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Credit Union Training on Financial Behaviors, Emotions and Attitudes

HOPE Coalition - credit union trainingThe Issue: How to train financial services professionals to easily understand the emotional and behavioral side of finance to better relate to financial clients.
Who: Joanie Davis, Community Initiatives Director at United Way of Henry County and Martinsville.
What: The United Way of Henry County and Martinsville is part of the HOPE (Helping Others Progress Economically) Coalition. The asset building coalition includes financial institutions, government agencies, and civic and nonprofit organizations working to improve the economic self-sufficiency of low-income and low-wealth families and individuals. The United Way used Money Habitudes to do professional development workshops for its credit union partner. The United Way trained the credit union’s employees to better understand how habits, attitudes, values and emotions play into financial decision-making – and how to better relate to and serve clients.

  • The United Way facilitated “lunch and learn” workshops for the credit union’s employees at all of its branches. The credit union training was mandatory for employees.
  • Hour-long classes were based on doing and discussing the Money Habitudes activity to determine each employee’s own money personality type.
  • The credit union wanted to provide training that was new and out of the box. Most credit union training revolves around understanding technical concepts and numbers. However, this session was about understanding people. Being able to introduce emotions, behaviors, attitudes and money personality was new.
  • The goal of the workshops was to get the credit union employees to better understand how they see and relate to money in order to understand and relate better to the credit union’s customers. Ultimately, the workshops were designed to help the credit union employees improve member relationships.
  • “Financial professionals can dismiss clients because they’re different from you and you don’t understand them. Beyond just doing the cards and saying, ‘These are my Habitudes and you’re different from me,’ it’s a step further. It’s asking, ‘How does this affect my job? How do people respond to me? Do they think I’m judgmental? Is that why they don’t want to do business with me?'” says Davis.
  • Discussion raised questions such as: If you are a teller and have a dominant Planning Habitude and you’re dealing with a customer with a dominant Spontaneous Habitude, do you feel defensive? Does it lead to talking differently or interacting differently? How would you recommend financial products or services that would be a fit for that customer? “Learning about yourself as a financial professional and how you see money, you can get rid of the disconnect with the person you’re working with and open up the lines of communication and become more effective,” says Davis.
  • Davis made a chart of all the credit union employees’ dominant Habitudes. As so many of the employees had similar money personalities, it opened up discussions about how employees often saw and reacted to money one way while their customers would make financial decisions differently.
  • Feedback from the training was very good said Davis. A comment typical of the realizations people gained: “I realize now why I feel defensive when people come in with their iPhone and their brand new shoes and they’ve overdrawn their bank account three times at Burger King for $1.50. And I realize I need to check myself and be more understanding.”


  • “We’re trying to get everyone speaking the same language in our community with financial capability. Money Habitudes is one of many we use, but it’s the one that’s more emotional and touchy-feely – but without being too fluffy and forming a circle or doing a group hug or singing Kumbaya,” says Davis.

Making Financial Planning Classes Relevant and Engaging

financial planning classesThe Issue: How to get participants in financial planning classes to look at how and why they spend and save. Also, how to talk about money in a fun, non-threatening and engaging way.
Who: Robert Cain is an investment advisor in Scottsdale, AZ with Arque Capital Ltd.
What: Cain has used Money Habitudes cards in financial planning seminars and individual client meetings.

  • Cain runs a two-part financial planning seminar for prospective clients. Each of the financial planning classes is two hours. Class size is about a dozen. The fee for the class only covers per-person expenses.
  • Cain begins his financial planning classes by putting retirement in a life planning context. “When we think about retirement planning, we often think about saving money but the non-financial aspects are often overlooked,” he says.
  • In lieu of examining finances right off, participants evaluate their satisfaction and effort across 12 lifestyle dimensions. These include community/charity, family/relatives, spirituality/religion, spouse/romance, etc. Participants look for a gap that shows someone wants to do something but isn’t doing it.
  • Following the lifestyle evaluation exercise, Cain used to devote time to telling attendees about various opportunities available to them (such as which community organizations to seek out for volunteering, etc.). However, he replaced this section of his financial planning seminar – about 20 PowerPoint slides – with the Money Habitudes conversation starter. “I said in lieu of that, we’re going to play a card game,” he says. He still made the other information available to attendees to look at on their own.
  • Attendees had time to sort their own deck of the financial conversation starter cards and then go through the money personality self-assessment process. Cain allowed about 30 minutes for the ice breaker activity. “I explained to them that this kind of thing can help them understand why they behave the way they do with their money and it also helps me understand where their heads are when they meet with me. I get an idea of what kind of thinker they are. I thought it was definitely meaningful for them,” he says. He watched the instructional DVD to prepare for this portion of his financial planning classes.
  • Where attendees had no cards, Cain had them pay attention to the advantages of adding in benefits of that money personality category. As a financial planner, Cain knows part of his job is helping clients feel comfortable with their finances. This might mean showing them that they can take that trip or buy that new car.
  • Attendees got to take home their own deck of cards after the financial workshop to revisit the money personality profile. “They kept the cards so they could use them later on their own and maybe pull them out and do them with their kids or grandkids.”


