During her first meeting with a new client, Financial Coach Elishia Townsend asks a simple question: “What do you want to do?”
As Townsend explains it, this question encapsulates what makes financial coaching unique from other financial education services: everything comes down to the individual being served; their goals, their timeline, their motivators.
“I am a listener,” Townsend says. “I never go in with an agenda because then the session is not client-driven; it’s driven by me.”
Catholic Charities was recently selected as one of just 20 non-profit organizations nationwide to participate in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Financial Coaching Initiative. Townsend is trained through the CFPB as a financial coach and will work both with clients referred through other Catholic Charities programs and members of the surrounding community.
That community is a large one since Catholic Charities is the only nonprofit host selected for the program in the entire Northeastern United States, excluding two sites in New Hampshire and Maine. As a non-profit host for the program, Catholic Charities was selected in order to work specifically with what the CFPB calls economically vulnerable clients; low-income individuals who lack sufficient access to financial guidance and consumer information.
Another 40 sites for the program across the country will serve veterans who have recently transitioned out of active duty status. There are sites serving this population in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New York.
“We tend to think of these sorts of financial resources as accessible only to wealthier individuals. But if anyone needs this kind of support, it’s those we serve, because it’s even more critical that people with limited income understand how to make their money work for them,” said Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities.
“This program, by empowering people to set and meet their own financial goals, goes hand-in-hand with our mission to advance social justice in our community by providing opportunity to the disadvantaged.”
Financial coaching aims to help individuals discover first what their motivating values are. From those values, they set goals, and from those goals, a plan for achieving them.
“My idea of success is for the client to have set a goal and be willing to take the steps to pursue it. I make sure when they leave after our first session that some kind of goal has been set and I ask them how they want me to hold them accountable. You can’t force a person to do anything. It has to be something that they want to do,” Townsend said.
“I’ve worked before in an area that was economically challenged. I don’t have an attitude of judgement but an attitude of support, encouragement and accountability. It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are now; it just matters that you stay positive, focused and moving forward.”
In addition to the new financial coaching program, Catholic Charities’ asset development programs include a matched savings program, tax filing services, and financial education workshops and seminars.
“In a traditional asset development program you have a set of outcomes you’re working towards with the client, be that saving towards a house in our matched savings program or setting up a bank account,” said Andy Zmuda, director of Asset Development at Catholic Charities.
“This program transforms that experience into one that is completely client-directed. By giving them the control, they develop the skills to make these kinds of decisions on their own in the future and we’re honoring their dignity.”
Townsend is currently available on an appointment basis. To make an appointment, call 856-342-4067 or e-mail Elishia.Townsend@camdendiocese.org. Visit CatholicCharitiesCamden.org/Asset-Development/FinancialCoach for more information.
For more information on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Financial Coaching Initiative, visit www.ConsumerFinance.gov.