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Scott Neal

Scott Neal, CPA, CFP, is the president of D. Scott Neal, Inc., a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory firm with offices in Lexington and Louisville. Reach him at or by calling 1.800.344.9098.

Financial Chaplaincy

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As many readers already know I completed an extended unit (one year) of Clinical Pastoral Education in 1994 at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, and for another eight years volunteered one night each month as the chaplain on-call, usually on busy Friday or Saturday nights. I am often asked how that training has informed my practice as a financial advisor, since I had been a practicing CPA and financial planner for 15 years before that experience.

The common thread in these two seemingly diverse paths is that they both involve serving people. I learned very early in my career that I had a choice which few in the world of finance would confront: I could simply deal with the quantifiable data, crunch the numbers, and lay out the results; or I could dig a little deeper and help clients to develop their own future story. I chose the latter. Some advisors refer to it as the “soft” side of finance. In addressing my own needs to meet the challenge in front of me I reduced my options to sociology, psychology, or pastoral care. The skill set of pastoral care, along with my own interest in theology, and a strong sense of calling led me to choose PC.

Over the past 27+ years I have been afforded the tremendous responsibility and privilege to explore with clients their use of money, to nurture hope, and sometimes to confront despair. The wounds that are sometimes manifested through bank accounts are certainly not wounds to the body, but are wounds nevertheless, in search of healing. In today’s complex, bewildering array of financial products, we often find our clients confused and in need of guidance, alienated and in need of reconciliation, or trapped and in need of liberation. These situations call for a competency that cannot come from an accounting education or practice.

To be sure, such needs are not always present with every client. Some of our clients simply want to make the most of their money—to have it work harder for them. If you are one of those, I encourage you to begin to construct your future story with a strong sense of hope. We can all agree that how a person thinks about and feels toward the future is crucial to his or her overall wellbeing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ability to anticipate the future is perhaps one of the most authentic and distinctive characteristics of humanity. We are already well into the New Year, but it is not too late to begin thinking about where you want to be this time next year and what you want out of the exchange that you will make in the coming months, trading your life energy for money.

As you begin to construct your future story, I invite you to think for a moment on the past year and write down as many accomplishments as you can recall. Look back over your calendar or appointment book. How many patients did you help? Think of the vacations and where those took you and any new relationships that you formed or longer-lived ones that you strengthened. Did you pay off some debts? Did you hit any milestone in your career? Did you learn any new procedures? Did you do something for which you were particularly proud? Take a moment and write them down.

If you are like most people you probably don’t want to think about disappointments of the past year, but they can be quite instructive. It will be easier to construct a positive and hopeful future story when we give proper credence to mistakes and disappointments, recognize our own humanity, and move ahead. Our most successful clients are those who have learned from past disappointments and used those to construct their future story. What didn’t quite turn out the way you wanted it to or envisioned it would? Did a partner or other professional thwart your best laid plans? Did the government and the ever increasing tax and healthcare regulations impact your practice? Did a family member disappoint you? Write them down.

Next, take a moment as you reflect on these two lists to write down what you have learned. These can be major or minor life lessons or simply concrete examples of new or improved skills. The disappointments hold keys to uncovering potential learning that might become a focus of your future story. Reflect on the questions, “How did I do that? What could I have done differently to have avoided that disappointment?” Your answers can become your instructions to yourself.

Now, think for a moment on the many roles that you play in life and those with whom you engage in each role: Parent, spouse, child, physician, partner, employee, employer, manager, coach, neighbor, citizen, customer, client, executive. Review each role and rate yourself to determine where you would like to focus the next year.

Finally, in the context of each role, answer this: What are the goals that would move you closer to where you want to go and who you want to be? Make them specific and measureable. Find a balance between those that are achievable and those that are exciting and challenging. Start each one with a verb.

You now have several lists. Use them as the springboard to write your future story with as much detail as possible. Make it positive. Make it personal. Write it in present tense. Place a recurring appointment on your personal calendar to sit down with these lists and your story at least once each month in 2013. Review them and construct action steps designed to keep you on track.

Some advisors denigrate the use of hope, saying that it is not a strategy for success. But noted social psychologists have identified hopefulness as a vital component of human action, leading to the achievement of one’s goals. Have a great year!

Scott Neal, CPA, CFP is the President of D. Scott Neal, Inc., a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory firm with points of service in Lexington and Louisville. Call him on 800-344-9098 or write to him at