Financial fitness. Financial health.
These terms are widespread in personal finance conversation, publication and even in financial practice promotion. As consumers, we understand the terms health and fitness. We know that eating well and exercising are important steps to physical well-being, just as we know that effective spending and saving plans are essential to financial prosperity.
However, knowledge is sometimes not enough. How do we internally motivate to turn this “knowledge” into practice? It requires education, understanding, and internal motivation – and it is not one-size-fits-all.
A 2015 research study, Health Information Search and Retirement Planning (Carr, Sages, Fernatt, Nabeshima, Grable), published in the Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning, found that individuals who engage in health information search behaviors, such as reading the contents and nutrition details of food labels, are more likely to engage in financial planning activities.
Although, in this study, regular physical activity and healthy eating were not found to be associated with retirement planning, individuals who were on a weight loss program were identified as being more likely to use a similar approach when preparing for retirement.
The study looked at both physical and cognitive health activities and their alignment with intrinsic motivation, or motivation that comes from the individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, and determined that people who were intrinsically motivated were more likely to take steps toward financial preparedness.
The findings support what financial researcher and educator, Barbara O’Neill, CFP®, AFC® found in her 2009 research, that “cognitive interventions, rather than physical intermediation,” are more likely to increase both health and financial literacy. The research suggests:
(a) personalizing education content that promotes more information search behavior
(b) avoiding technical jargon to help explain technical health and wealth issues
(c) providing realistic action steps
(d) providing a mechanism to share success stories, including the use of social networks.
With the research correlations between health and wealth, researchers suggest that policymakers or the marketplace begin to use these rationales to design programs that make and/or promote a health-wealth connection. It also raises the question and possibility in the vast potential of exploring and transferring strategies that have been successful in health planning to wealth planning. One example, quoted from Health Information Search and Retirement Planning, references a separate 2008 research study:
“Research has shown that simply moving nutrition labeling from the back of a product to the front allows individuals to make quicker informed decisions in their shopping. A similar strategy has potential for application in helping consumers in the domain of financial planning and retirement planning. For example, financial strategies that communicate recommendations in a brief and straightforward manner up front may be more effective in appealing to an individual’s cognitive processes. Furthermore, similar to health and nutrition labeling, the design of recommended standardized financial guidelines may prove helpful in assisting people to make proper financial decisions to incorporate within their own plan.”
Putting it into Practice
How have you seen this health-wealth connection with your clients?
What are some other strategies that financial counselors can use to provide more straightforward guidance, without using a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach?
How can technology play a role in providing solutions?
- Inspired to build upon the professional relationships they made.
- Inspired to put acquired knowledge into immediate action.
- Inspired to share new ideas with professional friends, clients and colleagues.
But perhaps one of the most unexpected results from the event, was a new affinity and a dedication to choose “broccoli” as a method for attaining knowledge to support your practice.
For those who did not attend the 2015 AFCPE® Symposium, the broccoli analogy was the brainchild of AFCPE Member and Texas Tech Associate Professor of Personal Financial Planning, Dr. Sandra Huston. “Knowledge attained through scientific research is like broccoli.”
As financial counselors and educators, you have many choices of information to use to support your work – some are more appetizing, others are more readily available – but if you want to have a healthy practice, and ultimately, healthy clients – then it’s important to commit to making the healthiest choice.
Broccoli, similar to research, is oftentimes perceived as bland or unappetizing. So how do we make it palatable? When establishing best practices, we must choose the healthy option – scientific-based research – and then we accompany it with intuition, tradition or personal experience. Now we have cheesy broccoli or broccoli pizza, but broccoli is at the core of the work that we do.
Financial Literacy Education: Building the Foundation
Research is the foundation of AFCPE, and our certification curriculum. It poses questions, draws conclusions and provides a foundation to affect policy, improve education models and better serve our clients. Building upon our health analogy, we take a look at an important commentary published in the Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning (JFCP).
In Volume 26 (1), Dr. Huston builds upon the connection between financial & physical health in the with a discussion on “Using a Financial Health Model to Provide Context for Financial Literacy Education Research.”
“How do we get people to maintain or improve their physical or financial health?” Dr. Huston asks. “I conceptualize that it is a production process that requires continuous awareness, education, habituation, examination and adjustment, and is not a direct result of financial education.”
Measuring Financial Health
Evidence from a 2014 research study, “Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors (Fernandes, Lynch, Netemeyer) found that financial education has little to no impact on financial outcome. The study looked closely at education timing and decay, weak linkage between education and behavior, and the need for improvement both in terms of education programs and research design. Dr. Huston praises the research, but suggests that “there are critical diagnostic issues that impede both financial health provision and research agendas when we assume a direct link between financial education and financial health status. Experiments that focus only on evaluating the success of financial education based on financial health status ignore the process that leads from knowledge to outcome.”
The truth is, financial education and the path to creating lasting financial behavior change is often unique to the individual, and it’s based on a number of factors, both external and internal. So how do we draw upon the important conclusions of this research and draw practical implications that can be used to advance policy, education and practice?
