Saundra Davis believes that financial coaching skills and financial planning go hand in hand. As a financial planner, you may be completely confident in the guidance you give to clients – but feel frustrated and lost time and again when they fail to follow your advice. This, according to Saundra, is where coaching comes in.

Coaching clients through financial decisions can inspire them to take action and pursue the financial life they desire. Evaluating how clients make decisions, and what could potentially stand in their way from making financial choices that serve them, can help financial planners to have a larger impact on the lives of their clients – and extend their impact for generations to come.

This conversation with Saundra will absolutely move you. As financial planners, we often focus on how we want to serve younger generations that often don’t fit the mold of “ideal client” for larger, established firms. Saundra’s take on financial coaching will inspire you to serve your existing clients better, extend yourself to be able to serve everyone, and grow the financial planning practice you’ve always dreamed about.

hannah's signature

 

 

What You’ll Learn:

  • Core financial coaching elements, such as how to get clear about what a client wants, the gap between what they want and where they are, and how to create a financial plan that can help them achieve their goals, regardless of their income or wealth
  • The importance of how we view our clients and the consequences if we don’t view them correctly
  • How financial coaching intersects with financial planning (hint: if you want to be a better financial planner, financial coaching skills are critical)
  • How to serve low income individuals through financial coaching in a way that focuses on asset building
  • How financial coaching connects us as financial planners to our deeper fiduciary duty
  • Where to “plug in” to conversations about financial coaching within the financial planning profession
  • The importance of bringing financial expertise to financial coaching
  • How to start coaching-based financial planning conversations with clients
  • How the financial planning profession can move forward into serving demographics that aren’t currently being served
  • How coaching can help you guide your clients to live the life they want
  • Motivation and inspiration – knowing what you provide and what the client provides
  • The power of motivational interviewing and how you can improve your client skill set

 

 

Show Transcript

Ep108 Transcript


Hannah: Thanks for joining us today, Saundra.

Saundra: Thank you. I’m glad to be with you.

Hannah: Okay, I am so excited to have you on this podcast, and I know it’s going to be so good. I want to talk about financial coaching. For the listeners, what is financial coaching?

Saundra: Financial coaching is a way of being with clients that supports them understanding what’s most important to them, how they live with their money, and how to align their financial choices with what matters most. Rather than be in the seat of their expert, I am actually their partner in excavating and designing a plan that is founded in their behavior choices.

Often, the role in my world is that I at any point in time of that engagement, we’re doing what’s called a dance, right? That client has an opportunity to explore more deeply. We call that discovery. Not discovery in the sense that you would as a financial planner, but the discovery is about the client’s reflection.

Not so much what they tell me about like this isn’t information gathering. It’s not the same. It discovery is a self-discovery about what really matters to you because as you know, I’m sure, is it’s very seldom about the money. My colleague, a very close colleague says, “People don’t have financial goals. They have life goals with financial implications,” and I really believe that to be true.

One of the things that we focused on as a financial coach is how do you align what you care about and what the money does for you with the plan and then your behavior? One of the reasons that financial coaching is a thing is that often you can create this amazing financial plan, all of the what fors, whys, all of the right stuff to do, and have a client that doesn’t follow it.

Often, that’s because it is not their plan and as a coach, I am not interested in being right or having the right plan for a client. I’m interested in that client reconciling, what they know and what they want, with what they do. When you think about the way of coaching, it is how am I going to be with that person as they go through this very iterative process, right?

It’s very seldom, if ever linear, how am I going to be with them as they claim their power around their financial choices, and then align their behavior with that power?

Hannah: One thing that stood out to me is it’s not about being right as a financial planner and that’s so countered to the training that we’ve got because we get tested on finding the best solution, but you’re really saying that maybe it’s not about the best solution. It’s about the client discovering what’s best for them?

Saundra: I’d say it’s both because I have to know what I’m talking about, right? This is one of the reasons that I have made such an impact on financial coaching as a profession is because I’m actually one of the first people, and actually maybe even the first, to say that a financial coach must be a financial expert. When you come from the life coaching field, which many people do, life coaching would say that you do not have to be an expert in the topic.

You coach the person not the topic. As a financial coach, I believe that that’s just flat out wrong. As a financial coach, you must coach the person and you must know the topic. It’s not that I don’t have to have the highest quality skillset, the highest knowledge level for my financial work. I have to know that because if not, I can actually coach someone into something that’s financially disastrous for them.

