What’s the Ideal Background for a Personal Finance Educator? Professional-level Knowledge, Pedagogy, and Passion

Personal finance is a topic everyone needs to learn, regardless of age, education, or current knowledge level. And in today’s economic climate, many concerned citizens and volunteer educators have developed a passion to help others learn how to “win” with money. But what kind of preparation do these well-meaning folks need before they’re truly ready to teach others key money skills? And what should audiences look for to be sure their financial educators are qualified?

We asked financial experts and professionals for suggestions on how would-be personal finance educators without formal education in the field could prepare themselves to teach personal finance concepts successfully. An important underlying theme in the responses was that professional-level knowledge and in-depth understanding of best pedagogies for teaching, such as those presented in the independent Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) professional development course, are prerequisite for teaching money lessons effectively.

Some experts we consulted underlined the notion that having a specialized academic background may not be necessary. “Personal finance is a subject that is a necessity to be taught in our schools,” says Debbi King, Life Coach and award-winning author of The ABC’s of Personal Finance. King recommends teaching “how to win with your money now and in the future. This means being truthful about credit, debt and how they can really stymie you.” “Personal finance really is common sense,” adds King, who suggests drawing upon easy-to-read books such as her own to deliver high-quality money lessons.

“Your real-life experience can be more valuable to your clients than a bunch of letters behind your name,” advises Chris Miles, owner of the cash flow optimization company Money Ripples. Miles, who himself started out with no financial background, says there are ways to establish oneself as an authority very quickly. “Mentor with financial professionals you want to emulate,” Miles suggests, and “Become the authority – you can do this by putting on your own financial events, blogging, podcasting, recording videos, being interviewed on others’ shows, etc.” Miles goes on to comment that, since people want simple, accessible information from someone who doesn’t talk over their heads, not having a financial background can be an educator’s best asset. Having a passion for the subject matter and knowing the pedagogy behind effective teaching strategies also make a big difference.

Similarly, CFP® and Wealth Manager at United Capital Financial Advisers Adam Vega suggests that summarizing complex information in a way people can understand is the hardest part of teaching personal finance. “There are countless financial ‘experts’ who attempt to simplify information and often leave out…or misinterpret information altogether,” comments Vega. “My first word of advice would be to get any information from a reputable source…although it may not always be the easiest to interpret, you’ll be getting your information straight from the horse’s mouth versus someone’s interpretation of someone else’s interpretation.” Vega also advocates inviting experts on a specific topic, such as attorneys or Certified Financial Planners, as guest presenters to a financial education class.

Jeffrey Christakos, CPA and CFP® with Westfield Wealth Management in New Jersey, agrees that expert guest speakers are a good idea, however, he emphasizes that guest speakers should be properly qualified. “The CFP and CPA designations indicate that the practitioner has achieved the highest level of competency and that they have to maintain it with continuing education requirements,” Christakos states. He also warns that guest presenters should offer fee-only (i.e. conflict free) advice to clients. “Advisors are product-oriented and trained to lead all client solutions to an ultimate product sale, sometimes whether they need it or not,” Christakos adds.

Practice, a commitment to learn, specialized certification for financial education instructors and passion for helping others are all qualities a financial educator should possess.  For those that want to teach personal finance and make a difference in the lives of their fellow community members – strive for professional caliber knowledge about the subject matter and teaching pedagogy.


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