Real Money, Real Experts

Military Financial Readiness and the AFC® with Mike Wood

June 07, 2022 AFCPE® Season 2 Episode 11
Real Money, Real Experts
Military Financial Readiness and the AFC® with Mike Wood
Show Notes Transcript

This week on Real Money, Real Experts, Mary and Rachael catch up with longtime AFC® and AFCPE® Member, Mike Wood. Mike shares the story of how the AFC became the standard for Personal Financial Managers (PFM) on military bases across the globe.

Mike has the heart of a counselor, and we loved hearing about both the rewarding and challenging aspects of his career. As a pillar of the military personal finance community, Mike shares fond memories from past Symposiums, and offers some great insight for financial counselors working in all areas of our field. “Enjoy the ride!”

Show Notes:
1:33 What led Mike to initially pursuing the AFC
5:28 How the military became involved in deciding to require AFCs
9:31 What does the AFC do differently than other designations?
10:58 Mike's most exciting memories in the personal finance field
13:31 The challenges Mike faced
16:20 Mike's advice with setting realistic expectations about your career
23:52 Mike's final 2 cents


Speaker 1:

Welcome to real money, real experts, a podcast where leading financial counseling and coaching experts share their stories, their challenges, and their advice for helping people manage money in the real world. I'm your host, Rachel Daon and

Speaker 2:

I'm your co-host Dr. Mary Bell Carlson . Hi everyone. Welcome. We are so excited to welcome Mike Wood to the real money real experts podcast. Today, today, this podcast episode is being recorded on zoom, which is not our typical format, but we wanted to capture part of this conversation of video. So it can be safe for the project that we're working on, which is the financial counseling archives. Mike is a retired air force veteran in army civilian with an extensive background in personnel and family finance. He's an accredited financial counselor and a registered representative with FINRA. He's also a licensed insurance agent and a sec securities and broker dealer. He's a long time member of a F C P E , and has served on the board of directors. His education includes a bachelor's of arts and psychology from St . Leo university at a master of science in counseling and psychology from Troy university. He enjoys meeting new people and playing musical instruments. Mike, we're really excited to have you on today. Thanks so much for agreeing to come on the show.

Speaker 3:

Oh my goodness. Thanks for having me, I , for a minute there, I was wondering who you were referring to in my pleasure to , to , uh , be here and to do this with you . So thank you . Thank you , Rachel . Thank you , Mary.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. Mike, let's start at the beginning. Tell, tell us how you got into the financial counseling profession and what led you to pursue the AFC more than 20 years ago?

Speaker 3:

Uh , yes. Yes. Sounds like a long time. I , I think , uh, the primary reason was because I needed the help I needed the help myself. I , uh, I joined the military as , uh , Mary had mentioned earlier at a very young age. I was 17 and , uh , air force and probably about that 15th or 17th year, you know , I got into a little financial trouble and , um, like most , uh , kids that , uh , get ahold of credit cards or get all of these offers and they take advantage of 'em and they go down this road that they really shouldn't go down. And , um , I went down that road and , uh , to the point where, you know, the internet wasn't as , uh , available , uh , if you will , uh , in those days and , uh, they would send you letters. And I recall being afraid to , to go to the mailbox because I knew that that last red letter was in there telling me that you're 30 you're 60 days late. And , um, and when I finally worked up the courage to, to go get that letter out, you know, I said, I don't want to ever be in that position to get , uh , it's a horrible feeling. Uh , debt is a horrible thing to have over your head. Um, and I was still active duty. So I also saw the need for financial literacy to be given to our young military population, particularly in prep , in , uh , preparation for transition. Um, we didn't learn it in grade school. We didn't learn it in high school. We didn't learn it in college, unless of course you were an accounting major , um, or CFP or something of that sort. So , um, I made it a point to go out and to get licensed . Um, I wanted to know how insurance worked. So I went out and I got an insurance license. I wanted to know how investments worked. I went out and got a securities license. I wanted to know how mortgages work . I went out and got a mortgage broker's license. I helped insurance license, and I put all of that skill set together and I wanted to go back and deliver it to the military and fast forward to about , uh , 2002, 2003, 2004 . It is very challenging to fly back and forth from Europe to the states to keep up your EU .

