Sunday, April 1, 2012

Financial Fitness Day 3.31.12

Monday, April 2, 2012. Seattle—Attended the second (my first) Financial Fitness Day Saturday sponsored by the Seattle-King County Asset-Building Collaborative held at the Rainier Community Center in the south part of Seattle. Good location with parking and easy access to public transportation. As a humble participant, all appeared to go well and people seemed to get what they came to learn. Things like: getting their credit score, finding out about small business loans, and learning how to cope with debt collectors.

As one walked in a friendly staff person handed one a bright yellow form to fill-in. It asked about what you were there to find out and whether you had mobility or language concerns. While I stood in line a couple of people nearly knocked me over in their eagerness to find the help they needed. Everyone appeared in a good mood despite the damp, rainy weather outside.

When you turned in the registration form another volunteer handed you a packet and you were good to go. Two breakout rooms hosted 3 rounds of presentations.

The vendors occupied the rim in the gym, and a second circle of general service providers made a circle in the middle. I walked the whole room, slowly, taking it all in. Stopping to chat here and there. Picking up material. From the brochure these were the categories and number of organizations present:

Banking, investment, and financial planning: 8
Credit & Debt Counseling: 3
Starting & Growing your Business: 4
Housing Counseling: 6
Consumer Rights & Protection: 5
Public Benefits and Community Resources: 16

Each section had a color code to assist with getting around. 

Participants could attend these workshops during the day:

Understanding Credit and Credit Scores (repeated)
Paying for College
The First Time Home Buyer
How to Deal with Debt Collectors
Managing your Money - A 21st Century Strategy

After collecting nearly 3 pounds of material, I sat in on the dealing with debt collectors and managing your money workshops. Both had knowledgeable presenters who kept great tips and information flowing at a decent pace. 

One conversation reinforced an interesting pivot point: identity as a factor in overspending or saving. We noted that some people have a sense of identity originating in how others see and think of them, sort of an outside-in identity. And there's the opposite, a person's identity flows from within to the outside, an inside-out identity. Which do you guess is more aligned with overspending and which goes with saving?

This is my zone, the behavioral-financial-social arena. I would immediately begin a research project, if I had enough funding, to find out:

For people finding themselves in debt with an outside-in identity (OII), who do they hope sees their projected identity? Is this something that constantly changes (say needing to have a recent model car or dress in the latest fashion)? How much choice do they feel around constantly spending to present this identity? If they could just ignore all of that, what would be the sources of their identity? Do they have something inside they want to present to the world, perhaps the "latest model" of themselves?

For those with an inside-out identity (IOI), what role does money and spending play in their identities? When is fashion and "keeping up" important? Who do they find are natural communities for how they identify themselves?

There were only 1 or 2 vendors that had displayed a game for helping financial literacy, and these were for youth in schools. Though games were not in abundance, little instruction guides in various formats dotted the vendor tables. Dramatic pictures with text that narrate a story, cartoons, seemed under-used. Of course, many had figures and graphics, but they were all directly related to "instruction" of "education" directly, missing the chance to enter via the side door of story as a means of getting a message across. Is this an opportunity?

I think the material for youth and young adults may hold promise for development for older groups. Take the "Getting Credit" comic book from the Federal Trade Commission as one example. The drawings mimicked street/graffiti graphics and lettering.The text is presented in second person—"Most creditors uses scoring to evaluate your credit record."

I would test whether using the left side of the page—which is devoted to graphics now anyway—as a running comic focused on the credit adventures of a young adult applying for credit and the benefits and risks involved.

Also, let's bring the emotional-psychological aspects of spending into the storyline. Why do you want a credit card? Where would you place yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning "a credit card is free money" & 10 meaning "a credit card is a loan of cash I need to pay back quickly"?

Naturally, along with all the information, I gathered a stack of business cards and book suggestions. I'll be busy for quite a while just following up. Thanks to all the organizers for an enjoyable Financial Fitness Day.