  • Using Money Habitudes cards provides an energizing, interactive break from lecture-and-PowerPoint presentations typical of financial planning classes.
  • The financial conversation starter makes it easier and more natural to get to know a client. “It’s a good way to open up a conversation as opposed to just doing the interrogation, the fact-finding. It opens up a different category of thinking versus just ‘stocks and bonds,'” says Cain.
  • As a money ice breaker, the cards are non-threatening. “It’s like you’re not making a judgment. You’re letting the cards speak for them.”

Better Understanding Financial Planning Clients

Contact: Tony Owings, Certified Financial Planner, A.R. Owings Financial Strategies, an independent firm that works mostly on a fee-on-assets-under-management and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services
Situation: It’s important for financial planners to understand their clients, including how they see and use money and what is happening in their lives.  Owings uses the Money Habitude cards to replace or augment the other discovery methods and techniques he utilizes to get to know his clients.  It was important to Owings to not be known as a “product pusher,” but an advisor.
Who: Individuals and couples seeking financial advise as well as people that attend financial workshops set up by the local chamber of commerce.

  • Wants a process that puts clients at ease, creates a positive environment, gets them to talk freely and helps them share information about how they approach and use money.
  • Wants to develop a trust between the clients and the planner
  • Establish a supportive framework with which to express their hopes, fears and motivations without the discovery process feeling antiseptic like a set of forms or confrontational like an interrogation.
  • Allows the sharing of information from clients that may correct a planner’s incorrect assumptions of the clients.


  • Owings uses Money Habitude cards as part of his six-step financial planning process.
  • He uses the cards for different reasons with different people and introduces them in the process at different times depending on the situation.
  • During the few minutes when clients are sorting the 54 cards, Owings will hang back.  Yet, he remains an active part of the process.


  • We have an obligation to know our client. And you can’t know your client unless you are talking to your client.  And you can’t talk to your client unless they’re willing to.  And the Money Habitudes cards break the ice.
  • When they’re doing the Money Habitudes cards, they’ll be talking about the questions or laughing. And if they pull something out and they’re like, ‘This is me!’ then I’m going to make a note of that and probably talk about that one first instead of starting from the top of the pile. You can tell which ones hit them more,” Owings says. The broadly applicable statement cards lend themselves to him asking non-invasive, open-ended questions like, “You said this; that’s interesting. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about it?
  • The discussion might also reveal what people want to achieve with their money; maybe it’s saving for a child’s education or for retirement – or being afraid they won’t have enough for these circumstances.
  • The discussion that follows using Money Habitudes can better illustrate how people truly feel about money beyond filling out a yes/no questionnaire or relying on a less methodical conversation.
  • Money Habitudes provides a better gauge when he gets to the conversation with clients about how to invest their money.  This is a tool that will help me be able to put them in the appropriate investments to meet their long-term goal.

Observations and Comments:

  • How can you relate this to your practice to turn it into better sales? Where I would position it is along the aspect of ‘Know your client’ and ‘A better way of understanding your client for better compliance’ because if I’ve gone through the Money Habitudes and I’ve documented this with the clients, I’ve done more due diligence with that client in the first sitting than probably most advisors do with a client they’ve had for 10 years.

Better Understanding Yourself And Your Clients Regarding Money

Contact: Alan Frank is a financial educator and planner, serving as Financial Services Lead Instructor at Bow Valley College in Calgary, Canada
Situation: Teaching college students who are studying to become financial planners and clients who attend the classes and workshops he offers.
Who: College students, adults attending financial education or planning classes and private clients.

  • Prepare college students (who are studying financial planning) to understand how they personally see money and how that may influence the advice they offer.
  • Prepare college students to understand how and why people look at money differently.
  • To make it easier for individuals and couples to open up and talk about money.


