Surveys seem to come out by the boatload and all say essentially the same thing. Too many people know diddly about money, investing, insurance, how to save, how to spend or borrow wisely, or how to prepare for retirement.
In fact, just 16 percent — about one of every six — American adults are considered proficient in personal finance, finds a new study by TIAA-Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. We hear versions of the same stories all the time.
• While the unemployment rate is way down and wages up (or at least steady), most Americans nevertheless remain one misstep away from a financial crisis.
• A $500 surprise expense would put most Americans into debt.
• Roughly one in three Americans have saved zip, nada, nothing for retirement. Worse, nearly a third of Americans 55 and older — yes, those about to stare retiring in the face — have neither a pension plan nor a dime in savings to support them in retirement.
Rather than watch this personal finance car wreck grow worse, perhaps there's something that can be done to make things better.
I'm liking two things in particular that seem to be gaining traction in Florida and right here in the Tampa Bay area.
First, Florida lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering bills this month that would make financial literacy classes a requirement for high school graduation. Wake up, Florida. This is a no-brainer if we want to get a grip on the greater lack of basic understanding about money matters out there.
Second, Tampa's University of South Florida Muma College of Business may be about to hit a home run — matching business student career opportunity and a major industry need by introducing a personal financial planning degree this fall.
Let's explore the origins of this good idea.
The business school, reaching out to area business leaders, learned about the personal financial planning industry's demographic challenge. A large percentage of its certified financial planners and other money advisers are looking to retire in the not too distant future. The existing pipeline of younger advisers is small — too small to replace those retiring, much less meet a growing need from the public for help managing their money.
Personal financial planners from the area urged USF to start a pipeline of educated, young money managers. The students would graduate with both internship experience and strong classroom skills to prepare them to pass the demanding industry test to become a "certified financial planner" or other type of money manager.
Enter Moez Limayem, dean of USF Muma College of Business. He saw a market gap that needed rapid filling, and an opportunity for his students to graduate into jobs that can start at over $50,000 and escalate to more than $100,000 in a relatively short period of years.
Plus, Limayem says, personal financial planners are "people jobs" — unlike many careers in finance — and should appeal to students eager to engage in work they consider helpful to others.
A personal financial planning major was quickly blessed by USF, no easy task at a major university.
Limayem says the business school cast a wide net to find the right person to help launch and direct a new personal financial planning degree. The business dean is keen on the recent hiring of Dr. Laura Mattia. Her credentials include corporate finance, university teaching, an MBA, experience as a certified financial planner as well as a Ph.D in personal financial planning from Texas Tech, which is well respected in this niche.
"I feel very lucky," Limayem says of Mattia. "We could not have asked for a better leader."
In an interview, Mattia said she was "disheartened" in her earlier days in the financial planning industry because she saw too many advisers who failed to help their clients. At first she thought the problem involved questionable ethics but she realized it also was due to their lack of understanding. They literally, she says, "did not know what they did not know."
Mattia wants the USF personal financial planning major of seven courses to become a role model built on a broader four-year business degree that includes an understanding of accounting, taxes, marketing and, not to be underestimated, personal communications skills.
Mattia sees a first class of USF's personal financial planning of about 25 graduates by 2019, rising to more than 100 in short order. She sees those numbers as conservative.
One of the key goals of the school and the personal financial planning industry is to prepare the USF program graduates to become a "CFP" — certified financial planners. That designation, among others, specifically requires the planner to serve as a "fiduciary" to clients. It's a critical distinction because it requires the advice given is in their clients' best interests. Money advisers who are not fiduciaries —and there are many — are not required to meet that same service level. They can for example, recommend investment products to clients that are merely "suitable" yet generate high commissions to the adviser.
To make the USF program work, a core group of area CFPs are helping to launch the new personal financial degree. Among them are veteran advisers Geoff Simon, who is affiliated with Raymond James Financial; Mac Gardner with SunTrust Investment Services, and Kevin O'Connell with Northwestern Mutual.
O'Connell, formerly with his firm in Milwaukee, helped create personal financial planning programs at area universities there. He is sharing his experience with USF. At 36, he's also stepped up to be one of the chief recruiters to lure existing business students to pursue the new degree. An April 20 campus event will be one of the first opportunities to expose USF students to the potential of such a major.
The feedback from these financial planners and others is bullish. Hiring potential financial planners off the street comes with higher risk. A USF business graduate with such a major, they say, means a stronger, more motivated candidate with documented skills.
There's a big win-win-win here — for young business grads starting a potentially lucrative career, for area firms seeking quality candidates to fill a pipeline very much in need of young talent, and for USF to lay claim to a new business major that most university business schools do not offer.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com. Follow @venturetampabay.