To Coach, or Not To Coach, That is the Question

To Coach, or Not To Coach, That is the Question

Coaching is a powerful tool, but only when used in the right situation for the right reasons.


I was recently called upon by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE) to conduct a Financial Coach Continuing Education Webinar called “Integrating Coaching Skills into Your Professional Practice.”  It was fun to be allowed the opportunity to do a deep dive into this topic.  A few themes jumped out at me that I thought would make a great blog post, so please keep reading. :-)

As you may be aware, personal finance coaching is a specialty that has been gaining in popularity in the social service and community development spheres for the past decade or so.  Taking from the Prosperity Now Financial Coaching Program Design Guide, the inclusion of coaching in the realm of financial capability comes from the belief that:

  • The nature of the coaching relationship should be trusting and collaborative

  • The client is the source and director of change

  • The client is whole and unique

  • The coach is the facilitator of the client’s growth

This orientation of the client in the driver’s seat runs counter to the roles of financial educators or financial counselors, who are seen as “experts” in the professional/client relationship and whose job it is to guide the way for their students or clients.  To boot, research (see this 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report here) shows that financial coaching is effective in aiding clients in achieving their financial goals and improving their lives.

So you should be using financial coaching all of the time and in every situation, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

“Coachability” Requires 2 Things from the Client

If you are tempted to trade in your financial educator’s or financial counselor’s hat in favor of that of the one that a coach wears, please check yourself.  While coaching is a powerful tool, the client needs to be ready for it.  In order to coach a client, two conditions must be present (thanks to this Harvard Business Review article for these criteria):

  1. The client must demonstrate a commitment to development:  For a client to be ready to be coached, they need to show you that they are up for the challenge.  This includes being willing to accept feedback, being willing to try on new behaviors, and being ready to acknowledge that if something did not go right it should be seen as a learning opportunity.

  2. The client has capacity/resources to get where they want to go:  The other prerequisite for a client to be ready to be coached is that the client already has the necessary tools to reach their goals.  Some clients might be ready to commence coaching, while others might need education or support before they are ready for a coaching relationship.

Look for the Right Opportunities to Coach

When you think about coaching a client, most likely you will enter into one of two possible scenarios: the client will want to develop and achieve a financial goal, or the client will want to solve a financial problem.  With either outcome in mind, you will follow the same process (taken from this Flashpoint Leadership Consulting article here):

  • Establish the focus for the coaching engagement

  • Discover possibilities for the future

  • Plan actions and accountability

  • Remove barriers to action

  • Devise next steps

  • Establish a deadline

When to Choose a Tool Other Than Coaching

So now you are familiar with what makes a good coaching client, and what makes a good coaching opportunity.  Now let’s get super specific about when you should be pulling a tool out of your toolbox that is not coaching (and thanks to Development Crossroads for their thoughts on this topic).

  • Your client lacks specific skills or knowledge.  As was noted above, in order to be in a coaching relationship your client needs to have the capacity to get where they need to go.  If your client is lacking in basic information then you will want to address that first.  I like to use an example from sports:  You would not engage a professional cricket coach to teach you the fundamentals of the game.  First you want to seek out need basic instruction and practice, and then over time you would be ready for a coach.

  • Your client’s problem is due to a lack of available resources.  If your client’s financial goal is to buy a first home, but their income and expenses make purchasing a home nearly impossible, no amount of coaching is change their outcome.  You may want to instead coach around increasing income or deceasing expenses, or maybe refer to education on locating stable rental housing.

  • You don’t have your client’s buy-in.  If you do not have your client’s buy-in to coach, nothing fruitful is going to come from the engagement.  I once had a client who was going through a divorce and was faced with having to manage her household finances for the very first time in her life.  While she attended every session with me, her words and body language let me know that she was not up for the challenge that this next chapter of her life had presented her with, nor was she interested in trying on new behaviors.

  • You are pressed for time.  Coaching is not a quick fix.  Far from it, many coaching engagements can last 3, 6, 12, or maybe even 18 months, depending on how you design your coaching program and what your client is interested in working on.  Also be aware that if your client is dealing with an emergency that needs to be handled immediately, now is not the time to engage in a lengthy discovery session with your frazzled client.

  • You lack coaching skills.  This is key.  I believe that if you have not pursued formal instruction in financial coaching, you should not be coaching and you should not call yourself a coach.  You may have many other wonderful professional qualities, perhaps as an educator or a counselor or a case manager.  The tools that those professionals master over time are valuable to your clients and should be employed as the needs arise.  If you are not a coach and you are interested in becoming a coach, I applaud you! There are a number of well-respected financial coach training programs out there, namely AFCPE (where I earned my Financial Fitness Coach® designation), University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security, CNM Ingenuity, Inc. at Central New Mexico Community College, The Financial Clinic, and NeighborWorks America.


What do you think, member of the Talking About Money Tribe?  Are you a financial coach or do you aspire to be one?  Do you recognize the factors that make coaching the right – or wrong – tactic to use with your clients?  Leave a comment and tell us what you think.  And if you enjoyed this post, please take a moment and forward it to one or two people who you think might enjoy it too.  Thanks.

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