  • One to two hour seminars/workshops using Money Habitudes cards to help people focus on how they see money and how they use it.
  • A typical seminars/workshops has 30 people, although he prefers the intimacy of smaller groups.
  • Often students/attendees keep their decks of Money Habitudes cards so they can share this very meaningful exercise with a partner.
  • Working with private clients.


  • The cards create a fun environment and provide a very engaging, relevant format so people open up without being threatened by talking about money.
  • Provide a non-judgmental way to find out clients’ attitudes about money.
  • Enable couples to see the others’ point of view about money and more easily discuss any differences they may have.
  • After gaining such newfound clarity about their finances and relationships in classes some attendees later ask him to work with them on an individualized coaching basis.
  • People seek small incremental changes about how they view and handle money after going through the Money Habitudes card process.
  • I’ve had people come up to me after class and say, ‘You know I really need to go home now and have a discussion with a spouse or a partner because this says a lot! This can be why we’re not talking or why there’s this divergence between what I think and what they think.
  • Realizing that individuals are not going to radically change how they view and handle money, I use the action tips form the Money Habitudes cards to help them make small, incremental changes. It may help savers loosen up their grip on money a bit and go out for a dinner or it may help spenders pass up a sale…

Observations and Comments:

  • This activity “an epiphany” for many.
  • Probably the strongest personal growth part of me doing those cards myself was to understand that I can’t transfer my thoughts, ideas and beliefs as a financial planner over to my clients. Just because I am geared and wired this way and believe this is important does not necessarily mean that my clients are wrong in the way they approach things. It was a great learning experience for me in a fun sort of way.
  • With couples, I really think you have to start the discussion by talking about what’s important to one another and to understand where each person is coming from. If you don’t do that, a budget’s not going to work.
  • We really use the cards to get people to open up. It is a fun environment so they’re very open in the classroom, probably more open than you would sometimes expect.
  • After doing the cards myself, I don’t find that I judge as much as I used to. I really just understand where the client is coming from.

A Life Planning Approach to Financial Planning

Contact: Steven Shagrin, CFP, has a law degree and started his career in finance as a tax accountant before spending twenty years as vice president for investments with Smith-Barney and Pain Webber.  As one of the pioneers of the life planning approach to financial planning, he started his own company, Planning for Life,  to reflect a more holistic financial planning style. He provides fee-only money coaching, retirement counseling and life planning.  He is also vice president of the Money Coaching Institute and is based in Walnut Creek, CA.
Situation: Meeting with private clients typically when they come in for the introductory meeting.
Who: Private clients (individuals and couples) coming to develop their financial life plan.  Although he mostly uses Money Habitudes with new clients, he will also use them with ongoing clients.

  • Tools help CFPs be more responsive to clients.  The profession is changing and clients now demand more from their advisors beyond recommending investment products.  More CFPs are spending time helping clients understand how their financial plans may be affected by psychological issues related to the role money plays in their lives (e.g. security, fear, status).
  • To build trust, start conversations, provide a safe way to talk about a difficult topic and make it more comfortable and interesting for the client.
  • As an easy and efficient way to more fully understand clients and their needs.
  • To understand where a client’s mindset is so planners can begin to explain their service offering from a perspective that’s acceptable and understandable to the client.


  • When new clients come in, to get them started he gives each person a deck of cards to sort (so a couple is doing it individually at the same time).  While they do the standard solitaire activity (which usually takes 10-15 minutes to sort the cards) he will use the time to review their file.
  • Once they are finished, they talk about the card sort and it begins the conversation.
  • Although he starts with Money Habitudes, he also uses a variety of tools with his new clients including the Money Coaching Institute’s Money Type Quiz and the Money Quotient Self Assessment.


  • It helps couples understand their differences related to money. Instead of fighting about each other’s money habits, Money Habitudes give couples a new perspective.  They can still disagree, but understand each other from a different point of compassion.
  • Whether it’s estate planning, planned giving or another facet of a client’s financial affairs, the cards help identify underlying, non-financial issues in the family dynamic such as divorce, health problems, trust and esteem issues, etc.
  • By using the cards its easy to see the red flags that can become part of the discussion to determine if a person or couple is a good fit for him and his practice.