Financial Awareness vs. Financial Literacy Education
Dr. Huston notes, the “lack of distinction between financial awareness and financial literacy education may be contributing to the decay detected between financial education and outcome.” She goes on to define a system that is at the heart of AFCPE® and financial counseling and coaching. “If the curriculum focuses on the system of the recipe rather than memorizing the steps, then when missing ingredients are encountered the learner will know where and how to find appropriate substitutes when putting the recipe into practice.”
Coming Full Circle. Building the Bridge
“As with our physical health, financial health needs change throughout the life cycle and we need to provide unbiased, quality opportunities for all stages and ages.”
Her recommendation is well aligned with our mission – to enhance the financial wellbeing of individuals and families worldwide. We do this by creating a continuum of care and building a “financial health community.”
As a membership consisting of a diverse group of financial professionals – from research to education to practice, we have the opportunity to unite and create this community: a community that openly discusses finances in the home. A community that teaches financial education as early as Kindergarten. A community that provides financial counseling in the workforce and helps our young adults make educated financial choices to help recognize their life goals and build financial security. A community that makes financial literacy education and counseling accessible, regardless of socioeconomic situation.
Dr. Huston confirms that the research of the Fernandes et al. (2014) study is a “wakeup call” to devise “a common framework and nomenclature… so that appropriate interventions, treatments, and research will be valid, relevant, and helpful in aiding individuals and families maintain and build their financial health.”
So this month, we encourage you to eat your veggies. Practitioners and Researchers, connect with one another. You are at the front lines of the education and counseling happening in our field. You bring insights and ideas that are ready to test. Policy makers, use this important research and let us work together to create a financial health community and define and improve the continuum of care.
- Connect with Fellow AFCPE® Members: Use our Find A Member search to locate AFCPE members in your demographic area or to network in your area of interest or expertise.
- Join the Research Task Force: It is not just a task force for researchers, but one that represents the totality of our membership and helps us bridge these important conversations. Interested members, please email Board Liaison for the Research Task Force: email@example.com.
Next Monday, April 11, we’ll take a closer look at the health-wealth connection.
My early ﬁnancial education was given to me by my parents, sort of unintentionally and mostly from observation. As I grew up and became an adult, I learned some better ﬁnancial practices from friends and associates. I also started reading books that taught about ﬁnancial topics.
My husband and I started a small real estate investing company where I learned about accounting, budgeting and risk taking. I also began to realize how many people live paycheck to paycheck.
After many years working in the private sector and maintaining his reserve status in the U.S. Army, my husband decided to go back into the Army full-time as an AGR (Army Guard Reservist) ofﬁcer. Making the change to the military life meant moving and leaving my part-time job behind. At our ﬁrst assignment, I was not able to secure employment in my chosen ﬁeld as there were too many restrictions in that state. When we went to our next assignment, I was hopeful that I could ﬁnd work, but was disappointed to ﬁnd out that where we moved did not support me working there, either. So, when I learned about the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship for AFC® I was very excited. It was the perfect opportunity to pursue an area I had long been interested in and provide the flexibility I needed as a military spouse. I applied and was accepted into the program!
My undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education so teaching others is something that has always come natural to me. That coupled with my interest in personal ﬁnancial topics made pursuing certification in financial counseling feel like the perfect match. Now over a year into the fellowship program, I am so thankful I made the decision to apply. The program offers excellent study materials and a webinar style class taught by a very knowledgeable instructor. The webinar format allows spouses to join no matter where they live. While the material is extensive, I felt well prepared to take the exam – and did so by keeping up with the syllabus and testing while the material was still fresh in my mind.
The curriculum of the course is varied and interesting and I feel like I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time. I have been able to apply principles taught in my own life and it’s been a great reminder of things that will beneﬁt my family and me ﬁnancially. I strive to teach my children intentionally about ﬁnancial matters.
As part of the program, I have also been able to earn practicum hours and give back to the military community. Most of my hours were spent at Army Community Services in the Financial Readiness program. There I was able to work with Soldiers and their families and civilians who work with the military. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve this population so far and I hope to ﬁnd work in the ﬁnancial ﬁeld where I can continue working with the military population.
My overall experience with the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship has been incredibly positive and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to participate alongside so many ﬁne individuals who know what it’s like to live the military life!
Guest Contributor: Annette Carter, AFC® Candidate, FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellow
Apply for the 2016 FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program. Accepting applications now through April 22, 2016.
Sometimes a legitimate quest for information can lead down unexpected paths. When AFCPE® first announced the Financial Fitness Coach certification in partnership with Sage Financial Solutions, I was curious. I didn’t know what the certification entailed, why I would need it, or even why AFCPE had decided to offer Financial Fitness Coach training. So I did what I would recommend to my clients considering a significant purchase: I asked a few questions. Those questions sparked a heated debate and, those questions revealed that I was not the only one who was new to the idea of a Financial Fitness Coach certification.
