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GuideStone board reviews long-range plan

BOSTON (BP)–GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins updated trustees on the completion of initiatives related to GuideStone 90, the first phase of GuideStone’s long-range plan, during their July 28-29 meeting in Boston.

Trustees also heard an update on GuideStone’s preparations to launch its property and casualty insurance products and approved a business plan that will enable the organization to offer specific financial advice to its participants.

Hawkins said each element of GuideStone 90, which was completed in June, “is designed to undergird our vision statement to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner in enhancing the financial security of our participants.”

The first phase of the long-range plan ran from 2005-08. The second phase, GuideStone 95, will run from 2008-13 and the final phase, GuideStone 100, encompassing 2013-18, will lead into GuideStone’s centennial year.

Initiatives that grew out of GuideStone 90 included steps to provide competitive medical plan alternatives for participants.

“Over the past few years, GuideStone’s health plan participants have benefited from our commitment to continue to provide affordable and flexible health-care products while maintaining our ministry focus,” Hawkins said. “Since 2003, health plan premiums nationwide have increased by an average of 52 percent. During this same period, net enrollment in GuideStone’s medical plans has increased by over 5,400, a 21.7 percent increase. By maximizing Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network discounts, improved pharmacy pricing and offering a variety of lower premium plans, average premiums paid by GuideStone participants decreased by 13.6 percent during this same period, from $600 in 2003 to $518 in 2008.”

Even after taking into account out-of-pocket medical expenses, the average GuideStone participant’s total costs (premium plus out-of-pocket) decreased between 2003 and 2008. Average total costs were as high as $773 per month in 2004. Estimates show that average costs for 2008 will be $661 per month, a decrease of 14.5 percent.

(GuideStone officials have noted that the national medical trend has continued to outpace inflation during the past five years, and health-care medical coverage generally has become more expensive for employers and individuals. Health-care claims are cyclical, according to GuideStone officials, and it appears the cycle is at the steepest part of the claims curve. Industry analysts expect claim costs to continue with double-digit increases in 2008 and 2009 for health-care plans utilizing PPOs such as GuideStone’s.

(Although GuideStone’s rate action for 2009 will not be determined until late summer or early fall, churches that have budget deadlines before the new rates are released would be prudent to assume rate increases of at least 15 percent or higher due to nationwide medical inflation, according to GuideStone officials. GuideStone advises that churches or individuals wishing to minimize the impact of these increased rates on their 2009 budgets should consider the full range of GuideStone health plans, including higher deductible plan options that can save money on monthly rates.)

Among other facets of GuideStone 90, all full-time students at the six Southern Baptist seminaries are now eligible to receive a free $10,000 life benefit.

“We want to have a lifelong partnership with seminary students,” Hawkins said. “Many of these students are unable to afford even basic protection for their family. This is just one way we can help to enhance their financial security.”

Touching on GuideStone’s financial assistance ministry, Hawkins reported, “Earlier this year, we approved expanded guidelines that enable more of our retired pastors or their widows to qualify for financial assistance. Additionally, we have doubled the amount of monthly assistance to our most needy recipients. In some cases, this now amounts to as much as $530 per month.” In 1997, the Adopt An Annuitant, now called Mission:Dignity, benefit was $50 per month. Now it is as much as $530 per month for the neediest recipients.

The launch of the MyDestination Funds was another facet of GuideStone 90. Hawkins explained that the five registered date target funds “are managed to specific retirement dates and may be a suitable solution for investors of all ages looking to create or maintain a diversified, age-appropriate retirement choice in a single fund.”

Each of the MyDestination Funds is a diversified “fund-of-funds” that has an asset allocation that gradually becomes more conservative as an investor approaches retirement.

Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones, in his report to trustees, reviewed objectives and initiatives planned for GuideStone 95 and GuideStone 100.

GuideStone 95 objectives include the launch of new products and services for GuideStone participants as well as churches and institutions. Later this fall, property and casualty insurance will become available to churches and ministry organizations served by GuideStone. Additionally, trustees took action to approve a business plan that will enable GuideStone to provide specific financial advice to its participants.

Douglas D. Day, executive officer for insurance solutions and services, reported on GuideStone’s progress in launching its property and casualty insurance products later this fall.

“We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to make available risk management products to churches and ministry organizations that will provide affordable insurance coverage as well as comprehensive educational materials,” Day said. “We are finalizing arrangements with strategic partners to begin making these new products available by the third quarter of this year.”

Patty A. Weiland, executive officer for financial services and solutions, recapped for trustees the business plan that will enable GuideStone to provide financial advice to participants.

“This new service will help us to answer the most often asked questions that come from participants. ‘How should my retirement account be invested? How much should I be saving for retirement? Am I on track to meet my financial goals? Do I need to make adjustments to future goals?'” Weiland said.

Financial advice will consist of fund-specific investment advice related to GuideStone’s proprietary investment funds that are available to participants in GuideStone’s retirement plans. In addition to the investment fund advice, a retirement income gap analysis also will be available to assist participants in knowing how much more they may need to save in order to reach their retirement income goal. Project teams are working to put all of the elements in place for a launch of the new service during the first half of 2009.

Hawkins told the trustees, “Every decision we make as trustees and staff must be considered in terms of our vision statement which says, ‘We exist to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security.’ In that statement we find our motivation — to honor the Lord. We find our message — to be a lifelong partner and we have our mandate — to enhance the financial security of our participants.”
Curtis D. Sharp is the executive officer for denominational and public relations with GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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