I have to know it’s what am I going to lead with. Am I going to lead with my knowledge or am I going to lead with my coaching skills? As a coach, I lead with the coaching skills and I apply my knowledge as appropriate based on where that client is. One of the challenges about comprehensive planning, which I believe is absolutely necessary is that we blurred out all of these things that client should take action on it.

Often, they get stuck because it’s just too much and it’s not that one thing is any more important than the other, but what coaching allows us to do is be in that relationship with the client to really figure out what is going to be a metaphor that Andrea White uses “the gas in the tank.”

What is going to be the gas in the tank that keeps that client moving even when they have competing financial goals, when they have financial struggles or things come up that they just don’t know how to cope with. Many people just give up and don’t execute their plan, but as the coach, I want to be able to bring the very best in my knowledge to bear in what moves them.

How does that client stay inspired? How do they set a target for themselves? Then carve out that pathway certainly with my expertise, but I have information they know themselves. How do I bring my information to bear with what they know about themselves to keep them moving in the direction that’s going to help them get where they want to go?

Hannah: Can you do financial planning outside of financial coaching like this financial coaching have to be an element of good financial planning?

Saundra: This is a rub because there are many financial planners who just want to crunch the numbers. They want to get the plan right. They want to get the numbers right and I believe that there is value in that. The challenge is if you’ve got the numbers right and your Monte Carlo simulations are right on and the client doesn’t execute the plan, what have you done?

The coaching is an opportunity for you to align what you know with what they do. I don’t think that everyone is going to be a coach nor do I think that that’s necessary. Many financial planners said I train either in my class at Golden Gate or at the Financial Fitness Coach certification, those planners are using the skills to support a higher level of discovery, a deeper level of discovery, a deeper level of action planning that the clients can actually own.

Notice I don’t use the words buy in that the client can own that come from them and then in that implementation piece, right, how do they actually do what they know to do? Now a lot of financial planners say, “Well, look the clients do that, they won’t need me anymore.” I actually see the opposite.

I believe that what happens is that you have such a trusted and deep relationship that you know them, and you understand them so well. You’re listening to them in a way that no one else does quite frankly, most it’s not even your spouses, right?

You have this engagement with them that they come to rely on you being able to help them see and reconcile their blind spots. Not only in the information but in their behavior, and rather being a shame face, though, yes, I know you told me to do this, not in the other, but I just couldn’t get to it, this happened or that happened.

They come with, “I got home, I tried to do it, and I just couldn’t get that done,” and then the coach will say, “Okay, so what’s up with that?” We are the accountability partner, not for shaming or blaming or judging, but for being there through the transitions and being there as you work through those parts of you that are ambivalent, right?

It’s like the example that I use in my classes is that I love being healthy, I love being strong. I know that I need to get up in the morning and I need to hit the pavement or get to the gym. My bed is so comfortable. I got one of these really cool pillows and like, what do I do when that ambivalence is there? How do I choose?

That’s what a coach does, right? It’ll help you to figure out how do you navigate those times when you’re not doing what you know to do. Many financial planners are using the skills along with their planning. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both and, and so learning those skills can certainly help with client communication.

It can certainly help with client inspiration. Again, I don’t use the word motivation because I don’t believe you can motivate another person. I believe motivation comes from within. I certainly inspire people and their motivation, I can help them tap into it, and then that’s my job, to help them tap into it, and then reflect back what I see.

If I’m working with a client that says, “Hey, yes, or I’m going to track my spending. I’m going to make sure that I’m doing this, that, or the other” and they’ve decided what they’re going to do. Then I say, “Okay, so what is our accountability plan? What support do you want from me?” What I want you to check in with me once a month and let’s take a look at where we are.

If they check in and they haven’t done what they said they were going to do, then my job kicks in, okay, so talk to me, what’s up? What do you want to do about this? Is this really something that’s important to you? If not, what’s the alternative?

We use techniques like motivational interviewing. We certainly look at the transtheoretical model of change around precontemplation and contemplation, and all the way through action. We use those skills and bring those skills to bear for the client’s benefit not so that I can be right, not so that I can have the best plan, but so that the client can honor their commitment to themselves, to create the financial life that they want.

Hannah: There’s a lot to talk about we do share this idea of client first and I feel like what you’re saying your client at the center. I feel like what you’re saying is taking that to a whole new level, but how do we keep the client at the center of everything that we do?