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And a lot of things weren't online. So you had to go back and go to these testing centers and keep up your CEUs . And I said, okay , what does the military need for me to deliver this message to the 18 to 24 year old age group? And of course after five o'clock, some of the senior officers and enlisted came in, cause you can't be saying , coming in to a normal duty hours. So , um , the answer was the AFC, the accredited financial counselor certification, which was a national certification that we could use in lieu of having to acquire all of those licenses. That's kinda what led me to the initial certification and, you know, thank heavens , uh , 20 years later, we, I , I still have it. And , uh , we're still able to deliver that same message to, to folks that really need it both inside and outside of military.

Speaker 2:

Yes, absolutely. Mike, thank you for that. And , and I love the fact that you've gone through it yourself and that really has helped you create a message that you've touched so many lives because of your own experiences. And I think so many come to this profession in a similar route. I wanna walk back. So this is our 30th year anniversary of the AFC, and I wanna really roll it back because the military has been a big part of the growth of the AFC and the association. It's a , it's a key cornerstone of the , of the a F C P E . So let's talk a little bit about how the military became, how and why both , uh , the military and department defense came involved of deciding to require the AFCs for PFMs.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and , and I wish I could take , um , a lot of the credit for that, but I have to give the credit to the, to the folks before may . Um, and we're talking probably mid nineties, late nineties, early 2000, we wanted a financial readiness program manager to have prestige within the community. We wanted army community service where that financial readiness program manager was located to be the first stop . There was a lot of competition outside of the gate. So if we , uh , were able to get AFC certifications for all of our managers, we could , uh, deflect some of those resources outside the gate that our troops really didn't need and not to single anyone out, but there was some good actors and bad actors out there. But if our folks, if our , um , troops and our family members were educated in the area of finance, then they would come to us first and then we could tell them at least what to be, what to be on the lookout for. So , uh , in addition to that part, I think , um, funding played a major role if we could , um, let's say allow if we could acquire the funding and if we could get a national certification that was comparable to the level of all of those things on the outside. And when I say those things on the outside, if we could encompass payday lending, if we could encompass insurance , if we could encompass investment, how do we get all of that information to our troops? And the answer was through the certification. We had visibility across sectors, right? And we brought that to the leadership in the army. And there's an reason for that as well. If you have a certification it's much more difficult and , uh , easy to explain why the funding shouldn't be pulled because these folks are certified counselors and they're value they're , they're invaluable to our military community. So please don't pull our funding. So we wanted to get the certification, wanna get everyone's certified so that they could have status within community professionalism and prestige. So we codified that within our regulatory requirements. So any manager in accordance with army, any other services , um , codified it in different ways as well. Any manager needs to have a national certification, right. That was written in the regulation back in the early two thousands. And we've , uh , been successful to this day to keep it in there, thus , uh , one maintaining the professionalism and two , uh , protecting the funding source.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. There's a lot of certifications in this financial field. And I'm curious too , why the AFC, what does the AFC teach that maybe others don't?

Speaker 3:

Well, if, and I know you have, if you've , uh , attended one symposium, just one, you could see the plethora of constituencies that are in the room, government, civilian, academic, private practice, all of those things were at your disposal. Uh , we actually did some research. We had an outside research team to come in and the look at all of the certifications and the AFC rose to the top. Like we knew it would, we didn't need the research. We had already done it, but we hired an outside agency to come out, do the research, look at all of those other certifications and to give us , uh, what they thought, what, what their recommendations were. And that was the AFC rose to the top as being the best bang for the buck and the most prestigious.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And I feel like it too encapsulates all of the needs specifically that everyday Americans, including the military deal it , right. So we're not having to spend a lot of time on things that maybe only 3% of the population uses, but really it's the basics that all of us need to live life in this day and age,

Speaker 1:

Looking back on your career, what would you say are some of your most satisfying moments you've had during your time in this field?

