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Financial Health

Supporting Communities with Personal Financial Management Tools

Sheri Dreitlein
Oct 21, 2021

Financial wellbeing is a lifelong journey with many twists and turns and no clear destination. As of August 2020, more than two-thirds of people in America (approximately 167 million people) are not financially healthy. Financial health disparities have widened by race and persisted across gender over the past year. These individuals are struggling to spend, save, borrow, or plan in ways that allow them to be resilient and seize opportunities over time. Even people who seem successful may feel financially insecure and unable to manage long-term financial goals, such as retirement or paying down debt.

Many community banks and credit unions include financial wellness statements in their mission or value statements. Things like “Helping customers achieve financial independence,” or “To facilitate the financial security of its members, associates, and their families,” are frequently seen on the boardroom wall. But how many of those institutions are putting effort into providing their accountholders with a full, 360-degree view of their financial status across all of their service relationships?

With that 360-degree view, there’s a way for consumers to have a holistic and objective measure of their financial health and the actionable steps that would make a difference in meeting their long- and short-term financial goals. Therein lies a huge opportunity for banks and credit unions in the United States, and that’s where a comprehensive Personal Financial Management (PFM) system comes into play.

The challenge faced by many community financial institutions is PFM adoption. They may wonder how many people will actually use these tools if they are offered. Research shows that accountholders are increasingly seeking out these tools. The truth is, many Americans don’t feel supported by their institution. When asked if their bank or credit union helps them become financially strong, 50% of respondents to a 2021 survey said, “No, they don’t really help.” An additional 4% responded that they feel their institution makes things worse. Customers and members will use these tools if they’re offered the right way. The financial institution’s job is to build awareness and provide support so that using these tools become second nature, and their accountholders have the information they need to begin taking steps toward financial health.

Three Key Components of Personal Finance Tool Adoption

The key to increasing personal financial management tool adoption is to support customers and members at every step of the journey. Never assume anything is obvious, because many of your accountholders may not be familiar with these tools. In fact, the journey starts by simply building awareness.

  1. Educate and Empower
    Customers and members may feel uncomfortable with personal financial management tools initially. Leverage your existing channels (social media, email, app, website) to repeatedly expose them to the features and functions so they become curious enough to try it. It’s important that all marketing collateral include diversity in age, gender, and race. Some customers may feel that these tools aren’t “for them,” and not seeing themselves represented in marketing will only reinforce that belief. Make it easy for any accountholder to reach an employee for help understanding how the tools work.
  2. Onboard Effectively
    Onboarding isn’t one-size-fits-all. Give accountholders options when it comes to how they are onboarded, whether it’s exploring the platform themselves and asking for help as needed, or a one-on-one tutorial. They may also have reservations about the safety and security of their financial data, so it’s critical to ensure they understand how their data will be used and who will have access to it while onboarding.

  3. Support
    The best way to support users is to give them a platform that is simple and intuitive while still making it easy to get help from a real person. Make it easy for them to turn on and off features by themselves and ensure there’s feedback when any actions are taken (i.e. confirm that a change has been made with a pop up). Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments and milestones!

With proper PFM tools, many Americans will understand how to use money as a vehicle to improve their lives. Banks and credit unions can make a true difference to the community by offering these tools. By empowering everyone in the community to take control of their finances, financial institutions can directly encourage growth and equality.

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