Q&A with North Georgia Conference Treasurer Keith M. Cox

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Keith M. Cox has faithfully served as The North Georgia Conference’s Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services for 15 years. In this interview, he shares how the Georgia United Methodist Foundation helps our denomination achieve its missional directives.

GUMF: How has GUMF helped The North Georgia Conference?

Keith M. Cox: The best example that epitomizes our relationship is when GUMF provided what amounts to a lifeline to allow the Conference and Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center to work through its challenges and come to a successful resolution.

In 2010, the commercial bank that held the primary mortgage on Simpsonwood for which the Conference was the guarantor indicated that they were moving toward foreclosure due to technical default, and the need to adhere to a multitude of new regulations. The bank did not want to foreclose. We were paying on time but had violated debt covenants because of Simpsonwood’s financial situation.

GUMF refinanced the bulk of that mortgage at a reasonable rate. This kept the Conference from liquidating some invested funds to pay off the mortgage. GUMF helped the Conference and Simpsonwood by providing mortgage financing at a time when it would have been virtually impossible to have obtained such financing from any other source.

GUMF: How is GUMF’s mission different from that of a commercial bank?

Keith M. Cox: One is part of the Church, and one is a commercial enterprise, but GUMF’s mission is radically different. A commercial bank must maximize shareholder value and work within a very specific regulatory framework. When we do business with GUMF, we are doing business with a sister organization whose mission is to provide assistance and services to churches and organizations and to those who invest funds with it.

GUMF: Why would a church choose to have a relationship with GUMF?

Keith M. Cox: One reason is rates. GUMF’s rates are always competitive whether it’s the rates they charge customers on loans, the fees for managing investments, or the returns they pay to clients.

The Conference has invested $22.5 million with GUMF. If we pay fees to an external investment management group, the fees stay within that firm’s revenue base. When you pay fees to GUMF, those fees are supporting GUMF and are also being used for missional purposes such as grants and scholarships that stay within the United Methodist family.

A second reason concerns the process for getting a loan. An external company may or may not have individuals with the expertise to understand the Church’s needs. GUMF has a deep understanding of the Church’s mission. The current President, Rev. Chuck Savage, and the incoming President, Rev. Keith Lawder, are Elders. GUMF knows how the Church operates, and they have a much shorter learning curve versus a commercial enterprise.

GUMF: What has your experience working with GUMF been like?

Keith M. Cox: In my 15 years with the Conference, I can state unequivocally that all the staff that I have dealt with at GUMF have been very competent and very mission-oriented. They operate with the highest integrity. When you deal with GUMF, you are dealing with some of the best church people that we have in our state. You are dealing with a partner within the United Methodist family that knows our churches. GUMF’s goal is to help the Church achieve our missional directives.

GUMF: What do you see as the potential impact of planned giving programs sponsored by GUMF?

The potential impact is profound! As it has been reported in the public domain, an enormous wealth transfer between generations will take place over the next 20 or 30 years. While nobody wants to dwell on it, the fact is a large number of folks who are strong supporters in our churches will pass away. Churches that are not being proactive in implementing financial risk management via planned giving could find themselves in a real quandary. Churches must plan for the potential loss of large donation streams. If they don’t, the wealth transfer is going to occur, but it may not include the Church. It may only include other wonderful organizations with wonderful missional purposes. If that’s the case, our churches will suffer. Planned giving is an imperative, and GUMF’s Legacy Ministry Training program is a perfect way to begin the thought process and planning. It is a well-thought-out initiative.

GUMF: Why is planned giving important from an individual’s perspective?

Keith M. Cox: If an individual member has been faithfully contributing to the Church’s mission all of his or her life, comfort could be derived from knowing that after they have passed away, their legacy will live on through continued strong financial support via planned giving. However, we have to be asked and be reminded of ways to include the Church. GUMF plays an important role in helping folks create an eternal legacy through their planned giving resources and Wills Clinics.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 edition of Faith & Money, a publication of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation.