Promoting Diversity to Improve Financial Education
• Mac Gardner • June 22, 2021
As part of our ongoing focus on financial wellness, I recently moderated a panel discussion with four financial professionals where we talked about some of the barriers to improving financial education.
Something that came to light during this discussion was the need to ensure diversity—in the financial planning profession, in the clients being served, and in the types of services offered.
Relating Through Shared Experiences
Panelist Anjali Jariwala, CPA, CFP®, Principal and Founder of FIT Advisors, provided an important observation about how diversifying the pool of financial professionals helps ensure a diverse audience of clients is being reached:
“Advisors are a guide—they are not the decision-makers in the [advisor/client] relationship. Educated clients feel empowered and are more likely to hold themselves accountable. That’s why it’s important for the profession to have a diverse field of advisors because the way we relate to clients is through our shared experiences. Having the shared experience helps facilitate those conversations and that education building. If a client has emotional barriers around money (such as fear of money), a lot of that can be alleviated through the planning process. Only when those barriers are removed, and the education is there, can they feel financial wellness.”
She went on to add, “Part of the barrier is that people have different learning types, they have different comfort levels, and they have different needs. We need diverse advisors so they can understand people and make that connection. Most people pick their advisor based on likeability. Advisors may think it’s because of their expertise or technical competence but at the end of the day it’s because they talked to me and they liked me.”
Panelist Jedidiah Collins, CFP®, Founder of Money Vehicle, agreed that sharing a relatable story is one of the best ways he has found to reach clients who may not fully understand financial concepts.
“Meet people where they are. I was getting all kinds of questions from [football] teammates about money but found that if I explained using financial concepts it went over their heads. So, I started using stories to explain instead. I realized that if I tell a story that takes the current time, a passion that the client shares, and things they understand, I can then bring in the complicated and complex situations around money and finances to help them understand.”
Diversity Through Accessibility
Gaining access to financial professionals is also a challenge for diverse audiences. Clients are not only looking for someone with whom they feel comfortable opening up about their financial lives, but they also need to find someone who will work with them on their specific needs.
Panel member Marguerita Cheng, CFP®, RICP®, CSRIC®, Founder of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, shared this view about accessibility:
“Access is very important—not just accessibility in terms of being able to work with people who relate to you in terms of gender, race, or ethnicity, but access in the context of awareness of what a financial planner actually does. As financial professionals, we must make our message accessible. Don’t talk over people or down to people—talk with them. Ensure you are doing the work for your clients, with their complete buy-in and assistance.”
Ms. Jariwala reiterated the importance of accessibility while also introducing another aspect of diversity:
“When it comes to access, diversity is key, diversity not only of advisors but also in the types of planning being offered. It’s important that people do different kinds of financial planning including courses, individual coaching, and group coaching. It means that when people are ready to take that leap into improving their financial literacy there is a platform they are comfortable engaging with. That they can find one that speaks to them and resonates with them. If they don’t feel that they are connected with the process/person/journey, they aren’t going to have success. If they don’t have this, it creates more barriers because then they are turned off by the process and feel that is wasn’t an inclusive environment for them.”
Listening Brings Understanding
It’s no secret that a big part of financial planning revolves around listening to the financial hopes and dreams of your clients. Listening is especially important when trying to understand the diversity of experiences that are impacting your client’s financial success.
Dr. Preston Cherry, CFP®, President and Founder of Concurrent Financial Planning and Assistant Professor of Financial Planning at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay, finds success in asking questions clients have never heard before:
“People love being heard. When I hear a client say, ‘I’ve never been asked that,’ or ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that,’ I know I am reaching them on a new level. I like to help my clients create what I call their AAA moment when learning about their financial lives. A—Admit where you are, your current situation. A—Acknowledge your feelings about where you are—these feelings might include shame or guilt but you must process those. A—Action: What will you do to change the situation? It could be a six-month process or a six-year process—it’s a journey. In completing their responses, they are bringing together their past, present, and future selves in that story. One of the barriers is belief—believing that you can, believing that you want to, believing that you aspire to, believing in your aspirations, and believing that you have the wherewithal to engage with your finances.”
Improving Financial Education Improves Lives
Improving financial education has to become a priority, notes Ms. Cheng.
“It’s [financial education is] always important, but recent events have highlighted the necessity for all communities to have access to objective financial advice. There isn’t a single aspect of our lives that isn’t affected by money so it’s important that we all take the opportunity to talk about money and respect everyone’s money experiences. Just because we didn’t engage in these conversations in the past, does not mean we can’t make a difference in the future.”
As financial professionals, we strive to help our clients achieve financial wellness through ongoing education and planning. Dr. Cherry summed up the correlation between financial education and wellness very succinctly when he stated, “You need life and money aligned to feel wellness. When life’s design is leading your money—and not your money leading your life—it feels better.”
The education you provide to your clients as you work together to create a financial plan can have a far-reaching impact that goes beyond that individual client. Improving your client’s financial life has a ripple effect for generations to come. For more observations on the importance of diversity in financial education and overcoming the barriers that can get in the way, I encourage you to watch the full panel discussion in our on-demand webinar.
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