Alan Gappinger, CFE, used to educate individual clients.
Now he's spreading financial literacy on a much larger scale.
If you work in financial services long enough, you
eventually get the big picture-this is a nation of people woefully
ignorant about finances.
The problem is largely systemic. We live in a capitalistic society and yet most of us are unenlightened to the power of advertising and the "competition-spending" mentality it produces. We borrow all the money lenders are more than willing to lend. We see the occasional banking or brokerage commercials on television and think, "That's for other people-the one's with money."
Well, we don't actually think that because we're, you know, financial advisors. But a lot of other folks are thinking along these lines, folks who might have enough money to seek out our advice if they weren't financial illiterates.
Sure, we educate a lot of clients one-on-one in our role as financial advisors, clients who overcame or somehow managed to accumulate wealth in spite of their financial illiteracy. But how about all of those Average Joes who really need our help? Most of them have jobs, so maybe they could be educated en masse right there in the workplace, reasoned Alan Gappinger.
Gappinger isn't a household name (yet), but he's like a lot of other advisors who have paid their dues in this industry. He discovered financial planning in the mid-'70s. He picked up a bunch of credentials (CFP, ChFC, CLU, MS in Financial Planning). And at the rare age of 23, he began helping clients prepare for retirement. "When I'd arrive at a prospect's door, they'd ask if I was collecting for the newspaper," says Gappinger, "but I stuck with it."
Just as Gappinger started in the planning profession early, he recognized the importance of getting clients to start financial planning early, something that couldn't be accomplished just by selling products-the predominant "method" of financial planning in the '70s. "In order to do financial planning, I started my own RIA and then showed the company I was working for how to start its own RIA, way back before 'fee-based planning' was common.'"
Going the RIA route by creating his own firm, The Heartland Companies (www.heartlandfinancialcenter.com), in Aurora, Colo., in 1981, was also to impress upon the public that they would receive a real financial education if they worked with Gappinger. In fact, education and financial literacy have been the cornerstones of his planning philosophy all along, and led him to create the Heartland Institute of Financial Education (HIFE, at http://www.hife-usa.org/).
"I saw that financial planners promoted themselves and educated the public primarily through seminars and I thought ... what seems to be missing is involvement by colleges and universities; shouldn't they be promoting financial education?" Gappinger began approaching universities in Colorado, and first convinced the Community College of Aurora and Colorado State University that they should be part of the financial literacy process.
"We designed and copyrighted a financial wellness/planning course but, instead of teaching it on college campuses, we took it onsite to major companies for use in educating their employees." Dr. Tom Garman, considered by many in the education field to be the guru of financial literacy and financial education in the workplace, is an advisor to HIFE's board and has influenced its education programs.
This all began in 1997. Fast-forward to 2006 and Gappinger, now 54 years old, says the Institute has installed its financial literacy courses, both in accredited non-accredited form, in more than 100 Colorado companies. It offers a dozen different courses now sponsored by ten colleges and universities. "We are ad hoc instructors for the colleges and universities the Institute represents." Through the Institute Gappinger not only reaches far greater numbers of "students" than he would with one-on-one or seminar counseling, but the colleges and universities he partners with gain recognition for their awareness of the critical need for financial education in their communities.
The question is, how does one advisor make an appearance in 100 different workplaces? Simple. He clones himself with a training and designation program that, in this case, leads a trainee to earn the CFE, or Certified Financial Educator, designation. "In 2003, we applied for a trademark and in 2005, the CFE was approved as a registered designation. Today, we have 300 to 400 CFEs across the country." The Institute's CFEs teach its financial literacy courses in 28 states.
Doug McLemore of McLemore Financial Eduvisors in Aurora, Colo., is one of Heartland's CFEs. "I did my training in June of 2005, partly because I've been branding my practice through Securities America to stress an educational approach to client services. The quality and purpose of the core Heartland class, An Introduction to Personal Financial Planning, aligns with my style of presentation, personal beliefs and focus of content."
McLemore particularly likes the fact that the prequalification and self-selection of students is so powerful. "You're in front of people who want to be there. The quality of relationships you can build as a teacher positions you to help someone. If they choose to sit down with you, you already have their attention, their trust and their confidence."
McLemore isn't new to teaching, and even directed Broadway shows at his own dinner theater for 15 years. (You might say his mottos is, "Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher"). That said, he believes in the potency of the Heartland material. "One student, a 57-year-old single woman, said to me, 'I think I'm past the point of being helped,'" says McLemore. "Nevertheless, she paid attention and concluded the class with this opinion: 'A must course for anyone age 20 to 60-plus. I wish I had attended 25 years ago. I would have made better choices.'" The same woman is now McLemore's client and looks forward to the future with confidence.
Todd Kelley, an associate with Central Financial Services in Lincoln, Neb., did his CFE training in June 2004. Like McLemore, he enjoys teaching (maybe that's a prerequisite?) and finds it helpful to his practice. "I previously owned an advertising agency, and this was by far and away the most unique and effective marketing program to get in front of potential clients that I had seen. I also enjoy knowing that I'm helping individuals truly learn about finances without any hype or specific sales objectives." Kelley says that in the past 24 months approximately 50% of his annual revenues have come in connection with the Heartland Institute.
Heartland Institute's National Executive Director, Philip Nichols, CFE, with a 15-year history in the financial services industry, reiterates what McLemore and Kelley have already learned: "Our educational programs are very well received because we are focused totally on the education process and not the sale of a product or service. Being able to help people with their financial lives through educational classes is most rewarding. And folks are grateful to be able to get the education they need without the fear of being 'sold.'"
Adds Gappinger, "If we look at Americans today from a financial wellness standpoint, it's scary. But it's also exciting to get people in better shape. We can have a good impact on where we're going as a country."
The question is, why is there a need for financial education of adults at all? Why aren't kids getting a financial education? "We just don't have effective enough programs in schools at this point," says Gappinger. "That's why it's important to look at the parents of those children and understand their own financial illiteracy. If we educate the adults, making them better-informed parents, we'll create better-informed kids."
David J. Drucker, M.B.A., CFP, an
independent financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks, and
consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems.
Visit his practice management portal, Practice Lifecycle, at
www.practicelifecycle.com, and Virtual Office News, a monthly practice
management/technology newsletter, at www.virtualofficenews.com.