After a lively exchange about the cost-benefit analysis of the certification, I decided to enroll in the course and attend the November session. Admittedly, my decision to invest in the course came down to a colleague who had enrolled in the first cohort and was completing the certification that same November. “Do it. You won’t regret it,” was all she had to say. Sometimes, a strong endorsement from someone we trust is all that is necessary. In the end, she was right. I did it, and I have not regretted it.
I am nearly finished with my coaching hours and the additional live webinars, both of which are required for the Financial Fitness Coach certification. What I have gained from the course has far outweighed the cost. Financial coaching is the piece of the puzzle that I felt was missing from the Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) designation. AFC professionals accumulate a breadth and depth of financial knowledge, which is further developed through interaction with clients. However, there is always that one client which is stuck, that all the financial knowledge in the world cannot budge. Because for some clients, the struggle is not about a knowledge gap. For some clients, the struggle is about everything else; their lives, relationships, childhood, teenage years, children, parents, pets. Coaching provides a communication dynamic that allows financial professionals to use all the tools in their AFC toolbox to help those stuck clients move forward.
Recently, I had the honor of helping a couple of long-time friends take control of their finances. Luckily for them, I had just returned from the seminar with Saundra Davis. Upon discovering that they were utterly convinced that they would never live debt free, I realized the traditional communication paradigm would not work. Early in our sessions, I also realized this conviction had little to do with a knowledge gap and everything to do with mindset and experience. Therefore, all my knowledge would be useless to them until they began to believe in their own potential. The Financial Fitness Coach model allowed me to flip the communication dynamic, which in turn provided the opportunity and space for them to begin seeing things differently. The power of the financial coaching process, combined with the emotional and intellectual gentleness of the approach amazed me.
Would I have been able to help this couple without the Financial Fitness Coach certification? Perhaps. However, they would not have owned their achievement in the same way. Coaching requires both active work and a level of responsibility from the client. When a coach views his or her client as capable, whole, and in command of their destiny, the client begins to see that as well. That is the heart of empowerment.
Guest Contributor: Adrienne Ross, AFC®, FFCTM Candidate
Over the past ten years, there has been increasing focus placed on financial capability to address the increasing personal debt levels and the overall financial well-being of Americans. It is more important than ever that consumers understand their options, the financial services profession, and who is best equipped to serve them at all stages of their financial lifecycle.
Recently, there has been a contentious debate about the fiduciary rule proposed last year, which would require investment brokers to act in the best interest of their clients regarding retirement accounts. Resistance to this proposal is based on faulty reasoning that the middle class will be hurt as a result. The opposition argues that increased liability and regulatory costs for advisors will lead to higher fees, negatively affecting lower income clients.
However, the current “suitability standard” leaves far too much room for financial abuses. We only have to look at recent history to see that when financial services are not regulated, it is the consumer who suffers. Advisors, when motivated by commissioned sales, can and do recommend products that may be “suitable” for their clients, but they do not always recommend what is “best.” Of course, this does not mean that the individual advisor is seeking to abuse the client, but the fact is that the advisor’s fiduciary responsibility is to the corporation that employs them rather than to their clients. This system creates an enormous conflict of interest and does not serve the middle class or anyone very well.
As many reputable financial advisors will attest, individuals have more options today than ever before. Consumers with wealth know that they can turn to a financial advisor to manage their investments. However, all consumers, regardless of income level or socioeconomic status, deserve access to highly trained professionals with education and experience, as well as a strong commitment to ongoing professional development.
It is especially important that individuals with low to moderate income have trusted guidance to help change their money management behaviors, build savings, create effective spending plans, and achieve financial well-being. That’s why the fiduciary rule has always been the cornerstone of our financial counseling and financial coaching certification programs offered by AFCPE, like the AFC® (Accredited Financial Counselor®) and the FFCTM (Financial Fitness Coach).
Our professionals adhere to high ethical requirements that guarantee the client’s best interests are the top priority. For more than three decades, they have provided qualified, unbiased financial guidance without selling products. The rigorous and comprehensive training, rooted in decades of field research, prepares them to address the individual’s entire financial lifecycle and unique needs. This standard of care goes well beyond popular, one-size-fits-all packaged programs, to ensure that every consumer has access to high-quality, personalized financial education.
As financial professionals, if we are genuinely committed to lasting and positive behavior change, we must enforce the standards and professionalism that already exist in the field with licensed professionals. Consumers should be able to expect high ethical standards, like those held by AFC® and CFP® professionals, to be the norm.
We must bridge the gap between the intellectual and the emotional aspects of money. We must create a more integrated and inclusive financial system where professionals and organizations work together to create a comprehensive continuum of care for everyone.
Only then will we begin to solve the issues of financial instability for our clients, and ultimately our country.
Rebecca Wiggins, Executive Director
AFCPE® (Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education®)
Saundra Davis, Executive Director
Sage Financial Solutions Financial Coaching
To find a Certified Professional, click here.