Speaker 3:

Oh man. If , if I can first say every symposium that I've attended , uh, to include the last two virtual ones. Um, in addition to that, I , I recall when I initially began , uh , doing financial counseling for the army , um , and of course you had to approve yourself to the community

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> mm-hmm

Speaker 3:

<affirmative> . Um , and I, I did it one client at a time, one client at a time, just caring about where they were , uh , where we were going together and that they weren't in it by themselves. And when I got to the point where there were eight clients lined up in the hallway, I knew that I had to do 45 minutes on each one and 15 minutes for notes. To me, that was very satisfying just to know that I was just making a little bit of a difference within the community and then that spread across communities. And then that began with the interaction with other federal agencies. And then that moved to a larger installation. I would actually whistle on my way home. <laugh> <laugh> knowing that I, someone , and even though some of the clients would approach you sometimes at uncomfortable times , uh , if you grocery shopping, you really don't want to engage a person about their personal finances. But that young troop who came up to me and said, Mr. Wood, I finally paid off that last bill. Now we can begin the investments. You know, even though if it was a bad time and we'd set up an office call it , it was just so rewarding to know that how much AFC has on an individual in their family, not just while they're at work, but while they're at home as well. Those are my satisfying moments.

Speaker 1:

Mike, there's like, there's a ripple effect in it too. You know, I think someone comes in and they leave feeling relieved and, and they tell someone else, and, and there is, it , it affects every, every single aspect of someone's life. And it sort of breaks down those barriers too.

Speaker 2:

And Mike, I am not surprised that you had, 'em 15 deep in the hallway knowing <laugh> minute

Speaker 1:

Again , me either. <laugh>

Speaker 2:

I know that it wasn't always easy living and probably whistling every day after work. So please share with us some of the most challenging aspects or maybe events in your career.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think anytime you , we add government to the sentence there , there's gonna be a certain amount of bureaucracy that you have to negotiate through a lot of storytelling, if you will, with a happy ending , um , just overcoming those sorts of objections funding. Again, we all , we couldn't always afford to send people, get the certification. Um , and we're talking about 76 or so installations, we're talking a couple of hundred counselors, so it , it it's quite a budget to do that. So I think the bureaucracy, the funding and the actual life insurance certification, because , you know, when you're in an overseas environment in particular, we rotate a lot or we rotated a lot. I speak as if present tense, but you know, this is fast since we rotated a lot. So every two or three years, you know, we'd have to find another certified counselor to, to put in that seat to , uh , take care of that particular community. Because if we didn't, we're doing a disservice to the community by not having that expert there. So , um , we did , uh , overcome those by, you know, there's always a plan B to get things done. And , um, and that's why we were in these positions to make it happen within the community. That means we have to do it via zoom. They didn't have a whole lot of zoom back then, but if we had to do it conference calls or calls <laugh> yeah . Whatever we need . If we had to send someone there temporarily for 30 , uh , 60 , 90 days, just to take care of the needs of that community, while that person could get certified, then that's what we did. Or if I had to go out there myself to do it, then that was okay too, because never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn't do. It's kind of the way, you know, that worked. We had a really tight knit , um, group of people who were financial , financial , uh , literate and certified and that's across all services. And if it didn't work right in the army, then we would call another service to see what they're doing and make it right. So , um, so not a whole lot of challenges that we couldn't overcome and I don't even necessarily call them challenges because it, because it only made us stronger.

Speaker 2:

Let me ask you too, because I know, I don't believe you ended your career in personal finance, right. Even though you had this expertise and had honed in, you kind of have to SL and go where they tell you how to go, is that right?

Speaker 3:

Yes,

Speaker 2:

<laugh> . And so how does that work when you go in, because there's others out there listening to this and saying , Hey, I really wanna be a personal finance expert with the military, but also let's maybe set some realistic expectations that if you do get in the government system, in some ways you are probably gonna have a rotating role or maybe do different things, even outside of personal finance, is that true? Or what have you found throughout your career?

