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Championing financial literacy in the workplace

By Susan Yellin | November 23 2012 08:17PM

It came as no surprise to anyone – least of all Frank Wiginton – that his career path veered considerably from the dispassionate challenge of debugging computer programs to what he’s deemed to be a much more satisfying choice in financial education and planning.

After all, Mr. Wiginton’s mother had taught children with learning disabilities and his father ran government-sponsored crime prevention programs before retiring to become a palliative care minister. “So it’s obvious I come from a strong social fabric,” says Mr. Wiginton, a personal finance speaker, coach, educator and author based in Toronto. “It’s a big part of my philosophy on financial planning, which is about helping people use financial planning to attain a better quality of life as well as helping the community at large.”

Downsized employees

Born in Saskatoon and then moved to Ottawa when he was eight, “I darn near broke my parents’ hearts,” he says when he moved to Toronto to begin work in the brokerage business. But after earning his CFP, Mr. Wiginton discovered that working for the brokerage and later in bank branches preparing mortgages and the like, was too transaction-oriented. So he went where he could sink his teeth into financing planning, including a four-year period at TriDelta Financial. It was there that he really found his niche – helping downsized employees.

It began when the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan made its ill-fated attempt to buy out BCE Inc. in 2007. A senior executive at BCE, who was also one of Mr. Wiginton’s clients, asked him to talk to Bell Canada employees who were being downsized about their new financial planning needs – topics such as the implications of losing a job, how to deal with a severance package and pensions. Then, when a deal was struck for the 50-50 joint venture of Sony Corporation of America and Bertelsmann AG, he was again called in for his knowledge and support in working with company employees facing restructuring. “It just started snowballing after that,” says Mr. Wiginton. Since then, he’s worked with companies like The Toronto Star, Apotex, Ontario Power Generation, Dundee Securities and Canadian Tire.

“What I learned from doing that and also years of financial planning is that the majority of people just don’t have their fundamentals (of personal finance) in place,” he says. This unfortunate lack of knowledge runs the gamut from not knowing how much individuals are worth, to the absence of realistic goals and even how to manage their credit. Mr. Wiginton gives the example of a senior partner in a major Canadian law firm who walked into his office with a $5,000 Rolex on his wrist and a similarly priced suit on his back. Even with a net income of $44,000 a month, he couldn’t get a credit card because his financial affairs were in tatters.

Then in 2009, Ottawa created its much-heralded Task Force on Financial Literacy. Mr. Wiginton wrote and presented a proposal dealing with the need for financial literacy education in the workplace – a proposal that ended up as a Task Force recommendation. None of the recommendations has yet been implemented.
So he took matters into his own hands.

In January of this year he self-published a book that is now being published by John Wiley & Son. How to Eat an Elephant – Achieving Financial Success One Bite at a Time (www.howtoeatanelephant.ca), gives readers time to digest financial planning slowly, rather than being overwhelmed by a feast of information. The reader spends four hours or less just one day a month reading one chapter, then filling in the online tools Mr. Wiginton has created. Throughout the course of a year, readers work their way up step by step, getting their financial affairs in order.

“This is not a book about what stock to buy, or how to get rich quick and all that kind of stuff,” notes Mr. Wiginton, whose work in financial literacy was honoured with the distinguished Fellow distinction award in September from the Financial Planning Standards Council. “Instead, it’s: let’s set your goals, let’s understand where you are; it’s let’s figure out how much money you’re spending and where you can save money, make sure you have the proper insurance in place – all those fundamentals. Personal finance, for the majority of people, is this huge elephant in the room – it’s this ginormous perception they have of it. But it doesn’t have to be this big huge task. When broken down into small bites it becomes very digestible.” The book and its online tools form the basis behind his seminars and webinars.

Mr. Wiginton recently set up a roundtable of industry experts and expects to take the information to Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade so the information can be shared with their membership and inform as many people as possible about the importance of financial literacy in the workplace.

“To get governments to step up might take years and I can’t wait for that to happen. I’m trying to get the conversation going now – that financial literacy has a benefit to business and employees. The big struggle for businesses is that it’s not even in their sights yet – most businesses have never thought about it, they’re not even considering it.”

Mr. Wiginton takes the financial literacy philosophy home with him each night. His 30-month-old daughter is already plunking coins into a piggybank, shaking them around and saying: 'OK, now I have money for when to go to school.' “I think it’s good to start early,” he laughs.

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