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Peer Financial Coaches Guide Fellow Students on Path of Financial Well-Being
This is another feature in a series of stories by SU News, in collaboration with the Office of Financial Literacy, about the work of the office and money strategies for students.
As a peer financial coach, Steven Winschel Jr. ’18 helps students wrap their heads around financial matters, such as budgeting, asset protection, insurance, student loan repayment and investing.
Fellow students come to him with myriad questions. By the end of a session, he finds satisfaction in knowing they have gained a new understanding and perspective about how to handle money.
“It makes me feel like I’ve made a difference in someone’s life,” Winschel says.
Winschel, who is studying business management and finance, is one of five peer financial coaches who work with Financial Literacy Coordinator Derek Brainard. The coaches assist students in learning about money management, setting money goals each semester, and developing an understanding and eye toward their financial future after college.
“Our coaches have the opportunity to individually impact potentially hundreds of students during their time at Syracuse University,” Brainard says. “Each case is different, and each goal is tailored. We have already had students surpass their savings goals, learn to live within their means, and develop a general understanding of financial topics they didn’t possess before taking advantage of the financial coaching service.”
The coaching program was created by Brainard in the Office of Financial Literacy, which is part of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs.
Although information sessions and workshops are a part of his work and helpful to provide a broad overview, Brainard, as a former financial advisor, has seen how one-on-one interaction brings the most value to clients.
“In the 2016 spring semester after joining the University and partnering with Professor Bill Coplin, who deeply values students gaining applicable life skills through experience, we seized the moment to offer a course and development program for peer financial coaches,” Brainard says. “The mission of the program is simple, and in line with the mission of the Office of Financial Literacy: To increase personal financial knowledge and promote positive money management behavior.”
The five inaugural coaches were brought on last year after going through the Coach Development Program, in which they learn about core competencies, such as spending, borrowing and saving. They also participate in and earn credit for PAF 416 (PAF 410 this fall), after which they are able to coach and educate students, deliver group presentations, and discuss higher level strategies, such as investing and insurance.
Peer coach Taylor Pasquariello ’18, who completed the course last fall and will start coaching next semester when she returns from studying abroad in London, decided to apply for the opportunity after Coplin told her about the program. She had helped prepare tax returns for low-income residents in the Syracuse community and enjoyed helping them better understand their financial picture.
“The peer financial coaching program was the perfect way to continue helping others with their financial concerns, specifically financial literacy,” Pasquariello says.
The PAF 416 course prepared her for what to expect in terms of the most common concerns for college students.
“The course taught me which financial literacy topics resonate most with college students and how to discuss them with my peers to foster a more financially literate campus,” says Pasquariello.
Another coach, Troy Gates ’18, a finance major, says the training coursework went beyond just finances. “I learned how important communication is, both one on one and with groups,” Gates says. “Many presentations and practice coaching sessions helped prepare me to speak on a topic that can sometimes be emotional for many people.”
Brainard’s office, which accepts applicants for the program each spring, works closely with Coplin and the Department of Public Affairs to offer PAF 410.
The coaching model for the entire development program is based on four pillars of personal finance: income, protection, risk and wealth.
Coaches guide the conversation with these pillars in mind using specific tools, including “My Financial Picture,” which plots the student’s current financial picture to develop goals, and the “Orange Budget,” which is a custom budgeting tool and can be downloaded for free on the financial literacy website.
The course taught me which financial literacy topics resonate most with college students, and how to discuss them with my peers to foster a more financially literate campus.Peer coach Taylor Pasquariello
For Winschel, the development program covered a range of financial topics and taught him the importance of building trust with people. “More importantly, it forced me out of my comfort zone and helped me to become much more comfortable working with others one-on-one and in large groups,” he says.
Peer coach Faiz Khan ’19, who is majoring in finance and accounting, has a passion for understanding financial topics, and the peer coaching program allowed him to share that with other students to help them gain practical life skills and better prepare for their future.
“I enjoy hearing each story and learning about student backgrounds and opinions,” Khan says. “It helps me meet a diverse set of people and problem solve in a dynamic environment.”
Many students are looking for information on how student loans work and the different repayment options, says coach Samantha Kessler ’19, a policy studies major. She also spends time speaking about how to make a budget and stick to it. “It can be difficult to assign amounts to certain sections of a budget, but we are here to break it down and make it approachable,” Kessler says.
The coaching program has exceeded Brainard’s expectations. He has noticed that potential employers value the structured training and experience the peer coaches receive.
“The hands-on experience of coaching others on such a sensitive topic demands maturity, emotional intelligence, humility and ownership from our coaching staff—valuable traits for any employer,” Brainard says.
More importantly, students who seek out financial coaching gain confidence as they engage with financial coaches. “This confidence is the key to their financial future, as it gives them the ability to make smart financial decisions on their own throughout life,” Brainard says.
April is Financial Literacy Month; the Office of Financial Literacy encourages students to schedule a free one-on-one coaching session by emailing the word “Coach” to FinLit@syr.edu.