Real Money, Real Experts

Government Careers in Personal Finance: Going inside with Dr. Mary Bell Carlson

January 26, 2022 AFCPE® Season 2 Episode 3
Real Money, Real Experts
Government Careers in Personal Finance: Going inside with Dr. Mary Bell Carlson
Show Notes Transcript

This week on Real Money, Real Experts, we’re putting co-host Dr. Mary Bell Carlson in the hot seat. In this second episode of our career series, Rachael talks to Mary about her expansive career path in the Government sector. Mary is a wealth of knowledge on the variety of ways AFC professionals can work in financial counseling and education at the local, state, and federal levels, and she offers lots of great resources for our listeners to explore. 

Even if you aren’t interested in a government career, Mary’s passion for advocacy is inspiring and she offers great tips for career growth in any field. (Hint – it starts with building strong relationships!) As an AFC® and a CFP®, Mary has a unique perspective on the value of the AFC, making this an episode you don’t want to miss.

Show Notes:
01:48 Mary’s Attraction to this Field
07:33 Why to Pursue Your AFC® and CFP®
10:02 The Intersection of Government Work and AFCPE®
11:37 All About Our Government Relations Task Force
12:49 What Mary Loved About Working in This Sector
15:32 Getting Involved at the Federal Level
19:45 Advice for Those Looking to Pursue Similar Careers
21:23 What She Would’ve Loved to Know Before Entering the Field          
22:37 Mary’s 2 Cents   

Show Note Links:
Mary's Linkedin
Chief Financial Mom

Career Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to real money, real experts, a podcast we're leading financial counseling and coaching experts share their stories, their challenges, and their advice for helping people manage money and the real world. I'm your host, Rachel da own interim executive director of the associate for financial counseling and planning education for a F C P E . And

Speaker 2:

I'm your co-host Dr. Mary Bell Carlson, an accredited financial counselor or AFC , and the CEO of Carlson consulting. Every episode, we're taking a deep dive into the topics that personal finance professionals care about helping clients build a and community in your professional

Speaker 1:

Growth. Mary, I am so excited for today's episode as part of our career series. We are gonna turn the tables a bit and put you in the hot seat. Are you ready? I'm ready. Our topic for today is careers in the government sector. A little background on Mary, my podcast coho. It was Dr. Carlson is a financial behavior expert who has worked in both the military and government communities for over a decade from the bowels of the Pentagon to the national association of counties to working on Capitol hill, Mary has worked or been a part of a number of local state and federal government positions and organiz Mary now shares that knowledge with other financial professionals as a business consultant, and as the CEO of Carlson consulting, she also teaches in the financial planning programs at both the university of Georgia and Texas tech university. Mary, you sound like you keep pretty busy.

Speaker 2:

I do. And it's been a fun and crazy path . So I'm glad to talk about the future. Thanks for having me on today. Rachel.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. Mary you've had quite a storied career journey. Tell us a little bit about how you got started and what attracted you to this field.

Speaker 2:

