The Nazrudin Project

The Financial Planning Underground – The Nazrudin Project

The Nazrudin Project has been called one of the best kept non-secrets in the financial planning profession. It isn’t an organization or legal entity. There is no website, no elected leadership, no board of directors. The group gets together once a year, and if nobody hosts a gathering for the next year, the project is done. Every year, in a sense, is the beginning and the end of the organization. This year was the 27th consecutive gathering.

So what is this secret society that doesn’t necessarily try to keep itself a secret? It’s a leaderless, eclectic, holistic group of people who have an interest in money and emotions: financial planners, therapists, coaches, authors, and educators.

Basically, the group was started in 1995 by Dick Wagner and George Kinder. They, and other financial planners, had realized that as professionals we would put together these beautiful financial plans, exactly what clients said they wanted, and around a third of the clients wouldn’t follow the plans. This was frustrating and concerning. Some planners, including Dick and George, began wondering what else was going on, emotionally and psychologically.

So the two of them founded the Nazrudin Project by inviting around 30 or 40 people to join them at Estes Park for a discussion about emotions and money. Since that small start, the work that has come out of this group has had a strong impact on the financial planning and financial therapy professions.

What is it about this gathering that makes it unique? The real heart and soul of this group is its meeting once a year. A meeting which has no agenda set in advance. The philosophy is “everybody that is here should be here.” This is typically three-day event held in a rural location. It’s been held here in the Black Hills twice. It was held virtually during Covid.

The magic starts on the first evening, usually a Thursday, when everyone gets together for what’s called open architecture planning. If you have a topic that you would like to host, you offer a session. You get about a minute to pitch your session, with usually around 40 or 50 offered. These are not formal presentations, because this is more of a think tank with interactive discussions. There are no continuing education credits.

After all the pitches, the group votes for the topics that most interest them. The top vote getters are arranged into a schedule that usually involves two or three simultaneous tracks of 90-minute sessions over the next two days. In a two- or three-hour period on the first night, the group plans a two-day conference. I’ve been involved in planning many other conferences and retreats, and the process literally takes months.

These sessions are highly engaging; any time I am presenting, I find myself wanting to get someone else to take my sessions so I can attend the one that’s scheduled in the same time slot. Nazrudin is absolutely the best retreat that I go to every year. It’s a place for cutting edge topics within the holistic financial planning community.

Dick Wagner and George Kinder named this the Nazrudin Project after a mythical wise fool of Middle Eastern folklore. A lot of stories are told about Nazrudin. One that’s usually repeated at the gathering is about Nazrudin going into a bank. The teller said, “Sir, do you have any identification?” And he dug into his bag and finally pulled out a mirror. He held it in front of his face and said, “Yep; it’s me.”

What does that have to do with this group? I think the name suggests that the group doesn’t take itself too seriously. But don’t confuse that lightheartedness with a lack of sincerity or passion around the holistic view of financial planning, which deeply binds all these people together.

The Nazrudin Project is known for spawning thought leaders that have been very influential in forwarding the holistic financial planning movement: authors of articles and books, leaders of financial planning organizations, founders of life planning and financial therapy. I remember leading a session about financial therapy when none of us knew yet what it was.

Why was this important for me to tell you about? If you are a financial professional interested in the intersection of money and emotions, you may want to check out the Nazrudin Project. If you are a consumer, I think it’s worth knowing that there’s a group of financial professionals that operate at this level of advocacy, heart, and care. I’m deeply grateful to this band of wonderful professionals that understand the importance of looking much deeper than dollars and cents to help people create financial and emotional wellbeing.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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