Even with wealth and resources, financial empowerment can be elusive. We’ve found it can come down to one simple word: education.
This April, for financial literacy month, we’ve tapped Rodney Bolden, Vice President, Field Engagement Specialist, Financial Wellness at Morgan Stanley at Work for some perspective. He discusses what financial empowerment has meant to him over the course of his career in wealth management––and why it’s so important to take financial education seriously.
What is financial empowerment and why is it important?
I’d say financial empowerment is life changing. When you’re financially empowered, you have control over your monthly obligations, you have a cushion to handle unexpected emergencies, and most importantly, you have financial freedom.
A lot people might think it means having wealth or the balance in your bank account. But really, financial empowerment means having a plan in place to meet future goals. It’s a mother knowing what her family’s future can look like and being on a path to achieve that vision. It’s a college student that understands how to pay off a loan, and what rewards are worth the sacrifice. Financial empowerment is a small business owner whose shop becomes a neighborhood mainstay. It’s every sudden health emergency that does not become a long-term financial crisis.
Financial empowerment is about helping others live better lives. You help educate one person, in turn they can help educate another, and so on. The potential impact is really endless.
What are some financial empowerment tips that everyone can take to get their finances in order?
- Establish Your Goals: One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to put your goals at the heart of your plan. Put pen to paper and document what’s most important to you—what you want your money to help you achieve.
- Build Your Team: Creating a financial wellness support team can mean everything from opening up honest money conversations with your friends and family to building a network by attending education events to speaking with a financial professional. A collaborative, holistic approach to financial wellness can open the door to new ideas as well as greater support.
- Learn, Learn, Learn: Become a lifelong learner when it comes to your finances, knowing that the work that you do on financial wellness will touch other areas of your life in a positive way.
Part of financial literacy is learning to balance long-term planning with short-term needs. Effectively managing your budget, credit, and debt can give you a major advantage when it comes to achieving long-term goals. Track monthly bills and spending, identify debt with the highest interest rates, or look for opportunities to consolidate and refinance what you owe.
What are the biggest barriers to financial empowerment?
The short answer is simple: a lack of financial education. But the real question underneath that is, “Why is there a lack of financial education?” That’s a lot more complex. From my own professional experience, I’ve noticed two very common––but vastly different––threads:
- A False Sense of Confidence. I see this a lot with young, successful executives who I work with frequently in my current role. Some people think they have it all together; that because they have a high salary, nothing can go wrong. Then some unexpected event comes along, and they get blindsided. Maybe they lacked the necessary insurance coverage to help protect themselves. Or they didn’t account for what would happen if that salary stopped coming in. This is what I mean when I say that wealth and financial empowerment are really two different things.
- A False Idea of Who “Financial Services” is For. I can’t tell you how many people I've met who, when they hear about financial services, told me: “I don’t have any finances to manage.” This is a common misperception, and we need to change it. Wealth management is for everyone; that’s the message I want to get across. If you earn money, having a plan for that income will provide you with a roadmap to reach your goals. As my mom used to say, “if you plan for nothing, your result will be nothing.” Learning money management skills can empower you to achieve financial freedom. Collaborating with a financial services professional can help you gain the knowledge to live your best life.
Who is responsible for “doing the work” of financial empowerment?
“A recent study found that over 9 out of 10 employees reported having faced financial difficulties, while almost 2/3rds say that financial stress is having a negative impact on their work and personal life.1
This tells me we all have to roll our sleeves up. Period. Inside and out of our industry. In particular, company leaders and others in positions of power should be active in the financial education space. It comes down to showing people you care about their wellness, their future, and their overall success. It helps employees and companies, and the numbers back this up.
Financial education is all about helping you to know better so that you can do better. True Financial empowerment doesn’t come from wealth; it comes from education. Whether you’re an individual, small business owner, executive, or financial advisor––Morgan Stanley offers robust tools, resources, and guidance to help you grow and achieve your goals.