This assistant professor is using positive psychology to benefit the industry as a whole.
April is Financial Literacy Month. In recognition, Texas Tech University is highlighting some of the professionals in its School of Financial Planning, the first such school in the nation and home of the two-time defending national champions in financial planning.
Many people think financial literacy just means having financial knowledge. Sarah Asebedo wants them to know that's not the whole picture – they also have to understand how to use it and believe they can.
Asebedo grew up loving math. In high school and college, she enjoyed the feeling of independence she got from earning her own money and watching it add up. As an undergraduate student at Kansas State University, she took a financial planning class that put the pieces together.
“I was hooked on financial planning as soon as I discovered that I could work with numbers and make a tremendous impact on people's lives,” she said.
So for the last 18 years, that's what she's been doing – and, as she says, she's loved every minute of it.
She began working in the industry in 2004, straight out of her bachelor's degree. She earned her Certified Financial Planner™ certification in 2007 and a master's degree in 2011, while still working full time. Along the way, she began to understand that she could have an even greater impact on more people's lives if she focused on addressing the needs of the financial planning industry as a whole, rather than the needs of one client at a time.
“I observed that the financial planner and client relationship is most effective when working with clients holistically – in other words, when the client's finances are integrated and connected to their life in a meaningful way,” Asebedo said. “I also identified that there was a tremendous opportunity to develop evidence-based frameworks and interventions to support this holistic approach to financial planning.”
She went back to school again, this time for her doctorate. Halfway through the program, she realized that academia had great potential to influence the professional world, so she made a leap she never would have expected. She began teaching college classes, helping to educate future generations of financial planning practitioners, and conducting research to benefit the industry.
Since coming to Texas Tech in 2016, that research has taken what may be an unexpected route – or several. She is focused on the application of positive psychology to financial planning, financial self-efficacy and the psychosocial environment, while also studying how people can change their financial behavior and how financial planners and clients interact.
“Financial literacy education is essential. We need to teach people about money as early as possible to develop sound and long-lasting financial habits,” said Asebedo, now director of both the Life-Centered Financial Planning program and the doctoral program in the School of Financial Planning. “There is a common misconception that financial literacy is just financial knowledge. Financial literacy is actually a combination of financial knowledge, skill and self-efficacy. The research shows that financial knowledge alone is insufficient for changing and supporting people's financial behavior.”
Knowledge is important, she explains, but just as important is a person's ability to use that knowledge. Skill is a measure of how well an individual can apply that knowledge and problem-solve. Self-efficacy is a measure of a person's confidence in their own abilities; it includes both the extent to which they believe they will succeed and their resilience to failures along the way.
“Positive psychology supports and builds people's self-efficacy and skill by boosting their sense of positive emotion and well-being,” Asebedo said, “which research shows are very important to supporting behavioral and life outcomes.”
She hopes the research she's now conducting will equip advisers to excel in their client relationships and help more people create a better financial future.
“I'm having the impact I was hoping for; however, I certainly don't feel like my work
is complete,” Asebedo said. “Significant opportunity remains to continue to build
the evidence-based body of knowledge, interventions and skills within financial planning
and the broader personal finance field. I'm excited to continue my research, work
with students and collaborate with colleagues to propel the financial profession forward
into the future!”
Sarah Asebedo's Tips for Financial Literacy
Before you became a financial planner, what were the three best pieces of financial advice anyone ever gave you?
- Spend less than what you earn.
- Be generous.
- Be content with what you have.
What three tips would you give to someone who wanted to improve their own finances but didn't know where to start?
- Understand where you spend your money. Knowing where your money is going is the first step toward putting yourself in the driver's seat for your financial life. This can be an uncomfortable process if you are concerned about overspending in some areas; however, be kind and patient with yourself and approach this process with a curious mind.
- Develop a “spending plan” for your income with a focus on well-being and using your money in ways that support a full and fulfilling life today (through current spending) and in the future (through savings). Positive psychology defines well-being as positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.
- Develop a savings mentality and habit, even if you don't have a lot to save.