Center Focuses on Advancing Financial Inclusion, Capability
Merrimack’s Financial Capability Center has been honored by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education. The center, established in September of 2015, was selected as the 2016 AFCPE Outstanding Counseling and Planning Center award recipient for its ability to create accessible financial education and coaching services tailored to the needs of the audience.
The Center is a collaboration between Merrimack College and ACT Lawrence, a community development corporation that provides bilingual financial education and counselling to the residents of Lawrence, MA. Merrimack’s Financial Capability Center and ACT work closely together to wrap financial services for clients. Through strong partnerships with other local organizations such as the Lawrence Public Schools, Bread and Roses Housing and Hands to Help, the Center provides services that are flexible and accessible to local residents.
“We are honored that our program has been recognized by the AFCPE for its success in providing clients with financial knowledge and skills that help them realize their financial goals,” said associate professor of finance and center director, Ana Silva. “Expanding financial inclusion for those who need it most is the mission of this center and I am proud of the impact our students have had and will have on the community.”
During the 2014-2015 academic year, Silva was one of 14 faculty members to receive a 2014-15 grant from the Provost Innovation Fund, which supports academic initiatives related to the Agenda for Distinction. It was with this grant that she spearheaded the creation of the Merrimack Financial Capability Center, a program that is designed to provide Merrimack students with knowledge, skills and practical experience to become effective financial coaches, as well as serve low-income households to become financially stable.
“I thought – I work at a college with students who want to help their community, students who would also benefit from building their own personal financial skills,” Silva explained. “Therefore, I knew that we could harness this drive by offering experiential learning opportunities to our students – and also successfully supporting those in the community who are underserved by the financial system.”
The center offers an unbiased approach for those participating in the financial capability program, as they meet with trained financial coaches, as well as benefit from educational workshops that focus on positive financial behaviors. Coaches are trained to help with personal finances, including budgeting, credit and debt management, student loan management and more.
To become a coach, students from all majors enroll in an elective course where they learn personal finance, coaching and cultural competences. Students intern for a semester at the center and upon successful completion of the academic and service components of the course, they earn a certificate in financial coaching.
Under the guidance of Silva, in the first year of operations, the center has trained 35 financial coaches, provided 1-on-1 bilingual financial coaching services for 67 clients, and served more than 30 additional clients with tax preparation and referrals.
Through this award, the AFCPE also recognized the center for its creative outreach that focuses on a variety of delivery systems to meet the needs, and learnings styles to a diverse population.