More than five years ago, members of the Atlanta Society of Finance and Investment Professionals (ASFIP) were looking for ways to leverage their financial expertise to help serve their community.
The question was where to direct their resources.
The answer was hiding in plain sight. Their state, Georgia, was then and is now among the fastest growing in the nation in terms of gross domestic product. But beyond the raw numbers, there was and still is cause for concern.
The state ranks second in the country in personal bankruptcies. While 10% of US workers with 401(k)s borrow against them, in Georgia that rate is 15%. Across the nation, 9% of workers access pricey cash advances called payday loans. In Georgia, the rate is 16%. Luxury auto purchases are another red flag: In Georgia, the average salary of someone buying a $40,000-plus automobile was $58,000. In Ohio, by contrast, it was $105,000.
The ASFIP members could see these statistics play out. They could see that the toll of bad financial decisions wasn’t limited to the individual decision maker, but reverberated across the whole community. They also recognized they had the tools and expertise to not only diagnose the problem — a major deficit in financial literacy — but to help address it. Countering that financial literacy deficit would become the mission of the ASFIP Foundation.
For some insight on the ASFIP Foundation and what it is doing to promote financial literacy in the greater Atlanta community and beyond, I interviewed Dustin S. Martin, CPA, CFA, who serves on the foundation’s board of trustees.
CFA Institute: What inspired ASFIP’s focus on financial literacy?
Dustin S. Martin, CPA, CFA: Over five years ago, ASFIP identified financial literacy within our local community as an important objective to impact as well as serve society as a whole. At times, our profession pays too much attention to the perception of excess returns versus the simple rules of compounding from savings and reinvestment — the basic tenets of finance. The financial returns from knowledge transfer of financial literacy at an early age and then the application provides significant benefits to your life.
The ASFIP Foundation was created to focus on these objectives. We believe young adults and college students are at a critical point as they start to make life-long investment decisions. Giving them a “booster shot” of financial education can help immunize them against making early mistakes and falling behind.
What does that booster shot consist of? What are its components?
Our four principles are:
Our logo is a frame with four different colored edges. So we think of these principles as the four corners that help you “frame” your financial well-being. In order for your financial life to start well, there needs to be balance among your short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Each of the principles has three concepts that are applied to help you achieve it. Invest in You, for example, is built on three components: Education, Health, and Contentment.
We take a holistic view of the individual and we hope this integration will help provide a more flexible and permanent solution to your financial needs. Your human capital is your greatest asset and you need to focus on it as well as your bank account value.
How do you communicate these goals in practice? What does a “course” through the ASFIP Foundation look like?
We are building a one-stop portal for financial literacy education. There is a slide deck for volunteers to work through on our website. We believe the key to reaching younger students is allowing them to learn “in their space and at their pace.” We have developed a series of 12 short animations on YouTube that align our concepts and principles. We are building a significant presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to provide regular links with relevant thought leaders. We have organized web links for each principle on the ASFIP website, so you continue the learning after viewing the animations.
How do you generate community buy-in? What sort of outreach do you do?
We have found that focusing on financial literacy has opened up opportunities to partner with other groups in the community. That multiplier effect has led to a much larger reach into the community than we had initially anticipated. Recently, that reach was transatlantic as one of our animations was featured at the European Banking Federation Conference in Brussels.
It turns out that financial literacy is more than a US concern.
ASFIP has about 1,500 members and we have made community outreach a part of our volunteer recruiting effort. Many of our members have wanted to serve on a project that gives back to the community. Our effort grew out of the desire to expand community outreach for the society during a strategic planning session. We also wanted to counter some of the negative stereotypes in the media about finance people being greedy or selfish. We also see the fintech revolution leading individuals to question the value in financial organizations. We believe showing a higher degree of ethics and a desire to educate will further differentiate and enhance our value proposition.
What are some of your key metrics for success thus far?
In our first two years, we have contributed over $35,000 to local financial literacy programs in addition to our volunteer and social media efforts. Our financial mentoring/teaching opportunities put volunteers in front of groups that are open and responsive to our message. Surprisingly, many college students, even in the business majors, are in need of counseling when it comes to personal finance and investment choices.
Financial literacy seems to fit in a space between families and our education system. Stepping up to fill this void shows that we care.
Fortunately, our ASFIP Foundation has already done some groundwork, so we offer a virtual plug-and-play solution — simply add volunteers!
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image courtesy of ASFIP Foundation
Paul McCaffrey is the editor of Enterprising Investor at CFA Institute. Previously, he served as an editor at the H.W. Wilson Company. His writing has appeared in Financial Planning and DailyFinance, among other publications. He holds a BA in English from Vassar College and an MA in journalism from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism.