2018 News

Achieving financial capability for all: What will it take?

Millions of families in the United States are financially unstable, and they have few places to turn for guidance and support.

Margaret Sherraden hopes to change that by marshalling a largely overlooked resource: The professionals at thousands of community-based organizations who deliver services to low-income people.

“The well-being and futures of ordinary families are at stake,” Sherraden said in her keynote address at the national Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education’s symposium November 15 in Norfolk, Virginia. 

Human service professionals can mobilize to provide basic financial guidance and counseling to disadvantaged populations, she said. They can link families to financial benefits and low-cost financial services, help families handle debt, and refer them to assistance for their individual needs.

She said this would require two things: integrating financial capability curricula into human service degree programs, and creating effective financial capability delivery systems.       

“We need to work across siloes,” said Sherraden, who is the faculty director of the Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) initiative at the Center for Social Development (CSD). “From the earliest days of our disciplines, financial capability practice was a shared project.”   

In the Progressive Era, social workers addressed household finances, she noted. “But today, financial capability is not regularly covered in social work education, and it is not a core area of practice.”      

A movement is gaining momentum, however, to teach social workers about financial capability to aid their clients. In fact, one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work is to “build financial capability and assets for all.”       

Sherraden and colleagues have developed a Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) curriculum. She has also published the textbook “Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households: Theory and Practice” with co-authors Julie Birkenmaier and J. Michael Collins.          

“Much of the work we do with clients cannot be sustained without their financial and economic stability,” Sherraden said. “Building this stability should be integrated into the work of all social workers and human service practitioners.”