Financial Opportunity Centers: dialogue with financial coaches, clients & funders

financial opportunity centersThe Issue: How to create a productive connection between financial coaches and coaching clients at Financial Opportunity Centers. And how to demonstrate the intricacies of a financial coaching program to funders.

Who: Valerie Moffitt is a Program Manager with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in Toledo, Ohio.

What: Nationally, LISC supports Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) in many cities. In Toledo, there are three FOCs that are run by partner organizations. The centers are designed to offer integrated services in an asset building context: financial counseling and coaching, employment coaching, and income support counseling.

How:

  • LISC uses a financial coaching model in its Financial Opportunity Centers. The model is based on work done by the Center for Working Families and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Instead of prescriptive financial counseling, LISC’s model relies on coaches who help clients make their own choices and come up with their own solutions. “A coach asks more than they tell. A coach will ask you what you need and then ask the follow-up questions so you can figure out how to get there. And then they help hold you accountable to the plan or goals you set,” says Moffitt.
  • In Toledo, LISC has 8 full-time financial coaches who work at the three Financial Opportunity Centers. Each person has been certified as a financial coach after completing a 40-hour program offered by Central New Mexico Community College. Coaches work with about 200 clients per year. Moffitt says that, of these, about 40-50 clients will remain engaged for at least 4-5 coaching sessions.
  • The program equips coaches with a number of hands-on coaching tools, including life wheels, priority charts, visualization techniques and Money Habitudes cards. The cards help coaches initiate conversation with clients. They also help clients self assess their financial habits and attitudes.
    • “We want clients to understand what their values and their attitudes are and how those are – or are not – matching up with their behaviors. And sometimes people get really stuck or it takes a long time to develop that trusting relationship with your coach so Money Habitudes is one of the things our coaches use during their initial visits. It helps a coach facilitate an honest conversation with a client,” says Moffitt.
  • In addition, Moffitt says that LISC uses the cards to demonstrate to funders how the financial opportunity centers work.
    • When doing site tours, privacy constraints often restrict funders from seeing how financial coaching is actually delivered at the centers.
    • LISC’s financial model is more involved than simply teaching people money management in a class setting. One-on-one financial coaching is time-and resource-intensive; it’s important to convey to funders why supporting this coaching model is both worthwhile and more expensive than other less intensive services.
    • LISC helps FOC partners convey to funders how simply teaching skills or prescribing a financial to-do list may be easier and cheaper but end up being less effective. To help funders understand the challenging aspects of behavior change, LISC FOC partners walk them through doing the Money Habitudes money personality activity They are also exposed to the Beantown simulation.

Why:

  • “The Money Habitudes cards are a tool in the coaches’ toolbox. It really helps break the ice with clients and helps them see themselves. For a coach, after speaking with someone, you can come to an understanding of where you think they are; the Money Habitudes cards help them self-define and really show where they are. Then they can figure out those areas they need to work on with their behaviors,” says Moffitt.
  • “It’s hard to get funders to understand that we can’t deliver one-and-done service; when you look at our per-person costs, it can seem really high. And funders will ask, ‘Why can’t someone come into your office, you tell them how to spend their money better and they leave and there’s a good outcome?’ We really need to talk about the long-term behavior change that’s needed and, to demonstrate that, we can use the Money Habitudes cards to help funders recognize the challenges in their own behaviors and see things they might not have realized before. It really opens their eyes to why the process is so lengthy.”