Many Americans who enjoy economic stability likely were lucky enough to get the “money talk” at key points in their lives. They received advice and guidance that helped them establish healthy financial behaviors and build strong futures.
LISC believes luck should have little to do with acquiring knowledge and skills to successfully navigate a complex financial system. That’s not something that should be left to chance.
Through strategic, integrated services at its Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs), LISC provides financial coaching to help low- to moderate-income people achieve goals. LISC’s national network of more than 80 FOCs, including two in Phoenix, help individuals figure out the direction they need to go for upward mobility.
“It’s almost like a financial consultant,” said Dominic Braham, assistant program officer for LISC Phoenix. “High-wage individuals have that. … No matter where you’re at on the financial spectrum, (financial coaching) can be beneficial for you.”
April is national Financial Literacy Month, which seeks to promote public awareness of financial education. It’s also a good time to acknowledge that limited financial capability creates challenges to individuals and communities.
Wells Fargo and State Farm each awarded grants to LISC to expand the FOC network in multiple cities. Phoenix is one of those cities benefiting from portions of both grants. Caterpillar Foundation was an early supporter of FOC pilot sites in the Valley.
LISC finds service-oriented community organizations to implement core FOC components of providing clients income support, employment counseling and financial coaching. FOCs receive technical assistants and training for staff, data collection tools, and professional networking. LISC measures success through numbers showing reduction in debt, increased savings and high credit scores.
The two LISC Phoenix FOCs — HonorHealth Desert Mission and the International Rescue Committee — see daily the impact low financial acumen has on the people they serve. Desert Mission and IRC have different clientele, but the same FOC bundled services model is put to effective use.
G’Kyshia Hill Hughes is outreach manager at Desert Mission, one of Arizona’s longest continuously running social-service organizations. In January, Desert Mission added the FOC to complement other programs that address social determinants of health.
Hill Hughes said the FOC is a Desert Mission effort to help unemployed or underemployed clients who don’t have enough income to meet their expenses. Many would enter the Desert Mission system through its food bank; some weeks later they would be back in the same bad spot, she said.
The Desert Mission FOC, which has enrolled 50 people this year, is folded into its housing program and operates in conjunction with income support and employment services. Hill Hughes said it helps clients understand how a healthy relationship with money impacts their lives and raises comfort levels in dealing with financial institutions. If people don’t trust banks, they aren’t setting themselves up to build lines of credit and they are limiting what they can do in the future, she said.
Desert Mission found the LISC FOC method of integrating services and its focus on motivational support — coaching vs. counseling — compelling, Hill Hughes said.
“Coaching is more proactive,” she said. “It really puts the client in the driver’s seat for what they want and what they’re willing to do to get it.”
Refugees in the resettlement program are highly motivated to start a new American life, but they have no credit and no experience with a financial system that is foreign to them.
IRC Phoenix had a robust financial counseling program before adding the LISC FOC in July. Implementing the financial coaching model was an institutional game-changer for IRC.
“When we met with LISC and we understood the larger picture of the financial opportunity center, we actually started retooling everything about how we approach self-sufficiency and financial planning with our client,” said Chris Debreceni, deputy director of programs at IRC Phoenix.
Rather than wait until refugees have been in the country for a few years and are ready for a car, home or business loan, Debreceni said IRC begins financial coaching conversations, those all-important money talks, as quickly as it begins cultural orientations. The IRC FOC added 114 enrollees during the first two months of this year.
“They’re coming to the United States with this idea of America,” Debreceni said. “In order to really appreciate the idea of being American, you need to understand credit, you need to understand the financial challenges.”
That goes for everyone.