Saundra: Yeah. I think that that’s true. Here’s the thing, Hannah, most people join in this profession because they really want to do good work. They really want to help people live well with their money. They want people to have access to the highest quality financial planning that’s appropriate for them holding the fiduciary standard.

A lot of times helpers really think that we can change what someone else does and anybody that’s ever raised to teenager is really clear that you really can’t make anybody do anything that they don’t want to do. For me where the rubber meets the road around the coaching conversation is how do we get really, really clear about what you want.

Then how do we get clear about recognizing the gap between where you are and where you want to be, and building a plan that you are ready, willing and able to execute, and then be in your accountability support as you take those steps.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s a lot more than just saying here’s your list of recommendations going from that. Yeah, that’s kind of a thing. Maybe I know more about you than the listeners do right now, but one of the things that was fascinating to me about your answer on financial coaching was you didn’t put that to an income level.

Saundra: No. No.

Hannah: You had nothing in there about how much money you have to make and so much of what financial planning is right now is about serving high-net worth, high-income individuals. I know that’s not true with the work that you’re doing. Tell me more about your work. On your bio, it has you work with community-based organizations that focus on asset building for the working poor.

Saundra: Right, right. I am a career changer, I think you know that. I spent 25 years in the non-profit sector prior to becoming a financial planner and what that was about for me was I spent a lot of time helping non-profit agencies raise money. I was a grant writer so a grant writer and development director for 25 years.

I got to the point where I realized that it really didn’t matter what we did that unless people took charge of their financial choices irrespective of how little they had, nothing was going to change. It didn’t matter if we help them get a job, get a house, go to school, whatever, whatever we did. Nothing was going to change.

I was working with non-profit agencies that we had this revolving door of clients coming … The same clients coming back over and over again most often for the very same circumstance that they had been with us before. To be quite frank, I knew nothing about money, nothing. I did not know what a financial planner was. I cannot, honestly, say I had ever even heard the term.

I was noticing that I knew nothing about money. I was making every bad financial decision possible. My family was making every bad financial decision possible and I just woke up and just realized that, you know what, everybody I know needs this. Everybody I know needs to understand how people who are wealthy acquire, build, and transfer their wealth.

Everybody I know needs to know how to do that. I was talking with my partner one day and he says, “Well, why don’t you be a financial planner?” I’m like okay, you do realize that I’m the person who took bone-head math because I was afraid to take the placement exam.

Yeah, seriously, that’s no joke. That’s no joke. That’s a whole another story. I started reading about what a financial planner was and it’s just so strange. I graduated from my undergrad at Golden Gate and I looked at Golden Gate. It’s so funny how things happened.

I have gotten an e-mail from Golden Gate and I have looked at their masters programs, and there was a master’s in financial planning. I started looking into it and I decided, okay, I’m going to take a run at it, and I did. I was the 2006 Financial Planning Student of The Year and I was volunteering at an organization in San Francisco that did what you call “Individual Development Accounts.”

At that time, they were very, very popular because it would help people who are working poor save for an asset so rather than just … I tell people I’m not in the business of helping poor people be for comfortable being poor. This was about how do you build? How do you increase your resources to be able to change the trajectory of your family and even your community?

We built the practicum class at Golden Gate University with some persuasion and a really good lunch at a Japanese place in San Francisco, who we were very fortunate to get Dave Yeske to be our first instructor at the practicum back then. We had the class at Golden Gate. I was volunteering at EARN. We were building this program and the idea was to bring comprehensive financial planning to low-income people.

Back then no one was doing that, right. No one even felt it was necessary. Everybody felt that poor people just managed the budget and stop buying television and Nike shoes, everything would be fine. I had the belief then as I do now that unless people manage every dollar and every dime particularly if you are poor. Nothing will ever change, and so that’s what I started doing.

I became very involved with the Financial Planning Association’s pro-bono committee, built a pro-bono boot camp, and really went all in on being very active with making financial planning full service, comprehensive financial planning accessible for people who traditionally would not receive those services.

It was a very exciting time, a very challenging time, but I decided at that point to keep my focus on that population. Now, of course, that meant I was working for a long time, but I’ll tell you, I absolutely have no regrets. The way that I did that is I had bought a home in 2000, and I took out a home equity line of credit, put myself through school.

I had two years’ worth of income to survive on before I was able to start making a living, and that’s how I did it. Yeah, I still have a mortgage and I still have a couple of student loans, but I am living the life that makes my heart beat fast. I’m serving the people who need me the most and there are now financial coaching programs all over the country.

