Written By: Krista Loew, AFC®
The management of money can be both simple and complex. On one hand, you can follow these well-known tenets. “Accumulate dollars by saving more than you spend.” “The sooner you start, the greater the benefit of compounded earnings.” On the other hand: “What do I do if I lose my job or worse, my spouse?” “How can I stop living from paycheck to paycheck?” “How will I ever get out of debt?” Even the best-laid plans can fall apart.
So often, financial services professionals rely solely on assumptions, assessments, and projections to provide advice and recommendations but unwittingly discount the human behavioral component to financial capacity – acceptance of reality and possibilities, belief in self-determination, fragility in commitment and resilience, empowered decision making, and a sense of being heard and supported. But that is what an AFC® professional does. They engage people on their terms, help unleash their potential, and instill HOPE.
H.O.P.E. is an acronym that represents the value an AFC® certification brings to credit union and banking relationships across America and beyond. The AFC®- certified financial counseling approach enables the designation holder to Humanize discussions around money in a nonjudgmental, empathetic manner. It Operationalizes a process to transform despair to promise, injury to strength, blame to accountability, crisis to stability, vulnerability to power, and passivity to action. AFC® certification Professionalizes the discipline of financial counseling via an accredited curriculum, renowned academic research, and vast, strategic partnerships and networking across the financial services industry. It also Energizes and inspires the financial counselor’s mission to make a purposeful impact and the individual’s desire to achieve financial independence and wellness on their terms.
Financial counseling is an approach that fills the void in servicing not only those possessing financial means but also those who do not. Often, consumers with small balances or low income may feel undeserving of personalized assistance or are relegated to meet financial thresholds for elevated services. However, financial counseling can benefit consumers who may be financially comfortable but desire to optimize cash flow to alleviate wasteful spending, strengthen savings, or mitigate financial risks.
Financial centers that employ AFC® employees recognize the opportunity to cultivate relationships and to help their consumers become better savers, better borrowers, and better investors by helping them build a solid financial foundation. Not to mention, financial counseling helps employees to establish stronger relationships and identify more opportunities for business.
AFC®s help their customers to build their financial capabilities by working collaboratively to resolve unfounded fears, undisciplined spending, overcome temporary crisis, and so many other challenges. By addressing these needs through thoughtful discovery, AFC®s help prepare a pathway for their customers to build financial capability and a foundation suitable for long-term planning goals and aspirations. Financial counseling bridges the gap between gaining financial stability and a long-term financial plan. You might say that financial counseling is the softer side of financial planning – more about what is behind the numbers.
Financial counseling and financial planning services are enhanced by the other. Banks and credit unions that offer both provide a more complete, sustainable solution if you consider the various life stages an individual or a household may experience. The birth of a child, a new job, or a debilitating illness affect both personal money management and long-term objectives. AFC®s help to bring clarity and focus on the current issues to be addressed, discover personal constraints and reservations, and drive commitment to productive changes in behavior. These actions not only help them improve their current financial standing but also help prepare them well to pursue or maintain a solid financial plan.
Banks and credit unions make a significant percentage of earnings from the money they lend, which means they are highly motivated to approve loans. In cases where they cannot approve a loan for an applicant, some offer the services of an AFC®. In turn, they help the applicant better understand the circumstances for the loan denial, the impact of their credit history, and suggest steps to improve their financial position to better qualify for a loan in the future. While the primary objective of some applicants is only to get a loan no matter the cost or terms, many welcome the guidance an AFC® can offer and take advantage of the services.
As the complexity of financial services grows, consumers face difficulty with breaking down their array of needs, goals, and solutions into manageable, actionable steps. Since financial decisions within a household do not occur in a vacuum, an adjustment in one area may influence the outcomes or result in constraints in another area. For example, a decision to save money may influence how much you can spend on vacation; or paying off debt could reduce the capacity to save for retirement. Often, these types of decisions do not rise to the level where a financial plan is warranted. Again, this is where AFC®s come to the rescue.
AFC® certification is the gold standard for financial counseling professionals and a complementary designation for the financial services industry. Although, not as widely known as other financial certifications, its impact on the financial well-being of consumers is often just as significant, and often the missing link for long-term financial success. As the level of complexity continues to grow in the realm of personal finance and accountability, the role of the AFC® financial counselor is destined to become more relevant and sought by consumers.
Some in the financial counseling arena consider the profession a calling. They love helping others to succeed. AFC®s recognize that when people need help, they do not need a lengthy, complicated explanation. As the old saying goes, people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.