When CGF Financial Coaching Fellow Austin Mertz first told his mom about the Fellowship, her response was less-than-enthusiastic: “Why would you be a Financial Coach when I’m still teaching you how to manage YOUR money?” However, as an economics major at Brown University, Austin was seeking opportunities to apply his skills in the community, and he already felt comfortable in a one-on-one setting: in high school he served as a tutor, a role in which he thrived.
That said, he had a lot to learn about the curriculum content and he had never worked with people that are older. Fortunately, his extensive training at CGF taught him how to establish his credibility in a way that would allay any such concerns. Still, Austin notes that coaching “Is an interesting relationship and one that no amount of training can truly prepare you for. Each client is different and [being successful] takes a lot of on-the-fly thinking.”
During the first term of the Fellowship, which began in January of 2013, he served three clients. One of his favorite clients came to him bearing the burden of a seemingly insurmountable mountain of medical debt as well as the threat of foreclosure. “It was a tough introduction to poverty in Providence,” he says. “My strategy was to refer him to Rhode Island Legal Services to advise him on both foreclosure and the possibility of filing for bankruptcy.” The ability to know when to refer clients to community partners is something that was emphasized during his training, and it made a huge difference: the client was able to save his house and avoid the need for bankruptcy. This was in part thanks to a new job he was able to secure, and in part because Austin helped him to face the fear of looking at his financial situation. “With this client, it felt more like ‘Financial Therapy’ than Coaching. He really came out of our sessions with a feeling of hope and a sense of confidence about his financial future.”
Austin is now beginning his second term as a Fellow, and he is excited to serve more families, pointing out that “The first term was a rude awakening to the nature of poverty, but it was very rewarding and I now feel more confident than ever in my ability to serve my clients.” The impact of the Fellowship has gone beyond the lives he’s changed: when he first applied for the position he was unsure of what path he wanted to pursue after graduation. “Now that I have had a chance to see how CGF operates, I have become interested in non-profit consulting and social impact investing. I’ve been mentioning the Fellowship in cover letters for jobs, and this past summer I worked at a social innovation non-profit.”
In short, for Austin the Fellowship has given him the opportunity to expand his understanding of finance, crystallize his career path and, of course, empower families. When thinking about his upbringing, he recalls that his parents were very financially conscious, which has translated to his own aversion to needless spending. Nevertheless, Austin recognizes that every person’s experience is unique, which means that every Coaching session is unique. As he likes to put it, “Sometimes Coaching is therapeutic, sometimes it’s educational, but regardless of one’s situation, it is always transformational.”