Is Your Financial Capability Program Structured to Meet Client Needs?

Generally, financial capability programs aim to increase awareness and comprehension of financial concepts to help people change their financial behaviors for the better.  To ensure your program is designed to meet the needs of your clients you should ask:

    • What is the current level of financial literacy of your target audience?
    • Are you serving a person/group that is ready to act and make changes or are you trying to effect change?
    • What additional knowledge and skills would your target audience like to gain from your program?
    • Is the length of your services appropriate for meeting clients’ needs (days, months, years, etc.)?

Certain effective practices have been associated with the success and promise of financial capability programs in improving financial knowledge and financial management behaviors and skills.  Practices that are found in the successful programs are summarized below.

Financial capability programs are expected to achieve outcomes for clients using a range of strategies.  Program delivery methods generally fall into three categories:

    • Individual methods (one-on-one counseling or individualized financial skill building coaching tailored to address specific needs)
    • Group methods (classes, seminars, or workshop series)
    • Independent/mass methods (online/web-based, interactive CD, or videos)

Researchers and practitioners have identified individual methods as a promising approach for improving financial management behaviors and outcomes (Collins, 2010; Collins, Baker, and Gorey, 2007).

Focusing financial capability programs on relevant, real-life experiences should be a consideration. When participants view the information as practical, including real-life examples, the content is reinforced.

A focused approach on a limited number of highly relevant topics may prove more effective. Programs can identify the most important issues that arise at various financial decision points (e.g., buying a home, debt reduction, applying for a loan, opening savings and checking accounts, getting a credit card, etc.) and help people avoid mistakes and take advantage of opportunities (Lerman and Bell, 2006). The specific topics and delivery strategies should match the needs of the target client group.

Another good practice is to link the contents of the financial capability program with activities that can directly influence financial management behaviors. For example, some financial capability programs have agreements with local area banks to sign up their clients for accounts and provide them with special account options. So, instead of simply discussing the reasons your clients should have bank accounts, program can build in activities and time to allow their clients to open accounts (Lerman and Bell, 2006).

Selecting Program Curriculum
Services should be well-planned and structured around your program’s objectives and expected outcomes.  To maintain program integrity you should select a structured curriculum that has proven to be effective and is based on evidence-based strategies.  Or, you can develop your own program curriculum that all financial educators are required to follow. 

Your program should make sure to select a curriculum that is most appropriate for the clients served by your agency.  Programs should strive to select content that will lead to sound decision making about financial matters relevant to those enrolled in your program (Lerman and Bell, 2006).  Participants are more likely to remain engaged and complete training if your program addresses their specific and immediate needs.

Discussing financial issues can involve delicate and private matters, so it is important that the curriculum does not make clients feel judged, which can make them defensive and resistant to making changes to their financial management behaviors. Some questions programs can ask to select the most appropriate curriculum are:

    • How much time will clients be willing to commit to attend and participate in financial capability sessions? 
    • How many sessions should be required to complete the program? (This may depend on client needs and availability)
    • Are there language, cultural, or literacy issues that need to be considered? Will your program require separate sessions to meet the special needs of clients?  Will the curriculum need to be altered to meet the needs of clients?

The Institute for Financial Literacy (2007) recommends that course content meet certain standards, such as:

    • Materials should be written concisely and at an appropriate reading level.
    • Technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms need to be clearly defined.
    • Materials should be relevant to target audiences in content.
    • Materials should utilize multiple learning styles.
    • Materials should be accurate.
    • Materials should be kept current.
    • Revised materials should be indicated with a revision date and edition number.
    • Materials should be evaluated for effectiveness.

Once an approach for your program is established and implemented, you should monitor that the curriculum is being consistently delivered by all instructors by conducting periodic observations and evaluations.
Clients may respond in different ways to program strategies and curriculum.  Therefore, it is important that your program incorporate a process for assessing the specific and unique needs and expectations of clients receiving your services.  Assessment results will enable you to design curriculum and select resources to best meet your client’s needs.  For example, programs may need to make adjustments to the standard curriculum based on client literacy or educational levels to create an environment conducive to learning and understanding the content.  If it is necessary for your program to modify a standard curriculum, the changes to the program should be reported and tracked in order to manage the services being delivered and ensure accountability.

Program Duration and Intensity
Programs that last a minimum of one day or longer and require multiple sessions offer clients more opportunities to learn and have greater potential to change client knowledge and financial management behaviors. Long-term impact is most likely to occur with high quality programming that maintains contact with clients over a period of time.  Short programs that occur once for less than a full day could also result in long-term impact, but they are less likely to do so (National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), 2013).

To determine the appropriate program duration and intensity that best meets the needs of clients, you should take into consideration the expected program outcomes and the resources and capacity needed to deliver a quality program.   

 Where Should Programs Occur?
Regardless of where services are delivered, the environment should be conducive to participants learning new information and skills and feeling encouraged and supported in their efforts to change their financial management behaviors.  Your programs should take place in a safe, comfortable and private environment where clients do not feel threatened or intimidated to share their personal experiences or participate in activities.  If your financial capability program offers classes you should ensure the area is large enough to accommodate all the participants. 

Keep in mind that limited access to transportation, time constraints, or a need for supportive services like childcare, can often deter participants from completing your program. So, your program location should be accessible and, if necessary, offer supports such as childcare to encourage participants’ consistent attendance (Anderson et al., 2004). Also, incentives can be used to encourage participants to complete your program. Small incentives recommended by program providers include giving away calculators, offering a monetary stipend, or access to special programs arranged with local area banks (Hopley, 2003).



Sources Cited 

Anderson, Steven G., Jeff Scott and Min Zhan (2004). Financial Links for Low-Income People (FLLIP) Final Evaluation. School of Social work, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Collins, J.M. 2010. MoneyUP: A field study. A report for The Financial Clinic, MoneyUP, and the United Way, August 2010.

Collins, J.M., C. Baker, R. Gorey. 2007. Financial Coaching: A new approach for asset building? A report for the Anne E. Casey Foundation, November 2007.

Hopley, Virginia (2003). Financial Education: What Is It and What Makes It So Important? Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Lerman, R.I., and Bell, E. 2006. Financial Literacy Strategies: Where do we go from here? Opportunity and Ownership Project, Report 1. Urban Institute: Washington, DC.

National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). 2013, by Jayaratne, K.S.U., Lyons, A.C. and Palmer, L., financial Education Evaluation Toolkit.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, A financial education provider survey (2006) and web-based, community toolkit (November 2007) available.