Speaker 3:

Sometimes you have to do what you don't like in order to get where you're going. Right. So , um, plus the salary, you know, isn't six , six figures, I mean , right . So it's, it's more of a helping profession. Um, so your question, if I'm , if I'm understanding it correctly is I've worked outside. And even though I wanted to be a counselor, I had to do other things, all of those things actually broadens your spectrum. And it gives you a different frame of reference to actually exchange places with the person when you're speaking with them about their particular issue. So I was in finance , uh, for about <laugh> at 17 years , uh , as a manager, because even though I wasn't directly the , the program manager , um, it was a part of my , uh , compliment of programs that I had. So I would still obviously keep my fingers in it , uh , for a number of reasons, mainly because it was one of my favorite programs. So , um, it just brings so much joy out of being able to help people , uh , get rid of their debt and plan for their future and save for retirement and do all of those good things. But I jumped out and I got into the deployment side of it. Right. Which is good. Now I understand, actually not only from an air force perspective, but from an army perspective on how those deployments work and what are the effects, and of course finance is gonna pop right up there, but now I can speak more intelligently to a person who just deployed. Right. I got into the transition piece, needless to say, you've gotta be financially prepared prior to transition. You have to be financially prepared throughout your career. Right. So doing all of those other extraneous things actually complimented my resume for one. And number two, my perspective on how financial literacy should be delivered and at what points in a person's career,

Speaker 1:

That's a good reminder for anyone, you know, not only in the military, but, you know, anytime you have a career shift , whether it's by design or not , there is always something that you can take with you and apply , um , to the work you do. So I think that's really wise, Mike, you spoke a little bit about the symposium , um, and you know, how much that impacted who you are in your career, but I'm curious if there are any fond memories that you have, whether it's at the symposium , um, you know, just in your time of being an a C P member or an AFC.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . You know, a , again, so many, I think the networking, what was the big deal? I , um, <laugh> , I, I had no perspective on how financial literacy is , is put into the universities and the colleges and, and what initiatives were being worked at the state level. Um, some of the challenges of private practice and nonprofits. And I ju just think just simple conversations about what you're doing. You know, that turns me on when I attend the symposium, I'm , I'm really into, you know, what are you doing? What makes, what you're doing different from what I'm doing ? I think serving on the board of directors was just completely eye opening . Oh my goodness. Right? This is how this works. As a result of my experience there, I was able to open and start my own nonprofit , right. Had no idea how much adminis trivia is involved with that. You know, don't get me wrong. So, you know, be careful what you asked for, but it was for the right reasons it was to deliver that financial literacy. Those are some of my , um, most fond memories. I remember the Scottsdale. I mean, I could go into, you know, just so many different and just you, Rachel and executive director, Mary be , and all of us just kind of growing together in this financial literacy world and just being there for each other, to be able to , I know I got on your nerves a few times. Oh

Speaker 1:

No .

Speaker 3:

<laugh> calling about different issues at directly impacted the military or the surrounding community. Grabbing statistics, exchanging data. Those are fun. That's the way, that's the way we work. If we're gonna make any sort of impact on any community, gotta work together and it's gotta be a joint venture joint effort.

Speaker 1:

Mike, I feel like what you said is, was surprising to me when I first came to a F C P E too . You know, we have people coming from all areas of the field. And it's really interesting, even though we're working in different ways, there's a lot that can be learned and applied in different constituencies. Um, you know, in nonprofit community and a military community, there are things on, you know, even though the organizations and the way they do things are run differently. There's a lot that you can learn just by kind of listening across the aisle.

Speaker 2:

You were one of the most involved members. The reason I know you so well is because you were always one to come out and speak out and be a part of it. And just what you mentioned, you were on the board, you've been involved with a F C P E . And so anyone that's out there listening today, that's a real way to learn is get involved. The more you get involved, the more you're gonna learn, right. No matter where you're coming from. And you've always been one to have a , a very open mind when it comes to it, even though you've spent your entire career in military, that we've had so many conversations that have been outside of the military scope, but you've been able to apply it. Um , and I've learned from you and vice versa. So I think that's great advice. Tell us, we'd be curious too , anybody that's listening today, that's looking at to get into financial counseling or coaching and wants to maybe run their own practice or go into the military. What advice would you have for them?

