Faith-based financial companies have shown resilience in the wake of national crises, with product-focus, messaging and marketing communication staying true to the faith-based values that are critical to the company. With 'stay the course' as the most prominent strategy observed post-crisis, these firms have also showed support for their customers in meaningful ways at these times, remaining accessible to a broad base of users, offering financial support and incentives, and even providing hurricane crisis support to the most needy. Below are three examples of faith-based financial firms and their strategies, messaging and actions after significant national crises.
EVENTIDE ASSET MANAGEMENT
- Eventide Asset Management is an investment management firm launched by Robin John in the midst of the great recession in July 2008, just prior to the US Government bank bailout in September 2008.
- Eventide invests only in companies who work to the benefit of others, including external stakeholders, such as customers, the environment, and communities, and internal stakeholders, such as employees and suppliers.
Approach to 2008 Recession Challenge
- Despite the challenging environment, Eventide launched with a faith-focused objective supporting 'biblically-responsible investing", and has remained consistent and committed to their investment strategy, messaging, and marketing approach since 2008.
- In the days leading up to the US Government bank bailout in September 2008, Eventide felt that sub-prime mortgage lenders were exploiting their customers and demonstrating 'dishonest practices.' As a result, they avoided investment in these companies.
- They otherwise maintained the core messaging supporting their mission and vision, with a tagline 'investing that makes the world rejoice'. Their vision is focused on "providing high-performance investments that create compelling value for the global common good".
Client Communication and Marketing
- Their tagline, 'investing that makes the world rejoice', with its roots in investing in those who put others' interests in front of their own, has been consistent from its founding at the outset of the great recession in 2008, to today. Their target focus and communication has also been consistent since its founding, emphasizing accessibility to the average investor (with a relatively low minimum investment of $1,000).
- Their marketing is founded in the communication of their biblically-responsible investing philosophy, with the strong performance of their funds a core element of their communication since 2008. Specific marketing vehicles include their website, which showcases their investment expertise and investment philosophy, interviews with faith-based publications to discuss their investment philosophy, distribution partner press releases, and financial reporting PR, which allows them to tie their investment philosophy to their performance.
- An analysis of Eventide Funds' website communication between 2009 and 2011, in the wake of 2008 recession, showed Eventide remained consistent with their original messaging, with the home page in both years highlighting a 'values-based approach to investing.'
- While the original article is unavailable, World, a biblically-focused news and current events' news site, referenced their 2009 coverage of Eventide, 'Investing by the Book', which focused on Eventide's promising investment approach.
- Eventide also showcased their expertise and philosophy through their website blog ('faith and business'), which now highlights their insights across numerous topics associated with faith-based investing.
- New York Times ranked their flagship fund, the Eventide Gilead Fund, as the top-performing mutual fund with over $50 billion in assets for the 5-year period ending September 30, 2013. The fund produced a 5-year annual return of 21.31%, compared to a 7.57% annualized return for the S&P 500 over that period.
- Their messaging has resonated among investors, with one early investor, Jeff Rogers, citing the appeal of the business for investors who do not want to choose between 'investment excellence and morality'. Instead, he offers that 'with Eventide, you get both'.
AVA MARIA MUTUAL FUNDS
- Ava Maria is the largest Catholic mutual fund family in the United States. They offer diversified mutual funds, which include only companies that adhere to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. They emphasize both financial performance and moral guidelines in selecting their investments. The company serves both individual and institutional clients.
Approach to 2008 Recession Challenge
- Ava Maria's messaging between 2007 and 2010 did not waver: "Ave Maria Mutual Funds is the country’s largest family of Catholic mutual funds, designed specifically for investors looking for financially sound investments in companies that do not violate core values and teachings of the Catholic Church."
- In the year just prior to the great recession of 2008, a press release from the company announcing a merger of the Catholic Equity Fund with Ava Maria's Rising Dividend Fund, highlighted Ava Maria's diversified mutual funds that align with Catholic moral values. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, in 2010, Ava Maria issued a press release noting benefits to their current and prospective clients, including the launch of a new equity fund, and the reduction in management fees for two of their existing mutual funds.
- Ava Maria has a significant focus on long-term investing, with their investment adviser, George P. Schwartz, CFA, commenting on their investment philosophy with respect to external factors, such as economic or market conditions: "In over 50 years of investing, Warren Buffett says he has never made, or not made, an investment based on economic outlook or the general level of the stock market. He focuses on fundamentals and valuation, which is exactly what we do. We focus on good investment opportunities for the long-term".
Client Communication and Marketing
- Ava Maria's messaging highlights their key points of differentiation. These include an investment philosophy which eliminates companies in that are focused on pornography, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or companies that support Planned Parenthood in any way. They highlight their award-winning investment process, which targets investors who want to align their financial goals with their moral beliefs.
- The company has a zero-tolerance policy for companies that do not uphold Catholic values, which has been consistent since their founding.
