Financial Literacy, Now More Than Ever

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By Alex Vuchnich, CPA, CFE - With the financial turmoil of the past few weeks it is not surprising that financial planning is now a major priority for many Americans. Just walking through my office I hear the echoes of concerns amongst our staff. Many of the staff were wondering what they should do regarding their retirement and investment savings, health care, budgeting and saving for a child's college education. I stopped and talked with a few fellow staff members who had mentioned some concerns and this quickly turned into an engaging discussion on a whole variety of financial planning topics. One thing was apparent, now more than ever the CPA profession needs to be leading the charge in the financial literacy movement. There has probably never been a higher demand for this information than right now and as a profession we have a golden opportunity to step up and serve our communities as well as strengthen the long-term financial health of our country.

I think many accountants find that getting started in financial literacy activities in their communities can be challenging. There are a number of factors that contribute to this and there are a few things you can do to overcome these hurdles. First of all, sometimes finding an opportunity through existing community organizations may be a challenge. There are a number of organizations, one of which is Junior Achievement, that can provide financial literacy opportunities. However, I think there is an even more obvious channel for providing financial literacy to our communities and that is through our existing client base. Consider offering a weekend seminar for the employees of your clients on retirement or tax planning. Hold a seminar for your small business client's controllers, managers or owners on reading and analyzing financial statements. Aside from the community service aspects, donating one or two hours of your time in this manner will solidify your relationship with these clients and build goodwill. If you are an accountant in industry, then hold a monthly seminar for your staff on financial planning topics. Not only will this provide for an opportunity to reduce the financial stress on your workforce increasing their productivity but it provides a way to reemphasize the value of the many benefits such as health and life insurance and retirement savings plans that your organization offers.

A second common challenge is that for many of us, our daily focus is on audit or tax preparation. Many of us will not have received any sort of training in financial planning or investment analysis since we graduated from college. This naturally leads to a fear that we are not qualified to speak to financial literacy. However it is important to understand that financial literacy is distinctly focused on educating our communities about the the basics of good personal financial well-being. These are topics like setting up a house hold budget, paying yourself first, reducing high-interest credit card debt and saving 10% of your income for retirement. Nobody expects you to provide full blown financial planning services during a financial literacy seminar. This is simply an opportunity to deliver the basics of personal finance to your audience so that they can get started on accumulating wealth. Armed with this basic information, your audience can then determine when it is appropriate to seek out the guidance of an advisor in more specific planning, such as estate, tax, insurance or investment advice.

The last challenge that many of face is the most common fear of all and that is public speaking. To help deter any fears in this area I would point my fellow practitioners to a couple of things that might help reduce any anxiety. First of all, it is a given that you will be the most knowledgeable person on finances in the room when delivering a presentation on financial literacy. You can be confident that you will have the rapt attention of your audience from the very beginning. Second, there are many resources for obtaining prepared presentations including powerpoints and handouts that you can use. Check with your state association as well as the AICPA's 360degrees of financial literacy website. The available presentations cover a variety of topics and provide a structured outline and points for you to speak to.

As a member in industry, I am going to immediately begin a series of financial literacy seminars for our employees. I challenge the rest of our profession to step up now while financial adversity is at its peak to provide this vital resource to our communities.

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