Observations and Comments:
The usual process of getting to know one’s client is “woefully pitiful” says Shagrin. “On a new account form, they only require you ask: what’s your net worth, what’s your liquid net worth, how long have you invested in these different areas, and what’s your employment situation and tax rate. It doesn’t really ask how you think about money, how you make money decisions.” Even if people aren’t inherently comfortable talking about what they have and how they use it, they do want to feel like they’re understood when it comes to entrusting their life savings to someone else.
[The cards] are, on one hand, a trust-builder and conversation starter and, on the other hand, they are a way for me to more fully understand my clients and their needs….it makes for a better interaction and results in a relationship and advice that are more informed, more relevant and, ultimately, more appreciated.
If a couple is in a relationship where they don’t get along, just being in the same room with a planner talking about money, they may clam up.  I’ve been in circumstances where the husband did all the talking and the wife said nothing and then when I asked for some time alone, I’d ask her, ‘What’s going on?’ and she’d say, ‘He’s awfully controlling.’ I didn’t’ know how to deal with that then.  Now I can bring out the Money Habitudes cards and say, ‘This is interesting—there’s a disparity here.  What can you tell me about that?’  It makes it non-threatening because it’s an independent perspective from which they can view their present reality.
I’ve also used the Money Habitudes cards with clients I’ve worked with for a number of years.  The cards have helped couples to break a logjam in their planned giving and estate planning.
From a financial advisor’s prospective, where they [Money Habitudes] are very helpful is you know your client even before you decide to take them on.
Steven Shagrin: Three Client Stories
Jane was a client whose Money Habitudes card sort revealed an equal split with four cards each in Status, Targeted Goals, Security and Selfless. Not surprisingly, the story that came out was one of total frustration and total paralysis when it came to her managing her money. [Four cards is a dominant habitude and having more than one dominant habitude pulls a person in different directions.]
She related that she had been in real estate but quit and started working in a nursing home because the market was so bad. She’d been divorced for two years and the retirement funds from her settlement had dropped precipitously. Her son was now returning to school and she wanted to help with his tuition.
Every time she got a dollar in her hand she was torn about what to do. Because she had a comfortable framework to help her share her story, and because I could interpret her history within a financial context, I could approach her situation in a way far different from how I would have handled the same client if I were only working with a spreadsheet detailing her assets.
Robert and Elaine were in their late 70’s and had been working with me for more than five years.  They were currently dealing with a logjam in their planned giving and estate planning. Although they’d been married for more than 40 years, had plenty of money, and believed themselves to be very financially compatible, I asked them to try working with Money Habitudes.
They both had Targeted Goals as a strong, dominant.  In fact, they both identified with eight of the possible nine cards in that habitude, seven statements being common to both of them which is about as compatible as they could be with their dominant/primary habitude.  But their secondaries or next strongest habitudes were very different and that’s where I then focused my attention to resolve their impasse.
Her second-most-dominant Habitude was Selfless. She felt strongly that she wanted to help their grandchildren pay for college. By contrast, her husband’s secondary habitude came out as Security and it was very strong.  He was very hesitant to part with his money – even though the couple had more than they’d ever need.
It was only by doing Money Habitudes that I was able to help them understand their differences. When we started talking about the story behind that, that’s where it [his fear of not having enough money] came out. He had lived through the Great Depression and saw his family lose everything not once, but twice.  If I hadn’t used the cards, I don’t think that story ever would have come up.  With this context for their disagreement in their estate planning, the husband and wife were able to better understand each other’s motivations and I could frame a plan that appealed to both of them. Once I showed the husband how some giving options would affect the couple’s long-term cash-flow and cash-balance position – in order to satisfy the security need the client felt – the couple came to an agreement to give $10,000 a year to each of four grandchildren. It gave him much greater peace of mind.  They weren’t really arguing about money, since they both realized they had more than enough for their needs, but about ehst money represented to them emotionally.
Tracey and Will were separated and contemplating divorce. Will owned two sports bars.  After doing the cards he identified with Free Spirit and Spontaneous Habitudes. Will recounted a childhood where his father would come into money, lease a Cadillac and take the family to Florida.  Then leaner years followed. He learned: when you have money, use it and take advantage of it because you never know if you’ll get it again, so live for the moment.
Tracey was in nursing school and identified with Targeted Goals and Security. She  grew up with alcoholic parents and had to steal from their wallets to feed her siblings. For her, having money in reserve was one of the most important things and knowing where it’s going to come from and how it’s going to be spent was tied to her core survival.
They each found in the other person what they wanted for themselves until it began to drive them crazy about 15-18 years into the marriage.  When they played Money Habitudes it gave them a new perspective. Instead of fighting [about each other’s money habits], they could still disagree, but understand from a point of compassion.  It made for a very different and more effective conversation.