Written By: April Berggren-Batts
When you think of the profession Accredited Financial Counselor, what characteristics come to mind? I think of compassion, kindness, teacher, helper, proactive, empathetic, determined, committed, and many other positive attributes. Imagine putting yourself in an in-person or virtual room full of people like this for several days. That is what it is like attending an AFCPE symposium.
In 2008, AFCPE awarded me one of the Military Spouse FINRA Fellow scholarships. I had heard about the symposium but there was always a reason I could not go. In 2019, AFCPE selected me for an award. I decided I had to attend for this honor. Let me take you through my experience.
Once I decided to go, I signed into my AFCPE account and found the symposium page to sign up. There was information on possible places to stay and other symposium details. I booked a flight and hotel room. I chose the official symposium hotel for convenience. Then I started planning how I would get from the airport to the hotel. I asked the AFCPE to place me on a list with other AFCs interested in ridesharing from the airport to the hotel. I found a couple of other individuals arriving around the same time as me and we connected to make our plan.
After arriving at the hotel, it was time to check into the symposium. When checking in, I received my name tag and added ribbons to the bottom of my name tag to further help me connect and network. Some ribbons had words such as first-time attendee, PFC, FINRA Fellow, award winner, presenter, and others.
Next, there were booths full of financial information. These included government contract companies, financial institutions, non-profits, financial literacy programs, and other finance-related booths. This exposure could lead to making connections for a new job, gathering financial literacy material, and learning about new financial tools. It was a great way to expand my financial professional network.
Before I arrived at the symposium I found it helpful to review all the classes offered. This way I had an idea of which classes to prioritize. Each year I had gotten all my CEUs fulfilled but this was different. The classes at the symposium took topics to the next level. They were not the typical financial counseling classes. These classes discussed cultural aspects of personal finance. The racial wealth gap was explained and financial literacy tools were provided to help navigate these challenges with clients. These classes reminded me that each culture and client is unique. Strategies must be altered and our clients need empathy and tailor made guidance.
From the moment I signed up until the moment I left the symposium, I had opportunities to network with other financial professionals. This is crucial in any career field. During the symposium, I was busy adding people to Facebook and LinkedIn. Since the symposium, I have had opportunities to grow professionally through interactions with other AFCs. I have also been able to provide and accept support.
When I signed up, I had to select which meals I wanted during the symposium. There was a lot of amazing food at the event. I never went hungry. Why do I mention the food? Food is the center of many of the networking opportunities. I was invited to extra food-related events because of where I worked and the programs I was associated with. If there is ever a time that a meal is not provided, I highly encourage utilizing that time to once again connect with other AFCs and go out to get food together.
You may be thinking this all sounds great but this year the symposium is virtual, how can I benefit from attending? Let me emphasize some of the benefits that I discovered attending the virtual symposium last year.
- First, you are still able to attend all the amazing classes.
- Second, if you miss a class, you can watch it later.
- Third, some classes have breakout sessions so you get to meet new people. I really appreciated the breakout sessions during classes and networking meetings because it forced me to meet new people. When the symposium was in person I did meet a lot of amazing people but then I stayed in that group of people. During the virtual symposium, I was randomly connected with people outside of my normal group. It helped bring new perspectives and new awareness of the different financial careers available. I also highly recommend attending the evening virtual networking events for the same reason. This can help you make connections in a comfortable environment, your home.
- Fourth, you can stay home. There is no need to pay to travel and no need to pay for a hotel. I loved the fact that I did not have to pack and I could stay in comfy pants all day long.
- Fifth, all the attendees are listed on the virtual symposium platform so you can message each other and add virtual ribbons to your name. This allows you to provide information about yourself to the entire group. It helps streamline the networking process.
Now you may be thinking this all sounds amazing but money is tight in my household, how can I afford to attend? The answer is scholarships. Keep an eye on your emails from AFCPE. When there are scholarships available to apply for, they will send out notices. Also check with your employer to see if they offer any education reimbursement. If this is not the year to attend, do not write it off as something that will never happen. Make a plan to attend as soon as possible. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I found my people and it helped revitalize my passion to help others. I hope you have the same experience.