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What does your money mean to you? That is the question Betty-Anne Howard explores with her clients, audiences and readers. Whether she is in the role of speaker, author or financial planner, she communicates that financial planning is not just about the money, but about creating the life you’ve dreamed of living and the legacy you want to leave.

“Investing and planning are not simple templates,” says the author of Making Your Dreams a Reality. “It comes from your values and your relationship with money so that you can enjoy your life today while making your dreams come true.”

In order to achieve those goals, our society needs to overcome some serious taboos surrounding talking about money.

“We can start that by making the experience more pleasurable for people,” Betty-Anne says. “Right now, most people aren’t having the conversations about money they need to have, especially when it comes to inheritance planning and philanthropic giving. Few Financial Advisors are helping them in a meaningful way. Most people want to be good stewards of their money and they need some guidance on how best to utilize all the options available to them.”

Betty-Anne’s approach has often meant taking on all of society’s restricted topic taboos at once! Her high-impact speech, The Magic of Sex, spells out how access to the right words, the appropriate tools, and the spirit of fun all contribute to our enjoyment of sex. In the next minute of the speech, she tells audiences how those three factors should contribute to our enjoyment of money and the financial planning that goes with it.

“It was considered too risqué by some financial product groups,” she admits with a laugh.

That reaction might explain why few financial planners have been brave enough to take up the speaking and writing opportunities that are fueling the push for greater financial literacy.

Her approach is original and that originality comes from Betty-Anne’s unique experience on both a professional and personal level. While she has been a financial planner for the past twenty years, she holds a BA in Psychology and a Master’s of Social Work. Her first career saw her doing clinical social work with students while teaching at St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University. Her focus on education toward greater financial literacy is a constant through her books, courses, speaking engagements and her fundamental approach to financial planning.

“My father couldn’t read or write, so I am very passionate about the financial literacy piece,” Betty-Anne explains. “He was taken out of school in grade three because his elder brothers were away with the war and his labor was necessary on the farm. Later, as a miner, he was a member of the steel workers union and no one knew he couldn’t read or write. It was not a big deal to me as a child because he had developed such effective skills for overcoming barriers. He was a real problem solver. At one point, he had to get his hoisting engineer’s license for the mine, so my Mother read the book to him, he made arrangements for her to read him the exam questions while she wrote down his answers. He was a very creative and resourceful man.”

As a result of her father’s example, Betty-Anne is more sensitive to learning issues than most.

“It’s very important that people can get information in easy and practical ways so they can make informed decisions,” she says. “No matter what product you sell or service you provide, you have to ensure the information is interesting, accessible and relevant. In financial planning, I have even had lawyers and engineers ask, ‘Why am I not getting this?’ and I work to make the information relevant to their own lives and their own situations. There are so many different ways of learning.”

To further financial literacy and the need for materials that appeal to many different learning styles, Betty-Anne is working on a number of courses. One is for couples who often find discussions about money to be problematic.

“It’s easy for people, especially within a couple, to become polarized as the saver versus the spender when there are positive and negative aspects to both attitudes,” Betty-Anne has found. “This is especially true when inheritance becomes an issue. Whomever is inheriting the money may want to be a good steward of that money and preserve the wealth while the other may feel that is meant to improve life right now. We guide people through talking about the attachments to both the money and the people it came from.”

While these are among the financial communication skills everyone needs to deal with money in a life enhancing way, financial planners are often less available to teach those basics. That is the gap Betty-Anne is leveraging her experience to fill.

“It has become more difficult for investment planners to work with people who don’t have a lot of money to invest,” Betty-Anne says. “Right now, the focus is on people who have more assets. We are off-setting that by offering opportunities for people to learn enough to get into investing. The only way I can focus on philanthropic gift planning and inheritance planning, is if I create materials to get younger people started and equipped to do some of their own financial planning in the early stages. We give them the basic principles and say, ‘now do it!’ Once they know how the maze works, they feel empowered.”

That sense of empowerment, Betty-Anne believes, will change the world.

“People have always had philanthropic goals and their need for support to meet those goals just wasn’t being met,” she explains. “Very few financial planners had the background to do the work required to realize those goals. Now, we have better tools to help clients realize their dreams of making a difference.”

The dream of making a contribution to society is not just a trend among the very wealthy, but a movement younger people from all backgrounds have taken to heart.

“This next generation, which I really appreciate, has a feminist, social activist agenda,” Betty-Anne says. “They want to align their values with their investment principles. I am excited about how important it is to them to be socially responsible and their need to make a difference in the world.”

It’s an outlook on life and financial planning Betty-Anne understands on a personal level. She was among the organizers of the first Take Back the Night vigil in Kingston, and has participated in a number of other activist movements.

“It was a response to growing up working class and as the only girl in a family of brothers,” says Betty-Anne.

Another natural response to that background? Being one of the first financial planners in Kingston to join the Responsible Investment Association. Her own family is part of this new era of philanthropic planning. Betty-Anne and her wife Maggie have been married for six of the fourteen years they have been together. They care for their two horses and their dog Phoenix, share precious time with their daughter who lives and teaches in San Jose California, while dedicating their spare time to a variety of charitable and social causes.

Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network.





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