S. Taylor, L. Duncan. University of Florida IFAS, 16110 Aviation Loop Dr., Brooksville, Fl. 34604
Situation/Objectives: People’s financial security has important implications for their short-term and long-term financial well-being. (Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning [JFCP], 2020; FDIC 2018; Joseph et al., 2017). With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in early 2020, access to financial education and counseling was severely curtailed. While virtual financial education and counseling was an emerging trend, the pandemic made it a necessity. The Accredited Financial Counselors (AFC) with the University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) developed a comprehensive campaign to assist Florida residents financially affected by COVID-19. Educational Methods: Agents used social media and communication platforms to recruit the target audience. A survey was used to determine the financial need of the participants and the AFC with the appropriate level of expertise was assigned. Beginning with the initial contact, the process was designed to be less intrusive and more conducive to the life schedule for the client. Many sessions were conducted during weekends, evenings, and even shorter “lunch and learn” sessions accomplished during lunch periods or scheduled breaks while not interrupting the work schedule. This flexibility allowed clients to get the counseling they needed, while not adding to their already hectic life. Results: Since September 2020, over 40 clients were assisted with counseling ranging from basic money management and emergency funds, homebuyer education, to assisting with basic tax questions. While most clients met with a counselor for approximately three sessions, many were assisted by more than one counselor as their needs changed. Several have continued to meet with an AFC counselor monthly for maintenance check-ups and continue improving their money skills as their financial situation evolves. Conclusions: With the addition of virtual programming opportunities, many previously limiting factors of distance and time management are reduced. Public safety and social distancing are ensured for clients as well as the counselor and everyone remains safe while counseling is still accomplished. While counselors have the flexibility to customize delivery methods, the standardization of reporting allows for effective evaluation and reporting, and to achieve desired outcomes. Also, inexpensive, and widely available technology (ZOOM, FaceTime, social media) increased recognition of financial counseling programs and professionals has been accomplished. This innovative and cost- effective method of expanding the reach of financial counseling to new audiences previously unable to attend in-person counseling could help improve consumers level of financial knowledge to make informed decisions about other financial products such as credit cards (Robb & Sharpe, 2009), personal loans as well as retirement products such as stocks, bonds, or annuities (JFCP, 2020).