You bet. Yeah, actually it started with my love of politics. My dad is a politician at heart . I feel like he just loves and always talked about politics and I actually was a political science, undergrad major. And so during my political science undergrad, I , I went to Washington DC and worked as an intern on Capitol hill. And during that time there, I gained a lot of experience and knowledge. I learned quickly that I don't wanna be politician <laugh> , but I also learned a lot about how the federal government works , uh , at the biggest levels. And I remember some stories that I'll share later on, but there , it was a short time, but I , there was a lot of learning that took place. I went back and , and finished my undergrad and masters . But during that time, I always felt that what we were learning as financial education in getting my master's degree, that everyone needed to know this. And so I actually, during the spring break , uh , during my master's program, I actually called bill Gustin and said, Hey bill, do you wanna go to Austin? And lobby for financial education? FPA was having one of their Capitol hill days. And so he and I grabbed a round trip ticket to Austin, jumped on a plane and started knocking on doors of legislators, talking about financial education and how important that was. And that wasn't enough for me. I felt like once I actually got my degree, I just had this burning desire to go and share it with more. And so then I got a one-way ticket this time to Washington DC . And I gave myself three weeks to find a job, find something that I could do in Washington. And so I knocked on a lot of doors. I asked about a lot of opportunities. I was off and on the hill , uh , just talking to everybody and left the city with what I thought was gonna be no job. And I got a call when I was landing in Texas and it was FPA the financial planning association and they called to say, Hey, our government relations specialists over tax and retirement just quit. Would you come and work for us for three months to try to fill the gap? Well, that three months turned into three years and it was a great time. I, I remember very clearly. I really had this passion for, for financial education and the , um , treasuries department. They have a financial education and literacy caucus that they had started. And I remember very clearly going to those meetings, which were held in the Treasury's gold room . And it was the who's who of most of the big government groups were all there from DOD to SCC you name it. And so it was a really interesting way to kind of garner in and see all the different things that were taking place at the federal level. I then , uh , left shortly, worked in the financial planning sector for a small , uh , time, but then ended up getting a call and working in the Pentagon. And I spent about two and a half, three years there, and I foresaw and helped seek all of the financial education programs for the services. I was their resident CFP AFC on staff. Uh , I knew nothing about the military, but I learned really quick about it. And , uh , yeah, it was a great experience. I flew all over the world, giving presentations to service providers and, and helping grow these programs. So that was an incredible , and I remember talking to my boss and saying, so is the military 50% listed and 50% officer cuz we were used to hobnobbing with general betrays . And I thought that was a normal everyday occurrence. And uh, my boss who was a Navy commander at the time said, oh Mary, we gotta get you out of the Pentagon <laugh>. So we did. And I ended up at Fort Riley , Kansas, which is very different than the Pentagon. And I worked there as survivor outreach service. Uh , I was their financial counselor for what they called the SOS program. And this program helped service members who had passed away and it connected their families to some of the financial benefits of the military offered. And so that in a very emotional time that there was a lot of feelings and emotions that really tripped my study when I , I was also getting my PhD at Kansas state at the time and we specialized in financial therapy there. And that really helped me understand greater understanding about money and resilience and just the emotional side that comes with it. So I spent my time, my , my three years there at K state , I studied for my dissertation, the financial behaviors of soldiers before and after deployment. And then I came back to Washington DC. I had no intention to come back, but it just kind of drew me here . And I got hired by the national association of counties or NACO. And that is the association for the counties , uh , any county or government workers. So they have over 37,000 members that are part of NACO there's over, I know tons of random facts about counties. So we'll get more into that later. Um , but it really helped me kind of tie off. I had seen so much on the federal government side and this helped me really understand the local government side and what happens on the ground in communities. And that's really where the lifeblood I feel like of our nation is, is there at the local level, they also had a large 4 57 deferred comp program. And I helped part of that and was doing several other things with them . So that was a great time. I then got married and started my own business and I worked as a government contractor. I actually worked as a military contractor for some DOD contracts for a while . And then I switched over to intelligence contractor for a while and worked on some other contracts there and helped some individuals with security, clearance issues, other things that we can talk about in a bit. But yeah, I've, I've been all over both inside federal government, outside around spent time as both lobbyists as well as an association person. So it's been a fun, very experiential learning track. Uh , over the

Speaker 1:

Years you mentioned you have both your CFP and your AFC, which ordered did you get them in and what made you decide to pursue both? Yeah,

Speaker 2:

I actually started with my AFC. It was the very first one and I have Dotty Durbin to thank for that one. Dotty taught me in my master's program and I just loved financial counseling from the get go . It just spoke to my heart and soul and I knew this is really what wanted to do it. Wasn't to make rich people richer. It was to help out the everyday person. And so that's what it was. And , and Dotty really showed me that. So I actually, my first conference to ever attend was a F CPE symposium. And I had my credential and was able to use the mark shortly after graduation because I had worked in a bank. I had actually been a , a tell and worked on some other financial positions during my years in college as well. So I was able to use the marks pretty quickly and it served me well, especially for it took me a couple of years to get the CFP. I actually did not get it on my first try. So anybody out there sitting for it keep going. Uh , I did pass it on my second and I'm that I've had both marks because they've opened new doors and opportunities in different ways. Not only have they opened opportunities, but they've allowed me to serve this population that I just mentioned. And I say this population, that is a huge varied population, right. And it's really allowed me to talk on all levels and all sides of it. So I'm not just focused on a portfolio investment management, but I'm able to talk about cashflow and, and debt issues as well as , uh , retirement and estate planning. And that's what I think I love about it is how it really has helped me talk to everyone no matter what stage of life, whether they're young, whether they're old, whether they're single, whether they're married, it doesn't matter. The two together have really helped me bridge the gap. It helps me on the CFP side, I've gained a lot of technical knowledge and understanding of taxes and retirement and the estate planning and all the rest. But I'll tell you, my AFC is the real heart and soul because it's taught me about people and that's what everything, you know, whether you're a financial planner or a counselor, coach, you name it. If you work with people, it's understanding people better and how to communicate with them and how to show empathy and sympathy. And so many things . It's the human part of money that really draws us near and dear. So I would say that to me , uh , really pulled me in.

