitable benefit as well as tax advantages. It wasn’t about who had the most money, but who wanted to open the door to new possibilities. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that business?
From that time on, the trust world became my career and my calling. I have had the pleasure of working with trust companies in Chicago, New Jersey, and in Hinsdale, Illinois. I have had clients who lived all over the world with all kinds of resources — from teenagers to older adults, and everyone with his or her individual story and dream for the future. Each one had their own individual hurdles, and their own individual successes.
One special client came to us when he was about fifteen. His mother had died unexpectedly; his dad had been gone since he was a baby. His aunt was his guardian, and because his mother had life insurance, there was some money available to take care of him. My company was to take care of the money, but you never just take care of the money. A trust officer takes care of the client, and then the money.
This young man was bright and talented—and understandably angry and deeply wounded. His aunt and I wanted to provide all the opportunities we could for him to grow into his potential. He would stop by my office to check in on a regular basis, to let me know what was going on and to work on plans for the future. Is there money for college? he asked. Yes, but he would need to end the fighting and the poor choices he had made in high school. Were there funds for counseling? Absolutely yes. Could he attend private university out east? Let’s see what we can do with the trust funds and scholarships.
We used the financial resources he had to assist him through high school and college, supporting his physical, emotional, and intellectual growth. One of the pictures in my office is of this young man at his college graduation, with his aunt and me there, all smiles celebrating his success. The funds we had started with were almost depleted, used to invest in the future of this committed young man, who was well on his way to living into his full potential.
Another client came to me when she was not quite thirty years old. Both of her parents had passed away, and she wanted to invest her inheritance to allow her to stay home and care for her new baby. My company helped her establish a trust, invested her funds, and helped with various financial items like getting a mortgage for a new home, figuring out a monthly budget, and suggesting life insurance. We enjoyed working together as everything fell into place.
She and her sisters planned a trip for their families to Hawaii to scatter their parents’ ashes. But in the midst of that trip her sister contacted me. On the way to the beach, a freak accident had killed my client’s husband and injured her. Their toddler, strapped in a car seat, was fine. When she got back home I went to see her, to cry with her about her husband, and to cherish her son. She told me she had just found out she was pregnant with their second child. “But we’ll be OK,” she said, “the three of us. I don’t worry about the money, because we have the trust and the life insurance proceeds. My sisters are close by to help with the kids. And because of the loss of my parents, I know how to grieve. We will be OK.”
I came back to Covenant Trust Company in 2010, knowing that for me, working for a faith-based trust company added an even higher dimension to an otherwise great business. Before, I would regularly pray for my clients, like the young women who lost her husband, but I would never dream of letting them know that. God was a part of my work, but we didn’t talk about it. We talked about investments, legal and tax strategies, and we asked about goals.
Now I get to talk about all of that and ask our clients about their calling. What is God calling you to do? How can we free you to live out your calling? CTC manages client financial resources in order to free our clients to do what they are called to do. Whether individual or ministry, we want our clients to feel free to focus on their calling while we take care of their resources.
In my senior year of college, each senior psychology student had to spend time on self-assessment. Each of us had to fill out personality inventories, interest surveys, and assessment tools. We also had to answer the question of where we saw ourselves in five years. It was a good exercise and a nice change after spending much of the year studying the behavior of rats and mice. But not having that sense of being called to some clear line of work made it tough for me to answer that question. I clearly did not have a five-year plan for my life.
Yet looking back at how I answered that question of questions, I was surprised to see how on target I was. As a college senior I wrote, “The perfect job for me is one where I listen to people’s stories all day.” That was the work I was called to do, and it was the career I found while listening to LeRoy Johnson talk one day about the large bull whose picture was on the office wall.
Ann Wiesbrock is executive director of Covenant Estate Planning Services and president of Covenant Trust Company.