Allen Ammerman is a great example of how you can turn an interest of yours into a career. He went from being a musician with money interest to an Assistant Professor of Finance at West Texas A&M. Read his interview below to learn how he followed his passion to fulfill his mission of bridging the gap between financial researchers and practitioners.
AFCPE: What inspired you to enter the field of personal finance education and research?
Allen: I earned my Bachelors in music, and when I could tell that I wasn’t going to become a symphony tubist, I decided to do the exact opposite thing — joined the Marines. During basic training, I was having difficulty deciding what my top choices for military occupational specialty should be. I had always been budget-conscious thanks to my parents, but one day, while my wife and I were discussing our finances, she suggested that I do the Marine Corps’ budget and leave her alone. That’s when I realized that I, a music major, could actually make my interest in money into a career.
After obtaining my MBA, I knew personal finance seemed to be a great blend of leadership as a mentor and the financial subject matter that I loved. The Ph.D. in personal finance program at Kansas State was a perfect fit for me because I was still active duty and I also didn’t know when I would resign my commission. My initial plan was to complete the program at K-State, then get out of the military and become a personal financial planner. Yet, things changed. Since I wasn’t a CFP® when entering the program at K-State I had to take more classes than other students, and I consequently got a late start on research presenting/publishing. With that in mind, I shifted my focus to organizational financial management, which would prepare to become an entrepreneur. However, through a combination of encouragement from my professors and a realization that I just did not want to continue down that route, I ultimately decided to pursue an academic position where I could lead/mentor as a teacher and continue with my research. Thankfully, I ended up in my current role where I feel like, for the first time in my professional life, I am doing exactly what I was created to do.
AFCPE: Very encouraging story! Since you understand the process of being a research and a practitioner, how important is it that personal finance professionals work together to bridge the gap between research to practice?
Allen: I think this is extremely important! I got involved in the research side of things because I tend to be skeptical of everything and I like to discover the truth of things for myself. I approach personal finance from a business-oriented education. My thought from the very beginning has been “if I’m being taught to do X to maximize the wealth of Apple’s shareholders, why can’t I do the same to maximize my own wealth?” Well, apparently this is a controversial thought in personal finance research. Much of the research is grounded in economic theories of the consumer which say that individuals do things in order to maximize their personal satisfaction. This could involve building my wealth if that’s what makes me happy. It could also mean spending all I have and getting into massive amounts of debt because I’m focused on the here and now and not caring about the future. An economist can’t say that the latter behaviors are “bad” if that’s what maximizes my satisfaction given my personal preferences. But certainly, no practitioner would agree that such behaviors are healthy or good. Personally, this is where there is a disconnect between a lot of the research and practice — as a client, I don’t need advice on how to feel satisfied; I need advice on how to manage my finances and increase my wealth.
Also, I think we really need practitioners to become active collaborators in research to address this disconnect. In my imagination, if we had more practitioners reading and critically reviewing research, then this mismatch between theory and practice would have been recognized and addressed long ago. Critical reviews of research in The Standard could be one way to do this. For example, if I’m a research-savvy practitioner and I read a research article that tells me that techniques A, B, and C tend to make people more satisfied, I might find that interesting and it might help me understand client behavior.
But I am still going to be left wondering (a) how can I get the client to change their behavior, and (b) why should a client change their behavior if it makes them happy? So, I might write a short piece and submit it to The Standard so that the practical worthiness of this research is questioned. And it would be great if these kinds of criticisms were then reproduced in the JFCP where more researchers will see it. Hopefully, this would spark “conversation” (if research papers can be called that) to then address these questions/issues.
My own research seeks to address the gap between theory and practice by reintroducing individuals as producers, not just consumers. Students of economics might remember that while consumers are thought to maximize their satisfaction, producers are thought to maximize profits. So, when we think of the individual as a producer (of labor), we can think of them as wanting to maximize their profits. Well, do we know anything about how one can maximize their profits? Yes, we do! Much of our financial education and our concept of “good” financial behavior is grounded in this perspective. Therefore, if I can adopt a theoretical perspective of the individual as a producer, the gap between theory and the practices that we’ve been taught are “good” becomes much smaller.
AFCPE: On Wednesday, we shared your reflections on your recent research, Future Orientation, and Household Financial Asset Liquidity. What is the main takeaway you want practitioners to capture from your research?
Allen: Personally, the main takeaway is that just because individuals do not have six months of expenses held in cash doesn’t mean that they’re not thinking about or prepared for emergencies. It comes back to bridging the gap between research and practice. My findings suggest that we should move away from the rules-of-thumb of keeping 3-6 months of expenses in cash and instead adopt a money management approach that is more consistent with what so many of us have been taught in our finance classes in school — that is, think of the cash position in terms of the household’s working capital needs and in terms of managing the overall portfolio of investments.
AFCPE: With the school year right around the corner (if not already beginning!), what’s next? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Allen: Oh boy, yes — there are a lot of projects in the works! I have a Research Brief coming out in The Standard soon. I decided to do more of a reviewer of theories used in personal finance research with examples taken from the JFCP. My hope is that this gives practitioners a better understanding of how we actually go about conducting research and how we come up with the implications from our results.
I have a few papers in review with the JFCP and a few more that are in progress to be submitted to other journals. I’ll also be presenting two papers at the annual meeting of the Academy of Financial Services in October. So, I have a lot going on!
AFCPE: Amazing! With that busy schedule, will we be seeing you at #AFCPE18 Symposium this year? If so, what have you most excited?
Allen: Yes, you will! I am most excited about how much I’ll get to present this year — a paper, a poster, and co-present a practitioner session. I’m really looking forward to co-presenting the practitioner session because I think of the session as being something like a live Research Brief from The Standard. What we plan to do is break down some of the work of Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow) and other researchers, and sharing some ideas with practitioners for how this understanding of human thinking can inform their practice, particularly when it comes to helping clients manage their environments to engage in better financial behaviors.
Additionally, I’m most excited to see friends and colleagues again. The Symposium is always a great time for me to reconnect with my K-State family and mentors, to be inspired by the work of other researchers, and to learn about issues where my research efforts could help.
AFCPE: We can’t wait to see what you’ll be presenting! We especially like the idea of a “live Research Brief”. Before you give you the Friday 5, is there any last remarks?
Allen: I’ll just finish by saying that I love AFCPE because of how people-focused the community and organization is. It puts money in its proper place. Not something that is an end in itself, but simply a resource to be managed to help individuals and families achieve their non-financial goals.
Allen Answers Friday 5:
- Your Why: Because even though I’m an introvert, I have a strong desire to help those who want to be helped and to teach those who want to be taught.
- Your Favorite Quote: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” — Unknown, but I heard it repeated by an instructor at USMC Expeditionary Warfare School
- Your Hero: I have three in mind, but I’m going to pick one and say Dr. Sonya Britt-Lutter: great researcher, teacher, and mentor.
- Your Favorite Personal Finance Resource: “Principles of corporate finance” by Brealey, Meyers, and Allen. It’s the best finance book I own.
- Your Best Advice:
- For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Learn to have a healthy relationship with money. Money is important, but don’t make it your god — it is not the most important thing in life.
- For a new professional entering this field: For practitioners: don’t forget the lessons of business finance just because you work with families. For academics: start researching, presenting, and publishing as early as possible.
You can contact Allen at: email@example.com