I have a lot to do with that and I am really proud of that work. The piece of it that I’m most proud of is that I refuse to accept a standard that says you can be a financial coach without being an expert. I believe that irrespective of how little you make, you deserve to have access to competent and ethical financial planning.

I’ve been really fortunate I’ve had mentors that Dave Yeske, Kacy Gott, Elissa Buie, Holly Gillian-Kindel has been right by my side as I have gone through this journey, and then I’ve gone to classes. Ted and Brad Clotch, Rick Keller, all of the work around the human side. Who we are and what we do?

I just have made a really strong commitment to make sure that low-income, moderate-income folks have access to that level of support. Now, the CFPB, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, has a financial coaching program that’s have 60 coaches all around the country serving this exact population, and I’m really proud of that.

There’s a lot of really experience financial planners and brand new financial planners who are volunteering to do work with that population. It’s necessary and one thing I do want to say before we go on to the next thing is that my very first client, I served her with a sliding scale. She was really broke, really, really broke.

She was the first person in her family to go to college. She actually became a physician and she had so much student loan debt. She was really, really in financial struggle. It literally took us a year, one full year to get budget. She kept having emergent season and tailor.

Yeah. It took us a really long time and after about a five-year engagement of just annual, quarterly check-ins, quarterly for check-ins but then annual goal setting. Now she’s a home owner and she has moved to another state. She’s a home owner, doing the work that she loves. She has a child now. She is living the life she wanted.

When we met, she literally was so upside down on student loan debt, a car that wasn’t reliable, living in a place that was not safe. When those things happen, you know that you are kind of in this sweet spot where you could help people bridge a gap that they felt they were always going to be on the wrong side of.

Those kinds of things just keep me inspired and motivated to keep doing what I’m doing, which is how I ended up talking up to you, I guess, right?

Hannah: We talk about financial planning being so powerful. You helped guide her, though, to a place in her life that she may not have ever gotten to.

Saundra: Thank you for noticing. That was a coaching moment you just had there, Hannah, because you were ready to say I changed her life and you’re right, I did not. She changed her life.

Hannah: Yeah.

Saundra: She changed her life because I saw her-

Hannah: Yeah.

Saundra: For who she was and I stayed with her through all of the bumps. I reflected back to her when she was not honoring her commitment to herself and I held her accountable based on what she said she wanted from me. Now we might talk once every couple of years. She doesn’t need me anymore.

Now, when she needs to talk … What I did because I’m not a CFP, what I did was connected her with someone who helps her manage her assets now. She doesn’t need the work she did with me anymore. Now she needs a CFP, and that’s what she has. She is doing her life now in a different way. Now she is going to pass this knowledge down to her child.

She has a different way of being with her parents and her siblings and her cousins, and all of the people who had this perpetual mindset of poverty before we met. Those are the things that I strive for. I am charged with, I believe, making sure that people know that they get to design their journey with money, and then I’m with them as they do that.

Hannah: How powerful of the courage where you said is? You are helping generations of families like it’s not just … Like what you what you said it’s not just her, it’s generations of families totally different.

Saundra: Yeah. That was what drew me to the profession. I choose to work mostly with low and moderate-income clients, but I’ll tell you, there are just regular, every day folks, that the Garrett Planning Networks serves well.

That many financial planners don’t seek out those plans because they don’t have assets to manage, but that’s the majority of the people. That’s the majority of the people in the world and I’ll tell you when you look at all of the robo advisers popping up and all of the ways that people are starting to engage with financial planning now, there’s a huge need.

There’s a huge need for work place financial planning. There is a huge need for how to do you plan your way out of student loan debt. All of those things are crucial, and I will not mislead people. I did not make big bucks doing this. I had to be very thoughtful about the life that I wanted and what I wanted that to look like.

I tell people all the time, I keep my needs small so that my wants can be outrageous. That’s how I do this. That’s how I’m able to do this, but that’s because I know what’s important to me. It’s important to me to live my work life in a way that’s satisfying. I’m sure I could work more and longer and harder and all of those things and make more money, but that’s not what I want for my life at this stage.

If I were younger, if I had joined this profession that in my 20s, maybe even 30s, I might feel differently, but I’ve joined this profession at 44. I had to look at what was my trajectory going to be. I joined this profession. I changed careers at 44 because I knew I was not going to have enough to retire.

