Written By: Jarod Taylor, AFC®
Before joining AFCPE, I worked as a financial counselor and educator in the non-profit sector for nearly 10 years. Like many in this field, I fell into it by accident but quickly fell in love. Even though I had a lot of passion, things were a little rough in the beginning. I bungled first-time homeowner workshops. I stuttered through credit report reviews. I nervously googled answers in front of clients. I made a lot of mistakes and thought I could be an expert in everything.
Over time, however, I became more confident and things got easier. I could explain escrow to potential homebuyers. I assured clients that their credit score wasn’t the worst I’d seen (even when it was). I learned to lean on experts when I needed them, and I realized that there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” It was my experience in the field that taught me these things and gave me the confidence I needed. I learned that it is experience, not knowledge, that separates the good counselors from the great.
When clients come to us, they may say they want to save more or build better credit, but what they really want is security and a sense of safety. Sometimes we can provide this with just a bit of information, or by answering a few questions. Other times it can be a lot more work. Regardless of the approach, we often have the same goal—assurance.
Providing assurance to a client takes so much more than knowledge. It takes confidence and experience. We gain experience by watching others, making mistakes, and through keeping an open mind. When we learn that our mistakes do not define us, and we accept our shortcomings, our experience becomes confidence. With confidence, we can provide our clients what they truly need—assurance.
Whether you are a new AFC Candidate, or a seasoned pro, we can all benefit from new experiences. Below are some ways that you can continue to build on your experience no matter how long you’ve been in the game.
Volunteer. Volunteering can be a great way to earn experience hours even if you work as a full-time financial counselor. Seek out opportunities that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone. If you work as a credit counselor, consider volunteering to prepare tax returns. Most volunteer opportunities happen at the local level. If you can’t find opportunities in your neighborhood, consider creating your own. Many non-profits and social service agencies are struggling to adapt to the new reality of social distancing. Consider hosting a virtual financial workshop for a local youth group, church, library, or housing organization.
Be a Client. The best financial counselors know that the key to success is to always be learning. What better way to learn than to put yourself in the client seat? Consider a consultation with your banker or phone call with your 401k representative. Check to see if your employer offers financial counseling as an employee benefit. Observing others can open your eyes to new ideas and approaches. If you are looking for ways to earn experience hours, consider practicing your counseling with other AFC candidates. The AFCPE AFC Candidates Facebook Group can be a great place to connect with peers.
Going Virtual. We’ve found ourselves thrust into a new world without an instruction manual. Overnight we’ve had to move to virtual meetings and counseling. Don’t let this discourage you–virtual counseling can be just as effective as face-to-face. Remember to give yourself grace as we navigate this new reality—it doesn’t have to be perfect. Have patience with yourself and your clients—this is new for everyone. Progress may be a bit slower than what you’re used to, but you’ll get there. Don’t forget the phone is always an option. You don’t need to set up a virtual meeting for every counseling session, sometimes, a good old-fashioned phone call is all you need.
Learning. Up to 10% of your experience hours can come from financial trainings, seminars, and conferences. Now is a great time to seek out online and virtual opportunities. With a little digging and networking, you can often find these opportunities within your local community for free or little cost. A lot of cities, counties, or regions have financial capability networks that provide training and networking. Not finding anything in your area? Consider starting a network yourself. You can start small by inviting a few peers to connect and build your network from there.
If you have questions on earning your experience hours, reach Jarod Taylor at email@example.com.