As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to create uncertainty in our economy and personal lives, it is important to seek counsel from those whom God has blessed with experience and wisdom.
"Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Prov. 15:22, ESV). Art Ally is founder and CEO of Timothy Plan, the first suite of biblically responsible investment products brought to market back in 1994. In addition to the founding of Timothy Plan, Ally has over 40 years of experience in both highs and lows in the financial markets from which he can draw insight.
Timothy Plan recently sat down with Ally to seek counsel on some of the more common questions we hear from the general public at this time.
Timothy Plan: From a macro perspective, how is the current situation different from 2008, or other significant market downturns?
Ally: Although the current, sharp market decline has been very similar to that in 2008, the difference couldn't be more glaring. In 2008, our economy was standing on quicksand. Today's economy is the strongest I've seen in my 40-plus years in this industry. A very dangerous and contagious virus brought this nation—and the world for that matter—to a screeching halt. Although this is temporary, it'll take some time to get our economic engine fully humming again. I don't believe there will be any form of instant gratification—but recover we will because all the economic pieces are still in place for a full recovery.
Timothy Plan: What do you envision is most likely to occur as we progress over the next three to six months?
Ally: No one can predict an accurate timeline for when this virus will cease posing a threat. But I can't believe that it will last more than another two or three months. Once the threat is over, I believe America and Americans will get back to work, and we will once again experience a booming economy (and stock market).
Timothy Plan: Advisors historically have said that investors should have three to six months of cash reserves. It could be argued that the bull market we have enjoyed during the Trump administration caused advisors to disregard some traditional safeguards. Do you see this as an opportunity for advisors to reassess how they approach the planning process? If so, how?
Ally: The foundation to successful financial planning is, and always has been: First, get out of debt. Second, establish a cash reserve savings account (normally for three to six months of living expenses). Then, and only then, are you in a position to invest for the longer term. To let greed interrupt that strategy is not sound financial planning. Those who give in to that temptation pay a price.
Timothy Plan: Please elaborate on some of the steps the administration has taken to help those who are near retiring, or in retirement, during this crisis, such as no Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for 2020. What are the benefits (or drawbacks) you see from this?
Ally: I believe this administration has provided leadership that has been historically refreshing in a world dominated with self-serving politics. Their efforts to lighten the burden on all Americans is commendable—but it is a double-edged sword. We have significantly increased our already unsustainable national debt. The provision to waive RMDs this year for retirees will be very helpful; you don't want to withdraw money from your investment account when the market is sharply down. Retirees who wring their hands over this market collapse need to keep in mind that they normally don't withdraw all their money (which would be bad), so they will only experience loss on the dollars they need to withdraw now. This market will recover, so the bulk of their retirement accounts will be just fine.
Timothy Plan: You've lived through many market cycles. What is the one message you would like to deliver to people who are prone to overreaction in a time of uncertainty?
Ally: A major disappointment of mine is to see investors cave in to fear and greed when it comes to their investments. It normally leads to bad results. Statistics show that the average investor loses money in the stock market when reacting emotionally. Historically, investors who simply stay the course during thick and thin have been rewarded with very positive investment results.
When Ally launched Timothy Plan in 1994, it wasn't only to help investors align their investments with biblical principles that glorify God and protect the vulnerable of our culture. It was also to establish a platform where investments are so much more than the performance numbers on our quarterly statements. Timothy Plan also asked Ally to reflect on how sound biblical stewardship makes a difference during tumultuous times such as these.
Timothy Plan: What kind of role does, and should, biblically responsible Investing play in a time like this?
Ally: Biblically responsible investing has a huge role to play in any and all conditions. I've said repeatedly that obedience trumps performance every time. Once you come to grips with the fact that it really is God's money and that we are simply His stewards—problem solved.
Finally, we recognize that large-scale fear and uncertainty places added responsibility and opportunity on Christians. It is our role to represent the peace and stability that a relationship with Christ brings to an unstable world. Timothy Plan asked Ally to reflect on the role that Christians can play at this moment.
Timothy Plan: What should Christian advisors and investors alike be doing during a time like this to help reassure those who don't have the peace and confidence that a relationship with God provides?
Ally: We're in a time of extreme market volatility. Any answer depends on where your faith is truly rooted. Many individuals who are Christian in name seem more aligned with non-believers during times of trouble (whether market-related or otherwise). They tend to panic, since their real faith is in the things of this world. A "rock-solid Christian" knows that his or her only true security is firmly in the hands of the one who created this world and everything in it. In other words, the anchor holds whether the seas of life are calm or stormy. Now this is not to be compared with the "name it and claim it" folks. They say that if you have enough faith, God won't let anything bad happen to you and you'll prosper (from a worldly perspective) under all conditions. Bottom line: Concern in times like this is normal for everyone—but how you handle it makes all the difference. So, is a solid Christian better equipped to handle turmoil than a nonbeliever? Absolutely. And it will be evident, which will help you to help others avoid panic and making rash decisions.
Since its founding in 1994, Art Ally has been president of Timothy Plan funds. Timothy Plan provides principled investors with the opportunity to invest money without compromising their values or endorsing activities that prey on the vulnerable of our culture. If you would like more information on Timothy Plan, or if you would like to speak to an investor relations specialist, please call Timothy Plan at 800-846-7526, or visit timothyplan.com.
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