What Is a Financial Coach and How to Become One

·8 min read

Name a challenge people face in life and there's bound to be a coach for it. Struggling with your weight? Get a fitness coach. Keep missing those promotions? Hire a career coach. Feeling stuck in a rut? Try a life coach. Emotions getting in the way of sound financial decisions? You may need a financial coach.

Unlike financial advisors, who focus on creating investment strategies and financial plans, financial coaches take a close look at the behavioral side of finance. The need for a financial coach is simple: A financial plan, no matter how faultless, is still subject to human behavior and emotion. Even the best-laid plan won't succeed if the investor is always trying to alter it in response to emotional discomfort. A financial coach can step in to help keep emotions from derailing long-term financial success.

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What Is a Financial Coach?

A financial coach is someone who helps you improve your relationship with money and stay on track to meet your financial goals.

"Think of a financial coach like a personal trainer, whose job is to help you discuss, establish and uphold positive routines," says Julie Genjac, managing director of applied insights at Hartford Funds. Just as a personal trainer helps you understand your relationship with food and exercise, then creates strategies to prevent your natural desires from derailing your efforts and encourages you to stick to your plan, a financial coach does the same for your finances.

"Financial coaches are there to help you establish a positive relationship with money and determine what your natural motivations are toward saving and spending -- and then building accountability into your decisions going forward," Genjac says. "(They) know you and your mindset, and they help keep you on financial track with day-to-day behaviors, thoughts and, most importantly, encouraging small successes."

Stephanie Vaught, a financial coach and founder of Social Money Finance LLC, says she helps her clients realize that their lifestyle is a direct reflection of their money mindset and habits. "Any changes they wish to make must start with the way they think about and treat their money," she says.

She helps clients understand the importance of tracking their income and expenses; set real, attainable goals; and create spending plans that hold them accountable. "I specialize in money management because it is a necessary component to building and sustaining wealth," she says.

What Does a Financial Coach Do?

"Financial coaching is establishing processes and tools for balancing the behavioral and financial needs of the client," says Eben Burr, New York City-based president of the Behavioral Investing Institute, a behavioral and financial coaching service offered by Toews Corp.

A financial coach helps you create healthy financial habits and goals. These can range from day-to-day money management to planning for longer-term goals. He or she can help you identify the problem areas or challenges in your finances and develop strategies to overcome them.

Like therapists, financial coaches often meet with clients on a weekly or biweekly basis. This relationship can last anywhere from a few months to years. It usually starts with helping clients evaluate their current financial situation, such as their money habits and where their areas of strength and weakness lie. They help clients establish goals and financial plans to meet those goals that acknowledge the client's strengths and weaknesses. A financial coach also acts as an accountability partner to help ensure clients stay on track to meet their goals and continue to make progress in improving their money management habits.

[READ: How to Choose the Best Financial Planning Software.]

Financial Advisor vs. Financial Coach

While there is some overlap in the roles of financial advisors and financial coaches, each places an emphasis on different parts of the planning process. An advisor will likely focus on creating a financial plan that aligns with the client's financial goals while the coach will focus on ensuring the plan aligns with the client's emotional state as well. A combination of the two is the best way to ensure a client stays on track throughout their financial life.

For example, financial coaches typically do not design investment strategies, although a coach may suggest adjusting a portfolio's allocation if it is causing too much emotional turmoil for the investor.

Financial coaches instruct clients "by illustrating what they may feel and actions they may want to take in different kinds of markets and then show them another way to look at a challenge from an instinctual, emotional and historical perspective," he says. In this way, a financial coach can help you develop healthier financial skills and habits.

Why Become a Financial Coach?

Financial coaching and traditional financial planning can be a potent combination. Financial advisors who double as behavioral coaches know how to create a financial plan with behavioral bumpers around predictable behaviors that could derail a client.

Since financial coaching emphasizes the behavioral side of finance, the role may appeal to people who don't live and breathe the stock market. If you don't get out of bed every morning and say, "I wonder what the stock market has done," or don't have a driving passion for investment vehicles, but still feel strongly that money decisions have a profound impact on people's lives, becoming a financial coach may be the right path for you," Genjac says.

Likewise, if you've had your own experiences where behavior got in the way of your financial goals, this history could make you an even more effective coach. Any time a personal life story can serve as a springboard for a career path, it provides an incredible foundation to tell others why you do what you do, Genjac says. She encourages people considering the field to think about their experiences with money to see if there's a hidden passion lurking there.

[READ: 6 Financial Advising Trends for 2022.]

How to Become a Financial Coach

You don't need to get financial licenses or any certifications to become a financial coach. Simple life experience can be enough. Still, there are certain steps you should take to increase your chances of a successful career as a financial coach.

1. Educate yourself. While there are no educational requirements to become a financial coach, many experts recommend at least looking into getting your Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) licenses or a more formal education.

Financial coaches who are not advisors would be limited in what they could offer clients in terms of financial planning and portfolio construction, Burr says. Such an individual may look more like a financial therapist, he says, and may work with a certified financial planner.

If you are a licensed financial advisor who doubles as a financial coach, you'll likely need to get your coaching practice approved by your firm's compliance department.

Getting a certification or more formal education, such as the accredited financial counselor designation offered by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, will only improve your knowledge base and ability to market yourself to clients.

2. Find a niche. To become a successful financial coach, you'll want to differentiate your services from your peers. Think about your own relationship and experiences with money. Are there any niche areas of expertise you can home in on? For example, if you were close to bankruptcy but got yourself out, you may choose to focus on cash flow management and getting out of debt. If you're divorced, consider focusing your financial coaching business around divorce financial planning.

3. Look for partnership opportunities. If you aren't a financial advisor, you could reach out to local advisors to see if there is a partnership opportunity. "Financial advisors are juggling many moving parts each and every day, and it can oftentimes be difficult to be a day-in-and-day-out accountability partner to their clients," Genjac says. "A financial coach could be a great supplement to the resources that a financial advisor brings to the table."

4. Be honest in your marketing. Just remember: "You are not a lawyer unless you are. You are not an accountant unless you are. You are not a compliance expert unless you are," Burr says. "Be careful with how you present yourself and your expertise."

When Are Financial Coaches Worth It?

For investors, the financial coach versus financial advisor decision is not an exclusive one. You can have both an advisor and a financial coach, and often this is the best way to approach the situation.

If your emotions are preventing you from making financial decisions, or they are causing you to make counterproductive choices, you may benefit from a financial coach helping you work through it, Burr says. While every advisor should ideally incorporate some emotional coaching into their practices, such as helping clients normalize their emotions before they start dictating financial decisions, not all advisors are willing and able to do so.

Advisors can help clients identify this need by paying attention to their client's emotions relative to what the advisor would consider "normal" in a given situation. If a client is outside of what you would consider a normal level of anxiety about their investments, you might encourage them to seek out a coach, Burr says.

"A financial advisor is there to structure financial instruments into a plan that has a high likelihood of succeeding while preparing clients for the difficulties that may come, and helping them through them when they arise," Burr says. "A coach can be called in to discover where the blockages are in the client adhering to the game plan and assist them in building the fortitude to make it through."

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