Written By: Mindy Joseph, MBA
Scholars and practitioners alike have become more sensitive to the issue of diversity. Specifically, we are sensitive to how it influences our perspectives, professional practices, and interactions with clients. The research articles below focus on diversity. They highlight how our assumptions may impact our approach to clients from diverse backgrounds or underrepresented populations. There is limited research involving underrepresented populations within our field. However, this work provides perspectives and recommendations for improving cultural competencies and developing sensitivities toward minorities.
Article #1: Financial Counselors’ Experiences Working with Clients of Color: Lessons of Cultural Awareness
by Blendine Perreire Hawkins and Virginia Zuiker
The researchers in this article argue that increasing sensitivity to cultural differences has raised our awareness of the need for culturally competent financial counselors and planners. To test their hypotheses, they conducted a qualitative study. In their study they highlighted the experiences of financial counselors and educators who work with clients of color and the lessons they learned. Three themes emerged from the research:
- Avoid assumptions or stereotypes of other cultures to better understand cultural differences.
- Develop trust with a less directive approach, i.e., identify mutual interests to add to academic or professional credentials.
- Adjust counseling strategies and approaches to fit the client.
Key Insights: Empathizing with my clients
As a woman of color, I was intrigued by how the authors approached the subject of diversity. I found that many of the questions posed by the researchers are helpful ones for us to ask ourselves. This simple exercise would prompt us to remain alert and sensitive to the experiences of different cultural backgrounds.
- How do family dynamics impact how my clients of color progress toward financial goals or serve as barriers?
- Have I noticed any unique cultural competencies? Areas of challenges or resiliencies?
- How do I structure my sessions to incorporate the unique needs or concerns of clients of color?
The researchers also offered real-world accommodations that practitioners could adopt. Doing so would ensure that we are meeting the needs of our clients of color.
- Making sessions longer to allow more time for explanations, questions, or discussions;
- Making sessions more accessible, i.e., providing an interpreter;
- Expanding session participants to include more than just the nuclear family; and
- Collaborating with clients of color for solutions that work for the client
My Aha Moment: Actionable practices
At the heart of counseling is how we ask clients about their financial needs. The research highlighted practical ways to incorporate each of the following interaction themes into our interactions with clients:
Assumptions—For starters, assessing our approach to and beliefs about clients from different cultures will force us to consider any assumptions we may carry. This will help us make a habit of familiarizing ourselves with the common practices of different cultures. Then, this familiarity will help us to overcome unconscious bias. Good questions to ask ourselves might include:
- Are my clients from minority or majority racial households?
- Do they identify with underrepresented populations, e.g., the LGBTQ community?
- Do I ask non-judgmental questions to understand cultural norms and practices within those populations or cultures?
Relationship—The relationship between financial counselor or planner and client is foundational to a successful outcome. This research reminds us that listening is an easy way to build rapport with clients from different backgrounds. Also, we can make clients less resistant and less distrustful by minimizing command instructions, which can feel condescending.
Flexibility—When we include the client’s traditions and values in the recommendation, it makes them feel valued. It also improves the likelihood of adoption because it includes familiar elements. This research confirms that not all cultures share the same values or behaviors, so we must be sure to incorporate those cultural specifics in our recommended goals and objectives.
Article #2: Financial Management and Culture: The American Indian Case
by Sharon Danes, Jennifer Garbow and Becky Hagen Jokela
This study primarily considered how culture influences financial behaviors and outcomes. To do so, researchers examined the cultural view of financial concepts of rural American Indians from the Northern Ojibwe tribe. They found several differences from traditional financial definitions and assumptions. The researchers noted that cultural obligations and expectations could create demands on financial resources. However, these demands may not be recognized in mainstream culture. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend practitioners develop culturally sensitive financial education and counseling materials. These materials would improve diagnosis, increase retention, and ultimately encourage changes in behavior. Within the study, researchers attempted to apply the research findings to practice themselves. To do so, they adapted traditional budget worksheets to reflect cultural norms and differences.
Key Insights: Cultures define things differently
A key takeaway from this research is that traditional assumptions do not always apply to all cultures. This realization forced me to reexamine my assumptions. For example, women were the primary decision-makers and managers in the indigenous households included in the study. These roles appear very different from the traditional male head of household portrayed in mainstream society. The definition of family is different for this population. This was another important distinction. The nuclear family is not synonymous with family. The broader definition of family can require shared resources that we, as practitioners, should incorporate into our approach and recommendations.
Moreover, relationships, natural resources, and community services are important resources. In addition to money, these resources increase the means available to assist with financial concerns. Lastly, goals can be defined differently by different groups. Goals within this native community were not achievement-based; they were more focused on harmony and balance. Recognizing this would change the strategy for a financial counseling or planning session targeting a client from this community.
My Aha Moment: Practical applications
To reflect the cultural consideration, the researchers created an adaptive income and expense worksheet for the tribe. This worksheet reflected the cultural nuances found in their research . This approach can and should be adopted by practitioners in our field. It makes the client feel their culture and beliefs are respected and boosts adoption. We could modify interview questions, worksheets, presentations, or deliverables to reflect cultural nuances found within our client base. We could also incorporate culturally nuanced education materials and training for financial professionals to deliver within practices and educational institutions.
As financial outreach to underserved populations increases, cultural competence will be required to meet the needs of diverse clients. Both articles highlight the importance of encouraging and promoting cultural competence within our profession. They provide actionable items to support approaching our client interactions with a diversity and inclusion lens. Practitioners should adopt the techniques outlined in the research. This would ensure we are incorporating best practices and providing high-quality, personalized service to ALL our clients!