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Building a financial partnership around faith, heritage and the blessing of responsibility

Mary Tanenbaum is a scientist whose faith calls her to make a lasting impact on the world. Sam Chang is a financial advisor who left Wall Street for Thrivent so he could align his career to his values. When their paths converged at a Christian leadership conference, it was the beginning of a meaningful partnership with a higher purpose.

The beginning of a serendipitous partnership

When Mary and her husband Steven met Sam, she was looking for a financial advisor whom she could trust to manage her family's assets. She initially connected with Sam over their shared faith and values, and she was impressed with his Wall Street experience. Prior to joining Thrivent, Sam had a 16-year career managing billions of dollars for institutions and foundations. He pivoted to a career in wealth management seeking a more personal connection with his clients, and Thrivent stood out as a place where he could work with like-minded colleagues and clients who shared his beliefs.

As they got to know each other, more commonalities emerged. Mary and Sam both have analytical minds, direct communication styles, and a commitment to blending faith with personal financial management. Soon into their working relationship, that bond was put to the test, when Mary lost her job.

Support through a difficult financial time

"When I found out that my company was closing down its U.S. division and moving everything back to Europe, it was a shock to the system," Mary said. "It was like, oh my gosh, this is who I am, this scientist."

After a 30-year career with a leading research-driven biopharmaceutical company, she wasn't sure how to envision herself without that title, even as she leaned on the tenacity her family had instilled in her.

"I saw myself the way my mother raised me, as a very independent Asian woman," Mary said. But still, she was worried about finding another job she loved, whether she'd face age bias in the hiring process and whether she and her family could live off their savings if she wasn't able to find another job.

Job loss, like any major life change, is an optimal time to meet with a financial advisor. They can help you through the transition, calm your nerves and get you refocused on building momentum. Sam helped Mary sort through her options and talk through major financial decisions like what to do with her 401(k). He also helped remind her that her job wasn't her entire identity and that she wasn't alone.

"Mary is very marketable—more so than she thought," Sam said. "It was just that she hadn't needed to market herself for three decades. It's good to plan for a worst-case scenario, but sometimes we get too caught up in that. And fortunately, Mary's situation worked out quite well."

Moving forward: Building a strong financial house

The trust Mary and Sam built during this transition strengthened their professional relationship. After finding a new job, Mary was ready to turn her attention back to her family's finances and legacy planning.

Sam and Mary worked through Thrivent's financial house framework, which helps people build their plans for the future from the bottom up. It starts with a foundation of earned income, then builds the first floor through wealth accumulation. That leads to the second floor, distribution with direction, and finally to the top floor, where clients are focused on leaving a legacy.

"The fact that Thrivent is very faith-based and very legacy-minded was something that attracted my husband and me to Thrivent originally," Mary said. "What you accumulate on this planet, you can't take with you, so how do you leave it well so that you bless people and you bless the Lord? That was something Sam and I discussed early on and were on the same page about."

How heritage & family history can influence values

In addition to sharing values, Mary said she appreciates how Thrivent cares about her as an individual. She and Sam also happen to share Asian heritage—Mary's mother was Japanese and her father American, and Sam's parents were Chinese immigrants who fled to Taiwan before coming to the U.S.

While heritage wasn't a deciding factor in choosing Sam as an advisor, Mary said she appreciates that Sam can understand her perspective in unspoken ways. For instance, both of their family histories include loss, struggle and the challenge of rebuilding their lives.

Mary's mother grew up in Japan, where a bad business deal cost her family their livelihood.

"My mom was just 9 or 10 years old when she came home from school one day to see my grandmother smashing the family's good china because she didn't want anyone else to have it," Mary said. "Her family was very affluent; Grandfather was a famous architect. But against his mother-in-law’s advice, he had taken on a project that bankrupted the family, and creditors were coming to the home to seize their assets."

Years later, World War II upended life in Japan. Mary's mother met her husband, an American, and they moved to the U.S. to raise their family. Mary grew up in the 1960s, and she experienced anti-Japanese sentiment while in grade school.

"I had teachers who had lost siblings in Pearl Harbor," Mary said. "To them, I represented everything that was bad about the war."

Sam's family also dealt with upheaval and the challenges of acclimating to a new country. When the Communist Party took over China, his parents (children at the time) fled to Taiwan with their families. In the midst of three decades of struggling, Sam's parents met and married. Realizing the higher education system there couldn't support the demand, they headed to the U.S. when he was 5 years old in search of better opportunities.

"They worked their way up through the Chinese restaurant system," Sam said. "They worked Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I helped them by interacting with customers as a waiter and busboy since they didn't know much English. I learned from my parents how to be frugal and hardworking."

Generosity and the blessing of responsibility

Mary's vision for her legacy and Sam's approach to advising around legacy planning have similar roots: Both of their experiences have taught them what to embrace and what to let go.

For example, Mary comes from a line of independent-minded and steadfast Japanese women who overcame financial trauma and hardship. Because of that, Mary's mother developed a saving mentality that she passed along to her. "But there wasn't any joy in her relationship to money," Mary explained, so that's something she tries to do differently in her own life through charitable giving.

"Mary has the blessing of responsibility," Sam said. "She may have assets she won't use in her lifetime. She's now thinking about the purpose of her accumulated wealth and how she can use it to bless others."

Mary was able to find avenues to support the causes most dear to her. "My husband and I are passionate about the local church—being invested personally, not just monetarily, with our time, with our resources, and with our experiences," Mary said. They also support outreach and missions in Africa and a Christian college.

As for Sam, through his parents' sacrifices and his educational pursuits, he and his family have shifted from a mindset of frugality to one of generosity. And that includes helping clients like Mary plan out the legacy they will pass on to future generations.

"You don't want to pour all the water out of the bucket, but you also don't want to hoard your treasures," Sam said. "What I find very rewarding now for clients and for me is finding that balance, where we're not being too frugal but we also aren't being too generous or too short-term-minded and spending everything we have, going paycheck to paycheck. I'm always thinking about how we can bless others without being too focused on money as a goal."

Along with their charitable giving, Mary and her husband want to leave their grown children an inheritance—one that will help them out but isn't so large that it will hinder them. As a father to three school-aged children, Sam is also thinking about his kids' futures and how to teach them about money when they've grown up without any financial struggles.

"I don't want to enable them; I want to empower them," he said. "I want them to have a safety net, but they're not getting a blank check every time they're in trouble. And it starts with having that conversation that you need to earn it, you need to work hard for it."

The value of finding the right financial advisor for you

Mary and Sam's shared values have formed the basis for a years-long relationship. Mary said she feels comfortable placing her family's trust in Sam and in the institutional backing provided by Thrivent.

For others looking for a true partner in a financial advisor, Sam and Mary's story shows the good that can come from forming bonds with people who share your beliefs and views on the purpose of life. If you can find that connection when it comes to money and financial planning, you'll know your hard-earned assets will help you make a difference in ways that are important to you.


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The client’s experience may not be the same as other clients and does not indicate future performance or success.