FEAB 101 - Creating a Class

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HARDY: Hello, and welcome once again to "FEAB 101." I'm your host, Mel Hardy and this video series is giving you a unique perspective around the subject of Financial Education and Asset Building. We're going to be going all across the country talking to our partners about what they're doing around this very important subject of financial education and asset building.

Today, we're in beautiful downtown Baltimore in the Inner Harbor, Charm City. We're going to head up the street just a ways -- stone's throw -- to Maryland CASH to talk to our partners at Maryland CASH about what they're doing around financial education and asset building.

Now, "CASH" stands for "creating assets, savings, and hope." They've been in business since about 2005, helping their clients realize not only financial education, but assets building.

So let's head on up the street to talk to the folks at Maryland CASH.

All right, so, here we are at the Maryland CASH campaign with the director, Robin McKinney.

How are you, Robin?

McKINNEY: Great.

HARDY: Good to see you.

McKINNEY: Good to see you.

HARDY: Tell me a little bit about Maryland CASH.

McKINNEY: Sure, Maryland CASH is an acronym that stands for "creating assets, savings, and hope," So we try to do those things by helping people to get their taxes done for free, as well as to connect them to a host of other financial education opportunities and services.

Well, how the Maryland CASH Academy works is there's a Website, which is just marylandcashacademy.org, and people can search for classes. So they can search by topic, by location, by instructor. And what's wonderful about those classes is that you don't have to take 15 in a row, so, if you know you're tied up evenings for the next six months, you can go in and take one class for an hour and a half, come back and take another class as you choose.

And so, then we work on our side with all of these wonderful partners across the state to certify those educators, because, again, it's really important that the people who are teaching these classes are teaching financial education, not marketing their product.

So we have a very strong vetting process to make sure that all of our educators are doing fact-based education for free, not marketing their products.

All of the classes are actually done in-person. I mean, they're in a bunch of different locations. So sometimes they're in libraries or nonprofits or faith-based institutions, so there's a lot of different types of places that these classes can take place.

And, again, the idea is that we're getting to people where they are and where they're comfortable, and we're using credible local partners in order to teach those classes.

HARDY: And how did Maryland CASH get started with the CASH Academy? The reason why I ask that is folks are looking and watching this video, and they're saying "Wow. We'd like to do what Maryland CASH is doing." What tips would you give them to start?

McKINNEY: Well, the first thing is to do a little bit of research,  so we try to find out, "Who really are all the different people who are providing financial education?" The second step was just to start to pool together what our criteria was in order to have a good, you know, rigorous financial education class, but, again, wasn't focused on marketing.

And we tried very hard to make sure that these classes -- You know, you're not going there because there's something wrong. You're going there because you're being proactive, because you want to take a step.

And we also post all the great financial fitness events that are happening. You know, most counties have either a housing fair or some sort of health fair. We try to post all of that information, as well, and try to make sure that there's somebody there that can connect people with financial issues.

The whole reason that we really got into the financial education and asset building side of the CASH campaign is that we want to make sure that people maximize every dollar of their refund that they're getting back and that that's an opportunity to really leverage, you know, future -- whatever their future goals are, so saving for their kids' education, creating an emergency fund.

HARDY: So, Robin, tell me a little bit about how you choose these classes.

McKINNEY: Well, again, we talk to the folks that we work with. We talk to our partners. We talk to the clients. There's a lot of surveys that happen during tax time, asking people, you know, what sorts of information that they want.

We also do some surveys, actually, with state agencies, with their clients to find out what topics are most popular. Some of them are pretty obvious, right?

So you have reading your credit report, buying a house, basic financial management. You know, we knew that those topics would come up.

HARDY: So, what are the most popular classes?

McKINNEY: I'd say right now credit report is definitely number one, you know, how to read your credit report, how does it impact your credit score, how to build credit.

We get a lot of questions about that.

HARDY: So, talk to me a little bit about, how do you find instructors, and then how do you get them trained?

McKINNEY: Well, we find instructors from a couple ways. One is because we operate all these great tax sites around the state, or our partners operate them.

We have a huge network right there of folks who are already providing them. We also work with a lot of the trade associations, so the Association of Realtors, the Society of Accountants, the Association of Financial Planners.

All of these professionals are fantastic volunteers that already have the skills. You just need to connect them with the folks who need the service.

We're really surprised, actually, by how many people had the content and still wanted training, so what we've been doing are a couple things.

One is we've been doing educator forums. So we've been pulling all of the prospective educators or educators that have already been approved in the mix.

And they can come, and we do, you know, one- to two-hour trainings with them to talk not just about the financial content, because, you know, there's so many curriculums out there on what's a credit score and how do you do all these different things, but it's really about, "How do you talk to people about money?"

How do you deal with that emotional side of money? That's the part that we see is actually missing from most trainings.

HARDY: So, you have an organization that's very interested in setting up a course or a curriculum very similar to Maryland CASH Academy.

What tips and advice would you give them?

McKINNEY: Well, I think the very first thing is about, "Who are your educators?" and "What are their qualifications?"

So you want to make sure, you know, "What is your criteria of what makes a good educator?"

For us, obviously, that they have financial expertise and that they understand the topics, but, also equally important, that they're not there for a marketing opportunity to sell the product.

So getting your criteria very tight from the outset is very important.

Also, you want to manage expectations about what you're expecting of them and what they can expect for you, so we actually sign educator agreements where we lay out everything that we expect of the educator and everything that they can expect from us.

And I think that's just very important right from the outset, 'cause you don't want anyone to end up being disappointed.

HARDY: Okay.

McKINNEY: I think the second piece is that, if you're going to launch, you know, a calendar or a series that, you know, you offer on a regular basis is make sure that you have enough classes to really fill that.

I would say that the third thing to consider is don't assume that there are just tons of professionals out there that are already teaching financial-education classes that are open to the public. We did that up-front, and what we really found is that there were a lot of people who were interested in teaching classes or a lot of people who taught classes at a specific nonprofit, but that they didn't actually have classes that were open to the public.

So we thought our goal was really going to be more coordinating things that already existed, where, really, we're doing a little bit more work of building it from the ground, of, "How do we match up where to put the classes and these educators?"

So that's just a little bit of a different focus. And it's a good kind of correction that we have to make, but it seems like, you know, especially when you look at flyers that go out, that it seems like there's a lot going on, but there's just not always a lot that's going on that's free and open to the public.

HARDY: Well, that was great. Learned a lot from the folks at Maryland CASH, and I want to thank them for taking the time out to explain everything that they're doing to help people with financial education and asset building.

So stay tuned to the next exciting video in this series, "FEAB 101."

Take care.