Speaker 3:

Um, number one, be yourself, always be yourself and take your experience, your heredity, your environment, you know, and all the things that that make up, you just stay yourself, stay legitimate, put the client's needs before your own, right . People can see that straight away if your needs are before theirs. And then I think finally, all of those principles that we learn , apply them to your daily living as well, establish those goals and demonstrate exactly what you're teaching out of those three, never forget where you came from, always be

Speaker 1:

Yourself. Mike, at the end of every interview, we always ask our guests to give their two sons, which , uh , is a very broad <laugh> question. But if you just had one piece of advice and it could be for a client, it could be for the field. What would you wanna leave with our listeners today?

Speaker 3:

I think this helping profession is one of the best , uh , enjoy the ride because you'll not only teach, but you'll learn just so much. And your mind will just open up so, so much. And you'll just embrace all the knowledge from all of those sectors that we spoke about earlier. And it just completes you as a person. So it not only, so you're not only helping others, but you're really just helping yourself. And when you're armed with that knowledge, you'll be able to share it with your friends and family members. So keep your eyes and ears open, right. And network as much as possible that , uh , always helps. But sometimes you get hired based on who you're networking with. Not necessarily your resume, don't get me wrong. The resume still needs to be strong, right? Because we have to justify those hirings, but , uh , keep your eyes and ears open, continue networking , and try to learn something from everyone that you speak with. It doesn't matter whether they learn something from you or not, but just try to learn something from everyone that you speak with

Speaker 2:

Mike such great advice. Thank you so much for coming on the show. You have been such a pillar in both the, a F C P E community and the military community, and we so appreciate everything you've done. Would you tell our listeners how they can connect with you?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, well, it's an M school 40 Gmail type thing. <laugh> Mike school spelling , gmail.com . And my number is, is just as open and free for anyone who wants to call , just to talk , just to run some issues by just to , just to say , hi , it's all good .

Speaker 2:

Rachel , Mike is one of my all time favorites. I love seeing him and his smile. Every time we go to the conference, he has been around for so long. And I mean that with good intentions, I , I can remember , uh , meeting him very early on in my career. And he is just being in a consistent, in fact, we were talking afterwards, he said, he's only missed two in his entire career of the conferences. And one was cuz of funding and another, because of some government issues. So I just applaud Mike for just being a pillar in this community. Everyone knows Mike loves Mike and just an incredible human being. He really does lead with his heart. And just like he said in the interview, I like the part where he said, don't tell anyone to do anything. You're not willing to do yourself. Right. And he has lived that not only from a personal finance side, but you also know from a leadership side that he is not one that tells you to do something that he's not gonna be there and keep your back and keep you going. So I really appreciate his wisdom. And honestly, I wanna take a minute just to thank the military. I am so grateful that the military is a part of a F C P E . For me, it's been such an integral part of my career. I have learned so much from my years in the Pentagon and then beyond. And it has been a really important part of my life. And I think as Mike was alluding to at the end, we all take things from one another and learn from each other. And that's what I think makes a F C P so great is it's not that you have to be in academia or military or private practice or these different segments, but instead you can branch over all of them and learn from all of them. That's not just a one or only, you're just such have such robust companionship and friendships and really incredible individuals to learn from. So I'm grateful for Mike and so many others that come every year and, and really connect and make our difference in our community.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. Mary and I can't think of a better person to have on as we're celebrating 30 years and a F C P E does have a really rich history with the military community. And I loved hearing Mike talk about, you know, they did their due diligence and they, they looked at all the different certifications. And when you're speaking about the military community as well, you know , there is a lot of predatory financial services. Um, you know, I think it's getting better, but it's always something that the government and the military is concerned about. And the AFC really just gave , uh , practitioners who are working with military families that really all of those foundational skills to meet people where they are. And it was just really, it was really neat to hear Mike talk about his history in the field. Um, I loved hearing his reminiscing about the symposiums. Um, that's something we look forward to every year and we are gonna be back in person this year , uh , for the first time and two years. And so I know all of the staff here is really excited and we're excited to see Mike in person come this November. So for all of our listers today, symposium registrations , uh , will open mid-June. So just a week or so away. Um , so save the date November 16th or 18th. Um, and you'll have an opportunity to meet with people just like Mike, who are so open to sharing and learning from one another. So thanks for joining us today until next time.