Speaker 1:

You went on to become really involved with the organization throughout your career and also serve on the board. How did the work that you did in government and military impact your service within the organization?

Speaker 2:

I would say starting off it's relationships that have made all the difference for me. And so whether it was working with the military, I received over 800 surveys when I got my, and these are primary data surveys. When I was working on my dissertation. There's no way those doors would've been open. Had I not had the relationship with the ACS director I had worked for her. She knew me well, I also knew the full bird Colonel that was the installation to director. And so there's no way that doors would've open without those relationships. So let me switch over the same thing applies for a F C P E is I, that was exactly. I still remember the few people that I met on that very first, a F C P E conference one was Alina Johnson. And she has been an instrumental part of my life. Another was Kelly JoVE , who has been a dear friend of mine now for almost 20 years. And so it's those types of relationships that have just been so impactful and I could go on and on. There's so many other people that have grown and had relationships with and every time I go back, it's those relationships that continue to garner me. So as, as I gathered more and really felt like it was my time to contribute and give back to the organization, I did, I served on the board and spent three years helping kind of shape some of the things we were planning on, on for a F C P E . And one of the things near and dear to my heart that we worked on was an advocacy program. I had fell after working in DCE and at the local level for so long, we needed a stronger voice inside some of these very important legislative discussions. So I would say that was very important. And Rachel, I know we have a government relations task force that has been going strong for a couple years now, and we're always looking for new members. So would you update us on the latest happenings? Yeah,

Speaker 1:

Mary, I think that task force started during your time on the board. And we have gathered quite a few materials for an C toolkit. And this year, the task force is gonna be creating and finalizing and distributing that toolkit to allow more a F C P E members to advocate at the federal state local level. That group also helps us continue to build in foster relationships with key partners like FTC, C F P B a a R R P . There's a whole bunch of acronyms for you . <laugh> but yeah, we're, we're always looking for new volunteers and right now for members, this is our open call for taskforce volunteers. So it's a great way. If you're passionate about government relations and advocacy, this is a great place to get involved. Mary let's pivot a little bit since the focus of our show today is government years . If you had to pick one thing, what did you love most about working in this sector? My

Speaker 2:

Favorite thing about working in this sector is that it's so big and vast. There are so many ways that you can work and serve in this area of government that there countless to even name. And we'd be here all day on this put cast if we were to start. So I will tee up a few ideas for those of you that are wanting to pursue government work. And from here really it's up to you to take it and run with it, whether it fits you at a federal level, maybe a state level or a local level. And so let me share a few ideas with you at the local level. As I mentioned earlier, county are the lifeblood of our nation. They cover everything from transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, water, education. There's really nothing that doesn't touch your daily life, that isn't run or touched by a county. And so if you really want to be the roots and fetal on , on the ground, I would say start at the county level. And I think that helps to a lot of people who are intimidated to reach out to a, you know, state or a federal Senator or representative really it's your local representatives that are the ones that are doing the most impact. And so reach out in a local way, volunteer for an organization or, or reach out to even been a school and start connecting at a local level with places and things that really matter to you. A couple of ideas that I have for this is a one called the cities for financial empowerment. And this is run actually in a lot of large cities. We'll put the URL in the show notes below. Secondly, I would say at the state level, there is a lot to do with school systems in the state level. And if you are very interested in reaching out and touching the next generation, reach out, especially through organizations like junior achievement and jump start , both of those are excellent ways. Junior achievement is really a experiential learning experience or where you're in the classroom. Teaching jumpstart is more of a group, a like-minded group trying to advocate for more financial education in the school system. So either one or both honestly are a great way to help you your state move forward in this area of financial education and help empowering , uh , the next generation on.

