Money is the root of all evil. (See 1 Timothy 6:10.) It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:25). There are so many references to the negative consequences of wealth that all of Wall Street might consider itself predestined to eternal damnation.
But don't tell that to Merrill Lynch advisor Robert Chappell, based in The Woodlands, Texas, a town 20 miles north of Houston. A devout Mormon and a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Chappell says many Christians have it all wrong. Money can be an instrument of good in the world.
“We [Mormons] view money as a vehicle — not good or bad by itself — which can be used for great things like caring for a family, educating children, providing for those less fortunate than you,” says Chappell, 50. He's also quick to correct a commonly misquoted line about money from the New Testament: “It's ‘the love of money is the root of all evil,’ not money itself,” he says. Chappell practices what he preaches and tithes (gives 10 percent of his income to the church).
Chappell says he has always felt the call of his religion. And he's always been interested in helping people with their money. In fact, Chappell says he always knew he was heading towards a career in financial services, even while doing his missionary work at the age of 19. While at Brigham Young University in the early 1970's, he sold mutual funds and insurance products and did friends' tax returns to help pay for school. After graduating in 1976, he held a job for a couple years selling real estate limited partnerships for a small firm in Salt Lake City, before signing on with Merrill.
Twenty-one years after joining Merrill, Chappell's retirement-planning practice has grown to $200 million in assets under management. And together with his son and two administrative assistants, the team of four tends to a flock of roughly 250 clients with investable assets that range from $250,000 to $10 million. Yet, he still finds the time to devote 20 to 25 hours a week to his church in his role as counselor to the congregation's bishop. (In that role, he runs Bible study groups, hosts weekend social events at his house and teaches young singles relationship-building skills. But he no longer performs wedding or funerals.)
They're not so far apart really, the ministry and financial advisory, he says. After all, “The bottom line has always been ‘what's best for the client?’” he says.
Chappell likely knows what's good for clients. Besides holding an undergraduate degree in finance and estate planning from BYU, he holds a CIMA degree from Wharton Business School and is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor. His son and partner, Brent — also a graduate of BYU — is a Chartered Retirement Planning Associate and is in the process of completing the last module for his CFP.
Capital preservation is paramount to his clients, so Chappell generally constructs conservative asset-allocation programs and that means diversifying with many different managers too, which is why Chappell primarily uses Merrill's multimanager program, Consults Diversified.
Chappell says his 26 years in the business have taught him a lot about what determines success or failure. “I've seen a lot of FAs come and go, and in general, three things separate those that make it,” he says. Beyond the gift of a bull market, Chappell places continuing education and “a genuine care for the client's well-being” at the top of his advice list for young advisors. That said, just underneath those is marketing — getting in front of as many prospective clients as possible and telling your story. “Credibility and knowledge are crucial, but this is a relationship business — if you don't get out and talk to people it isn't going to work.”