- The strong performance of the company in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis is attributed to commitment to their values (in terms of companies they will not invest in, such as those related to pornography or abortion), as well as their investment philosophy, which focuses on company valuation and growth potential.
- Most of the specific communication surrounding their marketing and communications to both their customers and externally appears to have been conducted via press release and their website. Their communication in the years before and following the crisis demonstrates their commitment to their values and services for their current and prospective investors.
- In 2010, fees were reduced on two funds, while an additional fund option was launched that offered their investors exposure to global markets. The specific messaging around these benefits focused on the value for their shareholders: "“we believe lower fees on two of our funds and access to investment opportunities worldwide through our new fund makes Ave Maria Mutual Funds an even more compelling choice for shareholders.”
- Ava Maria's rising dividend fund dropped only 22.8% in 2008 (compared to a 37% decline in the S&P 500), and outpaced the S&P between 2009 and 2014, rising 17.2% annually over that five-year period. This fund was recommended by Kiplinger as a top-5 fund for faith-based investors.
- GuideStone Financial offers clients a range of financial services, including faith-based investing, insurance coverage, and retirement solutions. Their clients are typically churches, universities, mission-based organizations, and hospitals. Their products and services are intended to promote financial and spiritual health and wellness, while at the same time 'honoring the Lord'.
- GuideStone's mission is to 'serve those who serve the Lord'.
Approach to 2005 Hurricane Katrina Crisis Challenge
- In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, GuideStone published an official response to the crisis, which emphasized that GuideStone was 'standing by to assist you in this time of uncertainty.' Following, in November 2005, they continued to emphasize their response and client support: 'we are standing by to assist you during this difficult time'.
- In both website communications, they highlighted that GuideStone was 'your guide for life.'
- By December 2005, GuideStone was not featuring their crisis response as prominently in their website communications; instead, focusing on ministry donations.
- GuideStone also offered support to the New Orleans Seminary in the wake of the crisis, as highlighted in this press release. Chuck Kelley, the president of New Orleans Seminary, said, "We are profoundly grateful to GuideStone Financial Resources for the great assistance they have given us in making it possible to continue benefits for our faculty and staff. They will be doing something very significant for us.”
Client Communications and Marketing
- GuideStone offered support for their clients impacted by Hurricane Katrina, including continuation of retirement plan benefits, waiving or delaying insurance payments, and simplifying paperwork and approval for victims of the crisis.
- The Baptist Press News also highlighted the efforts by GuideStone in supplying emergency grants, between $500 and $2,000, to help pay insurance deductibles, provide cleanup assistance and food, and provide support in rebuilding parts of recipients' homes. One grant recipient, Mary Hodges, noted that, "the check makes the difference in what I am able to eat, compared to what I could have without it.”
- Fund performance for some of GuideStone's funds in 2005 and 2006 appeared to be solid, with growth observed in several of its mutual funds in the years following the crisis.
- Currently, GuideStone has a 98% participant satisfaction rating.
- Testimonials surrounding clients' relationship with GuideStone before and after the crisis, reinforce GuideStone's strong commitment to its values, support for its clients, and growth.
- The previous president of the international mission board, Jerry Rankin, highlights the growth of both organizations over time: "Our relationship with GuideStone goes back more than 60 years. In the intervening years, we have both grown exponentially. With growth in personnel and plan assets, our partnership has expanded. Yet GuideStone's commitment to the IMB, to understanding and serving the unique needs of our people, has been a constant. As a consequence, it is fulfilling for me to see our personnel reaching and moving into their retirement years better informed and better prepared than ever before."
- John Konnerup, Mission Director for Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI) says, "We are pleased to offer our affiliated churches access to ministry retirement and financial services from an organization with a proven track record. GuideStone Financial Resources shares our values and heart for ministry".
We began by reviewing financial publications (such as Kiplinger), religious news organization websites and publications, and faith-based financial organization websites to identify case studies associated with previous national crises or tumultuous times. Since there were no readily-available case studies linking the company's specific actions, marketing and messaging to the events, we then turned to individual faith-based financial firms who had measurable positive results since the 2008 recession, were recommended or reviewed by financial news organizations, and whose messaging, communication and marketing trends we were able to analyze before and after the 2008 crisis. This approach resulted in our first two case studies, Eventide Asset Management and Ava Maria Mutual Funds.
For our third case study, GuideStone, we were able to leverage resources that allowed us to view historical communication post-Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Additionally, there were a number of press releases available through religious news and press sites post-Katrina that provided further visibility into their actions post-crisis.
Marketing and messaging analysis focused on benefit communication, press releases surrounding specific actions initiated by the organizations, specific marketing tactics, and vision and mission statements, as available. Outcomes were measured broadly, including growth in investments post-crisis, recommendations by financial experts post-crisis, awards provided to the organization post-crisis, customer and grant-recipient testimonials, and the health of the organization to date.