Speaker 1:

And Mary, I just want to piggyback a little bit on that. Jumpstart offers state chapters as well. And so it's really easy to reach out to your local representative and get connected. It's a great way to network. It's a great way to get to know others in your space.

Speaker 2:

And for those who wanna work at a federal level, there are a lot of ways to get involved and connected. Well , I think I'll start with the very first and a lot of us know, department of defense in the military, they hire a lot of service providers that work on the installation. They have civilian positions there. They also have contractor that you're able to work part-time or for short periods. There's lots of ways to be involved with the military as well as the veterans association. I think sometimes we forget the two largest groups are actually do D and VA, and they cover a huge amount, millions and millions of people. And so there's ways to help full of current service members as well as veterans with any kind of financial needs or help. The treasuries I mentioned earlier has their flex program. They have tons of resources as well as ways to connect. They really are kind of an umbrella organization. I would say for all of the financial education programs that are taking place at the federal level. So it's great place to start if you're really wanting to reach out and see all the things happening at a federal level, both the S E C , which is the securities exchange commission, as well as FINRA. So those that , uh , license and oversee both financial planners, registered investment advisors and broker dealers, they have program that are for investors. And we'll put the links to both of those groups below, as well, groups like the federal trade commission, they oversee identity theft, and that affects so many. There are so many ways that you can reach out and connect there. So we'll collude that there's the CF P B , which is the consumer financial protection bureau, which has numerous op opportunities positions. If you want to work at a staff level income work forum, as well as ways of volunteering connect, the TSP is the world's largest thrift savings program. It's the largest 401k in the world. And there have also offer education. In fact, something kind of interesting within that retirement community. When I worked at NACO, I work for a man named David Davenport and David started some of the earliest 4 57 programs in the nation. And as part of that, he worked with a lot of governments, local state, and federal and inputted that they have to have retirement counselors. And that's where the group inf free came from and they offer the retirement counseling designation. And so there are lots of opportunities. A lot of people don't know this, but there's lots of opportunities within retirement community to become a counselor and really work with the retiring population, those saving for retirement. And then another group that I worked for for some time was the FBI and intelligence community. And this is very unheard of spots and they are really niche and neat, but I will tell you, it's one of the most satisfying things I've ever done in my career. And I spent time helping people with security clearances, keep their clearances, finances have such an impact on a security clearance, whether it's a military service member or FBI or, or you name it, whomever has those security clearances have to keep it through the management of their personal finances. And so it was very, very rewarding and eye opening . For me, it was a completely different community that I had never experienced before. And I , I learned so much during my time there. And Rachel, I do have to say the way I found that job was actually through AF CPE's career center portal. And so if you're wondering about these, you will find jobs that I remember the one I applied for said, fax your resume to so-and. So I didn't even have a fax machine and it , how all worked out very cryptically years later, I would just say, get involved and reach out and see if you are not interested in really working with government or politicians or career government individuals reach out with associations. So that's the whole point of an association, whether it's like NACO or a F C P E , or FPA, or a a R P I mean , there's a million associations out there. And so find a group of like-minded people because one person can actually advocate tremendously, but think of a whole group standing for that, their voice is an impact is so much greater. Mary,

Speaker 1:

What advice would you give a professional who is looking to pursue a career in government? Hey , you've

Speaker 2:

Gotta get involved. And the way to start is start anywhere. You can meet someone if you're interested in the military and you know, nothing like I did about the military, start talking, get to know people in the military, talk to 'em about their careers, find out what the services they offer, what it is. I think another great way. And especially for those mil spouses who are already in the military, I've heard so many military spouses say they started as a volunteer. They started volunteering for their community service program. And that led from one thing to another, to allow them to get their certification, which allegedly led to a contract position or even full-time employment somewhere. Uh , you can all also start as an intern. I mean, think back of what I remember being on Capitol Hills , an intern, I was only there for one semester, but the amount of information I gained, I'll never forget. There was a lady who called in and said representative. So and so tell him that they need to quit flying an airplane over my house. This is back in Texas, right? And I thought, wow, to go from what was a very, very local issue, all the way to the federal government. It allowed me to see and understand how government works and where the best way to get help and receive that help. So I would say start learning. And however you can learn, take in that information, meet people, talk to 'em find out about their careers, find out about their jobs and really start volunteering. However you can, so you can become a part of it. And you'll be the first one they think of when opportunities and positions do open up.

