Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

Co-father, Holistic Planning

From the hotel in the Black Hills of South Dakota where this year's Nazrudin Project meeting was held, the attendees could see Mount Rushmore. If there were a similar monument for the field of financial planning, it would probably have the face of the late co-founder of Nazrudin carved in the mountainside.

Richard B. "Dick" Wagner was a pioneer in elevating financial planning from a job to a profession and shifting the focus from product sales to helping clients optimize their financial lives. He laid the foundation with his seminal 1990 article in the Journal of Financial Planning, “To Think ... Like a CFP.”

"No other profession has carved a niche where none existed, as we have done," Mr. Wagner wrote. "What we have to offer is unique and vital. No one else, no other industry or profession has ever devoted itself to the concept of objective financial advice for individuals that takes into account their deepest dreams, goals and objectives. No profession but ours has related money, in all of its implications, to the highest and best interests of the consumer in the context of fiduciary duty."

Those words have stirred certified financial planners for a generation.

"This should be required reading for every CFP professional," said Charlie Fitzgerald III, principal at Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo. "This is what I want the financial profession to be. He painted a picture 27 years ago, and it's still relevant today."

This year's Nazrudin gathering was in part a memorial to Mr. Wagner, who died in March at age 68 from injuries received in a fall at his home in Denver. Mr. Wagner founded Nazrudin in 1994 with George Kinder, another leader in holistic planning.

The host of the event, Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S.D., made baseball caps in honor of Mr. Wagner that displayed his rules for getting rich. On the front, it read, "Don't do anything stupid." On the back: "Spend less. Save More."

"He was succinct and to the point," Mr. Kahler said. "In that statement, he summed up a lot of complexity."

Mr. Kahler is among many disciples of Mr. Wagner.

"I called him the oracle of Denver," Mr. Kahler said. "He saw things that others did not see. He imagined things that were difficult for people like me in the weeds to comprehend."

Mr. Wagner promoted a national message that also resonated within the walls of his own home. Both of his children — Jake, 38, and Natalie, 36 — are making their careers in areas related to the financial advice sector.

"Both Natalie and I internalized a lot of what he shared," said Jake Wagner, president and chief executive of Digital Marketing 4FP, which specializes in working with financial planners. "It was a big reason we both decided to join the financial planning community."

Jake Wagner also runs WorthLiving, a website his father founded with the tagline "Cultivating the Art of Money." It highlights his father's work, including his most recent book, "Financial Planning 3.0," and features a podcast.

"Part of my job is making sure people understand his work the way that he was trying to convey it," Jake Wagner said.

The financial-advice bug bit Natalie Wagner as a youngster when she served as her dad's "assistant" at conferences. It was at those events where her dad spoke that she also met his financial planning friends.

"They had an earnest desire to make the world a better place through their work," said Ms. Wagner, who is a money-wellness coach and owner of VitalFinancials, a firm that helps people manage their cash flow. "I'm most proud of his unwavering, steadfast commitment to his vision — to wade through the BS, get to what's important and stay there."

Ms. Wagner is a now a finologist, which derives from a term her dad coined, "finology."

"I am a practitioner of his contention that we need to explore and create processes to develop the interior relationship with money," Ms. Wagner said. "In this way, I carry his legacy."

Mr. Wagner was a mentor to many CFPs and a regular attendee of the annual Financial Planning Association's NextGen meeting.

"He inspired so many young planners in the profession," Mr. Kahler said.

Mr. Wagner's magnetism emanated from "his ability to make every planner he talked to feel heard and important," he said.

In doing so, he put his signature on financial planning.

"He was a giant," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "He'll be viewed as a forefather of the profession."

– Mark Schoeff Jr.

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