The Nazrudin Project – Bending The Profession Since 1995
September 15, 2015
by Richard Vodra, JD
The financial planning profession is only a few decades old, and is continuing to discover how it can best serve its clients. This is the story of one group and its process that has had an outsized impact for change over the last 20 years.
In the early 1990s, the profession was becoming more sophisticated. We were moving from the investment pyramid to Modern Portfolio Theory and optimizers, developing new practice and compensation systems and learning about “stretch IRAs” and Bill Bengen’s 4% withdrawal rule. We heard from attorneys, CPAs and CFAs at our conferences, though rarely from our fellow CFPs.
At the same time, a few people were asking questions about value and meaning in what planners do. During the 1994 ICFP Retreat in Colorado Springs, Dick Wagner and George Kinder led three sessions (everything was repeated in those days) titled “Money and the Human Experience.” They asked what money actually does in our society and what the role of advisors is in helping clients understand that. They asked the audience to recall their earliest memory of money and the emotions still present around that story. They asked what we felt as we watched them tear up a $20 bill – were they destroying something of emotional or spiritual value, or was it “just money”?
They opened a line of inquiry that many wanted to pursue and augment. That fall, Dick, George and Spring Leonard sent an invitation to nearly 100 planners inviting them to Estes Parks, Colorado, the next March. The plan was uncertain, but they’d see what people wanted to talk about, where the energy was, and if this thing was important enough to carry forward.
They called it “The Nazrudin Project.”
The first meeting
About 35 people arrived in Colorado, and as people introduced themselves the first night, a common thread emerged: They were concerned about these “value issues,” but didn’t realize this was a shared concern. The group created its own agenda, with discussions including spirituality and archetypes, professional boundaries, philanthropy, encouraging money maturity without imposing our values on others and understanding the role of uncertainty in asset management strategies. Two big things came out of that meeting: the creation of the Nazrudin community as a safe place to discuss a wide variety of things and the determination to meet again.
Over the next few years the group met annually, in Santa Fe, La Conner, Asheville and Santa Cruz. At one of these meetings, Nazrudin made its most important long-term decision: It would remain a forum for discussions but not an “organization.” There would not be officers (except as needed to open a bank account), staff (except to handle mailings), official positions or publications on anything. It would continue to operate on its own version of “Open Space Technology.” Nazrudin would not become the “life planning” group or the “fee only” group; it would be a place to talk, build friendships and connections and learn. Members could come and go freely. This openness and lack of structure has allowed the group to remain a vital contributor to the growth and maturity of its members and the profession.