I had to find something that I loved that I could do well into my 70s because I knew I would have to work that long. This has been just that for me. I am closer to 60 than not, right? I’m really, really clear that I can do this as long as my brain holds up. I really love what I do.  Every single day I love what I do.

It makes a huge difference whether I’m standing in front of a room of a hundred people who are doing their own planning because I do some client-facing workshops or whether I’m doing train the trainers where I’m training other people of how to use coaching skills for their clients.

It just doesn’t matter which one of those I’m doing. It’s a very satisfying way of being for me as a professional.

Hannah: How do we serve the working poor? How do we serve demographics that traditionally financial planning has not served well? Is that through that non-profit space or what is, for a lack of a better way of asking this, what’s the business model around that? That you found like- what works?

Saundra: Yeah. I can say what works for me and then I can say what I think works in general. I would hear the chatter about the Garrett model doesn’t work and you can’t make a living that way. I don’t think that that’s true.

I think that what happened happens a lot is that people don’t self-manage and that’s another core coaching skill, right? If I know that I’m only hired to do X, Y, Z, and I do A, B, C, D, and X, Y, Z, I know I’ve created the problem.

For me the business model is number one to be very, very clear about what I’m going to offer you and price it fairly. Now I have a sliding scale. I started out with one and I still have one today. People who make less pay less and they understand that as they make more and as they are in a better financial situation, they will pay more.

That client I described for you when we started out, she was paying me 25 bucks an hour. By the time we were finished, she was paying 250 bucks an hour. I believe that that is absolutely manageable. Now what that means is that I have to have enough clients at that high end of the scale to know how many I can do at the low end of the scale.

I keep that clear, right? I’m very clear with myself about that. What can I afford to do? Then there’s also one of our planning colleagues said to me, work doing high-net worth clients and do pro-bono for the clients who are working poor that you wanted or sliding scale that way.  That’s certainly an option.

This is one of the things that I just love about our work, I do believe that while we are not magicians, financial planners are magical. Financial planning is magical. We can change the trajectory of how people view money. I just don’t believe that there is anything more powerful in the financial space than being able to help people see themselves in a way that they never did before around how they live with their financial choices.

We can do small groups like I do a group … There’s a group of black women that I work with in the San Francisco Bay Area in the east bay. The reason that I hone in on the ethnicity of the group is I’m a black woman and it’s really important to me to stay connected to black women in particular having access to high quality support, right?

That’s fiduciary. That is accountable and that is accessible for them. There’s a group of 10 women and they get together and they check in quarterly. I provide the knowledge base and they provide the accountability support.

There are all kinds of ways that we can do this. Now, I don’t charge them because that’s part of my give back, but I know a lot of people that do. You can charge them a sliding scale and you can charge them a flat rate. There are all kind of ways to do this.

The ways are only as limited as our imaginations are. The reason that I do this specifically in the black community is that the black community is traditionally been left out of this conversation, the wealth conversation. When you look at closing the racial wealth gap in those kinds of things that’s a priority for me and so I make sure that I do that work in my community, which keeps me inspired even when it’s tough or even when people fall off and they do.

There are ways that we can do this for the working poor, but I would say that accountability and a commitment to excellence doesn’t change based on who you’re working with. I don’t care whether it’s someone who has a lot of money or someone who has no money. The way I treat them and the way I work with them is the same.

Hannah: Can you talk more about that? Because I know in our conversation before we started here to record, you had such wisdom on that point of how do we treat the person in front us, the client?

Saundra: Yeah. Yeah. The client is the expert in their own life and I treat them as such. I have information, but I don’t know them. They know themselves. When I’m spending time with them, when we’re in our discovery conversations, and we are in our visualizations or we’re looking at or exploring what they want for themselves, I honor them and hold them as the expert in their own lives.

I recognize that my role is to be their best advocate for what they say they want. Even if that sometimes advocating with them to stand up for themselves in what they want, but they are the leaders. They decide the topic. They decide the phase and there is no judgment.

It’s completely a no shame zone with me and I hear them and accept them exactly where they are. The very first time I heard this, I know it’s in the motivational interview, but the very first time I heard this was with Ed Jacobson, which really resonated with me.

He said to me, right, because it’s just so he was … I was the only one in the room. In this big whole room of people, he said, “If you cannot hold your clients in perfect positive regard, you have not earned the right to work with them.”

