When Lisa Baskfield was chair of the Minnesota Society of CPAs, she went to dinner with Ernie Almonte, who at the time was the chair of the American Institute of CPAs.
He talked to her about a program called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an organization that works to help soldiers keep their jobs when called for military deployment. Baskfield, the founder and chief executive of Baskfield & Associates in Rogers, Minn., who doesn't have a military background, was both intrigued and inspired.
When she called to find out more about the program and how she could help, the person on the other end of the line was not involved in that particular initiative, but rather another program called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.
"It was kind of a fluke," Baskfield recalled. "I said, 'I want to help out,' and the woman was quiet. Then I said, 'Let me tell you what I do. I help people achieve their financial goals. Is this something your soldiers need?' and she said, 'Yes.'"
Baskfield, with help from her colleague, Vicki Krause, started developing the financial literacy component of the program. Her first workshop, held in August 2008, focused on living within wants and means. In September of that year, she met a group of returning soldiers and, instead of presenting a session, she opened up the floor and answered their questions, as they had just returned to an economy that was crashing.
Three months later, Baskfield made her first presentation to a group that was being deployed, and noticed that many soldiers found themselves with more money during deployment. Her workshop focused on budgeting and saving while being deployed.
Since then, she has offered workshops on pre-deployment budgeting, how to survive in the economy upon their return to civilian life, and basic investing. "In the work that we do, it's very hard to quantify whether you are making a difference, but we know we are," she said. "There are weekends we will talk to 700 to 1,000 soldiers and families. There are not a lot of ways CPAs can give back with their skill set. I wish people could come and see the soldiers that come up afterwards and say, 'Thank you.' It's very rewarding."
Baskfield said that all states have a support and advocacy program for soldiers, and one of her goals is to help CPAs incorporate the financial literacy workshops into other states' initiatives. "It's a great way our profession can say thank you to all the men and women who serve our country," she said.
STATE SOCIETY EFFORTS
Don Meyer, director of communications and marketing for the New Jersey Society of CPAs, agreed: "I think there are a lot of members who love to give back in this way, particularly in speaking to children. They love talking to audiences and feeling like they are helping them. We've never had a problem getting volunteers for any financial literacy effort."
In New Jersey, 30 members of the society partnered with Junior Achievement, the nonprofit organization that educates youth on business and economics, and went into three elementary schools.
Meyer said that his members were surprised at how little the children knew about financial literacy, but also were more pleasantly surprised at how eager they were to learn. Another program took members into the town of Wood-Ridge, where CPAs visited 16 elementary schools and talked to third and fifth graders on the importance of financial literacy and the difference between needs and wants.
According to the AICPA, every state society is involved in financial literacy education in some way, but each customizes the programs to fit their needs. For example, Florida refers to its efforts as 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, the same as the national program put out by the AICPA. California, on the other hand, calls its program Dollars & Sense.
The California Society of CPAs launched its program seven years ago and there was a rumble among some of its members that the AICPA followed that path in developing its own financial literacy programs. But Clar Rosso, chief operating officer at CalCPA, said that it really doesn't matter who should get credit for starting the programs - what matters is the work that is getting done and that the message is getting out there.
The CalCPA just reached a milestone in its financial education program - its members have talked to 30,000 high school students. Rosso said that that number is a big deal, because there isn't a financial literacy mandate for California primary and secondary schools, and therefore it becomes a challenge for CPAs to arrange to speak in classrooms on the subject.
Rosso said that her members use a free curriculum developed by the National Endowment for Financial Education with a focus on budgeting and managing credit and debt, as well as saving and investing.
"The idea is that if you start saving early it adds up," Rosso said. "Kids eat it up because they don't want to hear it from their parents. They like hearing it from other people and we have some amazing volunteers."
SAVING AMONG GENERATIONS
According to a 2010 survey released by Money Management International, a nonprofit credit-counseling agency, children are starting to feed the piggy bank earlier - three times as many children under 10 have bank accounts than their parents did at that age.
But perhaps their parents should follow suit: As of May 2010, the savings rate was 4 percent of personal income per the Bureau of Economic Analysis, according to Jordan Amin, senior tax manager at EisnerAmper in Edison, N.J., and chair of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. Amin said that, though there has been great work in the area of financial literacy, there's still more to be done. The institute's "Feed the Pig" campaign (targeted to help 25-to-34 year-olds prepare for long-term financial security and featuring its mascot, the pig Benjamin Bankes) and 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy campaign are still going strong - each having been launched long before the economic crisis and averaging 125,000 visitors a month on their respective Web sites.
The institute's big push this year is partnering with the Society for Human Resource Management in creating a national award that recognizes employers for financial education programs for staff.
The Workplace Financial Education Award is open to corporate, not-for-profit, government and academic employers, and is hoping to address the National Federation of Independent Business' dismal statistic reported two years ago that just over 10 percent of small and midsized businesses offer workplace financial education. Applications for the award are being accepted until November.
"The biggest change is the awareness by individuals that they have this need," Amin said. "It has always been there but their awareness has been heightened. People have been focused on short-term problems. But now people are focused on building emergency funds and what to do in case of unemployment."
That's where the state societies come in.
They are the ones on the ground talking with people about personal financial issues.
The state societies will get curriculums from the AICPA or from the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a bloc of organizations dedicated to improving the financial literacy of pre-K through college-age youth by providing advocacy, research, standards and educational resources.
Still, CPAs will tell you that they are the most natural choice for this type of outreach and can often tweak workshops and sessions to what their particular audience needs.
MASCOT WITH A MESSAGE
With the help of a Benjamin Bankes' mask, many state societies find the public catching onto the message.
Pennsylvania, for example, not only uses the mask but has the mascot dressed in a pink seersucker suit while out in the community doing financial literacy outreach. Benjamin Bankes has shown up at the Little League Grand Slam Parade on a float, accompanied by an eight-foot helium balloon that is shaped like the Feed the Pig piggy bank.
"We got a great reaction from the pig," reported Bert Trexler, Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs executive director and chief executive. "The neat thing about that is we have high school kids - a CPA will say to their son - 'You are going to wear this costume and have fun' and have a great time with it."
For PICPA, the goal is to inform students about handling money, combined with career awareness around becoming a CPA. Initially the institute started out with its "Money & Life" program, which was designed to go into businesses and provide financial literacy to the employees of companies. Since then, it has worked with senior citizens, students, veterans and legislators - and is also using social media to get its message out.
"We have pre-packaged PowerPoint presentations so the member can go and download the presentation and modify it," Trexler said. "Social media is very important to us. We're on Facebook, we've got LinkedIn [and now] we're looking to set up some blogs."
The Texas Society of CPAs also uses social media to get its word out - posting updates through the Facebook fan page and two specific Twitter accounts. They hosted a Financial Literacy Social Media Outreach Day to teach the public about financial responsibility. In the process, they reached out to 19,000 social network contacts, an increase from last year's 11,000 marker.
Their most successful endeavor, according to Kelly Hardwick, the society's public relations supervisor, is the launch of ValueYourMoney.org, a consumer Web site that features personal finance information categorized by life stages. Visitors can upload tip and activity sheets, a budgeting worksheet, a pet ownership form, a nine-month financial planning guide for expectant parents, and other money management materials and videos.
"The economy hasn't affected our outreach as much in Texas," Hardwick said. "We continue to provide the same type of service to our members and the public. Financial literacy is a priority for TSCPA and we set our budgets to allow us to maintain a strong presence in order to educate the public."
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