Speaker 1:

What is one thing that you wish you had known before enter this field?

Speaker 2:

I will tell you, and I will specifically hone in on my military experience. I knew nothing about that segment of the population, and it took a full two years while I was there to really get up to speed and understand. And I don't pretend to even understand all of the nuances to date . So I would say one of the most wonder things about a F C P E is that they have courses like the military essentials course to help get you up to speed without having to learn by the school of hard knocks the way I did. And so I think anything you can learn about that field, whether if you wanna be a retirement counselor, learn everything you can about retirement counseling, what organizations and associations advocate for retirement, how do you get involved military? You know, you just name it, whatever that niche is, whatever that specialty is, whatever you is, really your passion, as you learn about it, you'll be able to start to make connections and understand how they talk and what the speak means and, and how that all works together. So that when the opportunity does come, you're ready to hit the ground running and you'll be up to speed and ready to

Speaker 1:

Go. Mary, at the end of each interview, we like to get the guests 2 cents or biggest takeaways for our listeners. If you had one piece of advice to offer our professionals, what would it be?

Speaker 2:

I, I think it's absolutely be open to new opportunities and new ideas. There is nothing I've done in my career. If , if I had been closed minded and said, no, I've gotta have a job application. By the way, I can't tell you the last time I filled out a job application in 20 years, that just doesn't happen. And that's where I think all of these, I was open to it though. I say, here's my resume. You know, let me know if there's an opportunity or here's a new idea. I knew nothing about counties. And then I went to go work for the association. And so I know a heck of a lot more than I did before. So I think as you're open to these ideas, and I would say even the diversity of ideas, sometimes things come up that I didn't agree with or didn't know about. But as I learned more about them, I was able to understand, even if I didn't agree with it, I was still able to grow from that experience. The other part is carving out your passion or your niche. And that's what I think really sets you apart from the whole rest of the crowd is being able to figure out this is really what I wanna do. And it doesn't have to be like work for XYZ company or association or whatever, but it's served these clientele. Who do you enjoy working with from there? Just take it and run with it and really get involved at every level that you can. That that's how opportunities come your way is by being open to these ideas and focusing on what that niche is that you wanna work with.

Speaker 1:

Even at a F C P E , I have the opportunity to connect with so many different types of professionals. And there is a common thread between the people that are most successful in their careers. I think passion, when you go back to finding that sh you know, really understanding who it is that you wanna serve can get you far. And I, a hundred percent agree, you know, learn, learn, learn, put yourself out there and really connect with people. I agree with you. I can't remember the last time I filled out an application. I mean, it's really about making connections, being in the right a place and continuing to learn and grow. And that's the formula, it's the magic formula.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And I think back to symposium this year, where they talked about the jail population, those that are recidivism rates and how to help those that are incarcerated. And I think, you know, that's not a population I know anything about or, or have served in the past, but I think of Kate millets , who is so passionate about this, and it is a sector that she loves and her heart and soul is into it. And so that's what we need more of. We need more diversity in able to serve so many different populations. And so follow that passion and that population, because I guarantee whether it's veterans or incarcerated or everyday citizen, it doesn't matter who that is. They need you, and they need your service.

Speaker 1:

Mary, thank you so much for sharing your career journey. Please tell our listeners where they can connect with you

Speaker 2:

The best way to connect with me. Right , right now is on LinkedIn. It's just Mary Bell Carlson, or you can also find me on my consumer facing website, which is chief financial mom.com.

Speaker 1:

Mary, thanks again, you were a wealth of knowledge and we are gonna be sure that we put all of those organizations and resources that you called out in the show notes . So be sure to ch check that out. Also, if you're interested in career opportunities with our field, be sure to visit a F C p.org under the career and resource center. You'll find a job board as well as information on various career paths, including government. And don't forget now is a great time to join the a F C P community by , by becoming a member. You build your network, which is one of the best ways to advance your career. A F C P E is a place to find your people. See you next time.