When he said that, that touched me so deeply because I believe that that’s where we missed out so much. We talked about clients being a non-compliant and all kinds of unflattering and I would even say degrading ways when they don’t do what they should do.

I think that we have to think about how do we hold them with empathy? If we are financial expert and we are good with money, that’s terrific, but what if there’s an area in your life that you are not as good as doing what you know you should do? Do you want someone to talk to you in a way that is demeaning or undermining?

I just think it’s so important that we are very thoughtful of holding them in perfect positive regard and if we can’t make a referral because it’s just not fair. It’s not fair to do that. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have an accountability. That’s what they come to me for.

They come to me because there is a gap between where they are and where they want to be. We work on that, but even in that I hold them as the expert in their own lives. I support them in honoring standing up for that part of themselves, that part of their children, their grandchildren that they want to show up for in how they live with their resources.

I listened. I do a lot of listening. I was telling people that when you’re coaching, you are actually listening 80% of the time and talking 20% of the time. I wonder how many financial planners would be able to meet that statement.

Again, like you said, it’s how we’re trained. We believe that people come to us for answers. I believe people come to us to ask them the questions that they don’t know the answers to so that they can figure out the answers with our help.

That’s how I view that someone I’m thinking about, how I work with a client. I’m their partner in the process. They are not accountable to me. They are accountable to themselves with me as their witness. They get to decide. They get to decide.

Hannah: In your meetings with the working poor, what are the issues that you are addressing? What are the common issues?

Saundra: Honestly, the most difficult is remembering what they really want. When you have felt thwarted in achieving what you want for whatever reason, external, your own limitations, whatever. It’s very easy to forget what your goals are. I tell people all the time that there are a lot of judgments around why people are poor and what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing.

I say that it is not surprising that someone who believes that they will never get their goal, they’ll never be able to buy the home that they want or never be able to put their kids through college or never be able to do those things. It’s very easy to say, you know what? I’m going to drive through McDonald’s and we’re going to buy a little bit of happiness.

Hannah: Yeah.

Saundra: We are going to have a little bit of happy today. I want to see my kids smile.  I’m going to put these $100 Nikes on my child so that my child doesn’t have to feel as poor as I do. We make a whole lot of assumptions about people and what drives them. What I think we need more of is to have fewer assumptions and more listening, knowing how to be with people in their discomfort.

There’s a very high cost to being poor in this country. If you don’t have a bank account, you end up using check cashiers and pay their lenders and really predatory financial products and services. If you don’t have an emergency fund and you are one flat tire away from an emergency, you run the risk of not being able to get to work or go into debt to get to work.

There is just so many things that people who are experiencing poverty have to deal with and if they are on any kind of public benefits, if they have food stamps or SSI, or things that are supposed to help them have a safety net, and they save.

I think right now the asset limits are $2,250. If you can imagine being a family of four, but if you save more than $2,250, you lose your food stamps. With $2,000, have you feeling secure enough to give up food stamps?

Hannah: Not at all. Yeah.

Saundra: Yeah, exactly. They have what’s called an asset means test and those asset means test keep people in poverty because if I’m trying to help them save to stabilize themselves as soon as they hit that threshold, they lose the very things that help them stay stable.

Those are the really biggest challenges because then people have to either lie to me or run the risk of getting the stability they seek because they lose their benefits. It truly is a Catch 22. My job is to help them navigate these very tenuous situations.

That if they are on a path way to saving, if they are finally able to open a bank account and finally able to save a portion of what sometimes is a very decent sized tax return, are they in a position where they in a position where they can afford to give up those benefits?

Just so much goes into being able to help people navigate systems that are quite frankly designed to crush them. It’s called a safety net, but the fact is what … Think about it? If you look at the gift tax exclusion for wealthy people, how much can they transfer now without any consequence-

Hannah: Right.

Saundra: What is it?

Hannah: Fifteen thousand? Yeah.

Saundra: Fifteen now? Yeah, but some poor people can save too. My contention is, all right, let’s make the asset means test if we are going to have one, and I understand why we have them. You don’t want to be using public benefits for people who are wealthy. I get that, but at least make it match the gift tax exclusion.

Then that way people can actually build enough of a buffer. They can build that three to six-month worth of emergency fund. If they lose their job, they are not back on welfare. They are not back in public benefits, right? I’m saying if we’re going to have a system that to help people out of poverty, let’s make sure it’s really helping.

Then make sure that there is those of us who care about this that really can help people be wiser with their choices so that they have a path way. I really do believe that financial planning is a path way, but you’ve got to not only have access, you have to have assets.

How do you help people do that? I do believe that it is possible. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen at United. Look, if I were not seeing a change in people being able to do this, I wouldn’t be doing this for, what I’m going on … how many years, 12 years now? I wouldn’t keep beating my head against that wall if I didn’t see that it was possible.

I see kids who because of what we did they are often college now. I see parents find homes who were priced out of the rental market. I see magical things happen when people are able to connect their drive with the support of someone who cares and someone who is knowledgeable.

To me that’s what financial planning is all about, right? We … Financial planners bring something that just no other profession does. What we do, and I don’t really consider myself a financial planner at this stage. I strictly do coaching and I would not be doing financial planning without a CFP frankly.

This is the path I’ve chosen. For me I do everything from financial education to financial coaching and then I refer when there’s a need for planning and/or financial therapy. I’m a firm believer in that continuum, financial education, financial counseling, coaching, planning, and therapy.

I believe that is the continuum. That’s the one that I support. I do what I do. I stay in my lane. When someone needs a referral for investments and many people who come up through my ranks, clients who come up through the point where I’m a one person right here at Treasure Island.

They went through their programs, was homeless, went through some of their programs, and it’s now making 10k a month. Now, they need a financial planner. I’m really proud of that work. I’m proud to know so many financial planners who meet me there.

They will do a short-term engagement to get people started. They will do a package that is accessible and affordable for people. I’m really grateful for that. I’ve got several planners around the country who I can turn to when I’ve got clients who are ready for them.

I view financial coaches as getting the clients ready for planning and financial coaching as a skillset for financial planners who really want to fine tune their client communication and really want to fine tune their skillsets around helping clients actually implement their plans. Did I answer your question at all?

Hannah: I have more questions now.

Saundra: Okay, sorry.

Hannah: It’s something like I don’t even remember what the question now. I know we just had too many conversations with planners especially new planners who … Let’s say I got into this because I want to help people and I want to help people like back home where is this who want to help people who are like me, like my family? Not just million dollar plus or whatever that will be. What would be your advice to them?

Saundra: The first piece I would say is try to avoid treating it as either/or. You really can do both. Your expectations of yourself have to be in alignment with what your needs are. If you can carve out a niche for yourself that if kind of like what I did, sure, go all in. if you have to do both, don’t abuse yourself about it.

Be gentle with yourself particularly if you are a new planner. Everybody told me I was never going to make a living doing this. They were wrong. They were wrong. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you have to do to make a living. You get to decide and you might have to make some sacrifices.

You might have to go some places with your professional skills that you didn’t know you had to go but decide what you want to do for the people who are like you.  Build your skillset for them. Build the connections with the local community-based organizations.

That you can have good solid referrals when they need more help then you can offer. Be realistic about what you can offer. You will not change someone else’s behavior and I’ll tell you what team coaches told me.

It is not easy to turn need into demand because we look at our families and you look at our communities and we say, wow, everybody needs this. Then we do a class or we do something that we’re all excited about and two people show up. It’s like, wait, everybody, when I’m talking to them, they say, “I want it. I want it. I want it,” but you know what? Change can be challenging for people. You got to meet him where they are and you may not be ready that’s about you. That’s not about you saying, “Okay, well, I’m never doing that again,” that’s not okay.

What else? What else can I do to be there with my people as they travail, traverse this very bumpy road, right? Decide what you’re willing and able to do, and the do that thing. It might be pro-bono. It might be low cost. There are many, many ways to do it, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. That’s a personal decision.

If you decide not to, that’s a personal decision. There is nothing wrong with that either. I don’t begrudge people who choose to work with high-net worth clients, that’s where your inspired. It’s just now what I choose. There’s value on both sides. How do you do what makes your soul sing?

How do you do the work that makes your soul sing and not out of guilt or obligation or any of those things? Out of knowing that what you bring to your community has the power to turn things around in ways that truly nothing else can. Not even the lottery, right? What you can do as a financial planner in communities that are struggling is deeper and broader than what anybody else can do. You have to take good care of yourself because you’re an asset. You have to bring that part of yourself and be mindful to not burn out.

When you asked about, is a non-profit sector the way? Maybe. Maybe, but you just want to make sure that you don’t burn yourself out because you’re an asset. You’re offering your strengths and your commitment to them in a way that lifts you up and brings them with you.

Hannah: The other piece we talked about was coaching and if you aren’t you say called to working with the working poor or you aren’t making that decision to work with the working poor, but you want to be better a financial planner by being better at coaching. Where do you go or what would be your advice to that person who is listening?

Saundra: Yeah. There is a couple of things. There is a coaching class at Golden Gate, which I’m very, very proud of. My students have given amazing feedback about what it is meant for them. I’m not very good at getting that pollster, but I work on that. Yeah. I need a social media guru. There are classes you can take, but here’s the thing, reading about it is nice, but it’s coaching is better experienced than talked about. Either work with a coach where you have it someone coach you.

I’ve got a new thing that I’m doing now, executive coaching for financial planners and it’s for that very reason. They don’t … They’ve already got their CFP. They maybe already have their masters. They don’t necessarily want to take a class. I do that and then there is also the financial fitness coach as a certification. Now, if you don’t need another certification, you can take it as professional development. We’ve got a lot of CFPs that do it that way. Some of them go on and get the certification. Others have them take the training. The training as a practical approach. You have to do the work.

You don’t get the badge. You don’t get the certificate … the certification without doing the work. You actually do practice. That’s really what made me how I am as a coach. Reading about it is great but doing it is different and being able to truly dance in the moment is not something that you can read about and do. It’s something that you have to practice.

There are many ways to do it. There are a lot of coaching programs. The reason that I built what I built was that life coaching classes are not quite rigorous enough in my view for financial topics. I like what they do. It’s nice. It’s very feel good and I’m a San Francisco hippie. You might have picked up on that, but I don’t think it holds the level of rigor that I think is necessary for financial planning. For financial planners, who want to bring coaching, I think it’s a different skillset.

There are some things like motivational interviewing is a big deal. I think Ted and Brad Clotch have the financial behavior specialists that’s learning about it, but not the actual practice. There are many ways to learn how to bring these kinds of skills. Rick Keller does some work in this area as well. There are many ways to learn about it, but there are fewer ways to actually practice it. I would say that quite frankly that’s the reason I built what I built.

Hannah: It’s so good. What is the name of your program again?

Saundra: Yes. I do my program in partnership with the AFCPE and the program is called “Financial Fitness Coach” or FFC is the actual certification. It is a certification not a certificate. There is ongoing professional development and demonstration of the skills. It’s not just taking class and getting the thing. You actually have to demonstrate the skills.

There is Financial Fitness Coach. There is accredited personal finance coach, which is a higher level. It’s a deeper dive into coaching skills. For most financial planners to be honest doing the financial fitness coach work whether they choose to do the certification or not.

Usually it’s very helpful and then they can decide whether or not they want to go all the way. Many people just take module one, which is the coaching essentials. They take module one, decide whether or not it’s something that they want to go further in. Coaching has nothing to do with income. Coaching skills can be used at any aspect of your practice. The place that I find it most relevant are in discovery, implementation, and accountability for financial planners if you are going to advice.

It also helps you give advice in a way that is more accessible for the client. It doesn’t take away your role as the expert. It expands your ability to hold the client as the expert in their lives with you being the expert in financial planning and putting those two things together for the client’s highest invest.

Hannah: Any final thoughts, Saundra, as we wrap up?

Saundra: Yes. I have to say I have really been impressed with what I’m seeing with this next generation of planners coming through the work that x, y is doing, and Next Gen was new when I first joined. I’m so impressed with this generation of planners whether it’s not an age thing.

It’s coming into the field thing, the rigor and the standards that you’re holding yourselves to and the desire to help people of all financial situations is just really inspiring and gives me a lot of hope. I want to thank you for doing this and making sure that you’re giving people a way to find their way. I remember … I’m just glad I was as old as I was when I came into the profession because I didn’t let people tell me you can’t do it.

If people don’t get anything else from listening to me, what I hope you get is that you get to do it the way you want to. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t. You might have to fix it yourself. You might have to make it yourself. We might have to build it yourself. If you do, just make sure that is what you want. Make sure that every decision you make broadens rather than minimizes your options. Whether it’s getting that degree … It drives me nuts to see people say, “Don’t take out student loans, don’t do this.” You know what? Do what you have to do to get what you want.

I took out student loans at 44 years old to create the life that I want and I’m still paying them. You know what? I am not upset about paying those loans not one bit. I have the life I want. I would have not done that had I listen to what other people said that I should or should not be doing.

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