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How Dr. George M. Blount Transitioned From Wealth Management to Financial Therapist

Named one of Top 100 People in Finance 2020 by The Top 100 Magazine, Dr. George M. Blount has spent over 20 years in financial services, with experience from sales and project management to research and strategy. In 2018, he shifted careers and founded nBalance Financial, where he works as a financial therapist.

Why people make the decisions they make with money has always fascinated Dr. Blount throughout his years as a financial services professional. As he matured in the wealth management space, he decided to shift his focus to exploring this curiosity more. That’s why he founded nBalance Financial to focus on the intersectionality of mental and financial health.

Here’s what we talked about with Dr. Blount:

  • How a curiosity spurred him to change his career focus 
  • The benefits of financial therapy 
  • His approach to making the “system” of financial services more open to all


Featured Resources 

To learn more about our On Purpose guest, please visit Dr. Blount’s LinkedIn page


Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:00):

Thank you so much for being with us today. I'm excited to hear more about your firm and what you've built. So let's go ahead and jump in. I was reading a little bit about your background and I think it's a very purposeful title that you have with financial therapist. Let's just start there. How did you decide on that title? Where does that stem from? What is the thinking behind all of that?

George (00:26):

So as a financial therapist, I help people with their emotional relationship with money. That emotional relationship with money is one of the things that I have always been curious about throughout the time I've spent in wealth management, which started in ‘97 and continues up into this day. For most of my career though, I worked in your traditional wealth management functions, doing financial planning, financial advisory, and then also doing trading in terms of online trading stocks, bonds, mutual funds and options, et cetera. As I started to mature, I guess, in the space, I would say right around 2008, it really became apparent after the financial crisis that there was a gap between what we needed to do for people in terms of the information that they have available to them and the decisions that they're making.

George (01:19):

And how do we get that information to the individuals was a big challenge that I just could not figure out. And so right around 2010 or so, I started to look at doctoral programs just to look in the qualitative space to see what we are doing in financial education. I started my program in 2014. I had an interest in psychology. So I immediately started to look at the behavioral sciences space, really just dealing with that as a discipline from 2000, you know, really maturing in 2010. And really, I think explaining a lot of the aspects of human behavior that we saw in 2008. And from there, that's where I found financial therapy. It was a practice by mental health professionals that really dealt with couples that were having troubles with their financial problems. And instead of that mental health counselor trying to fix the problems, the financial problems, they would just outsource to a CFP®, some type of financial planner or financial professional.

George (02:25):

And then once that was satisfied, go about 10 years later, it's actually become more of a hybrid model. We have practitioners as well as those that are academics. And so that's the space that I found is really being an interesting intersectionality between financial health and mental health. And as a result in 2017, I started this firm, nBalance Financial, to specifically focus on financial therapy as a way to help people with their financial decisions, to improve financial decision-making over long-term horizons. And so thinking of wealth as opposed to being the accumulation of assets, simply being the accumulation of prudent financial decisions. And so I've spent the past couple of years developing that model, developing the scale, and then it has really allowed that intersectionality to come out a little bit more. So it's definitely become a better environment, although kind of globally it's a bad environment for the awareness, for the discipline, for the theory in and of itself, it creates a great atmosphere to be able to grow, scale and help people out.

Lauren (03:39):

Is there anything unique in your processes that you do to help folks go through that process? You typically would go to an advisor, you'd pass over paperwork, have an initial discussion, yada yada, but I mean, you see under the hood, right? There's a lot of things that are going on. And how do you approach that given your background?

George (04:01):

Yeah, so financial health is really five components, in that working with an advisor is only one part, the economic part, just can we find the products and services to help me satisfy some of my financial problems? The other four are really just more visceral and more innate in terms of how economies are created. So some people just develop their financial capabilities by their environment, where they're at, relational. It may be from their parents. Some actually just start to develop more of an emotional relationship. So they make financial decisions based on their emotions, how they feel or how they choose not to feel. Some people start to make these decisions based on their own individual psychology, kind of a way of creating meaning in money or meaning of not having money. And then last but not least, we really just have what is an overall ability to look at our environment from the standpoint of, we understand that people have financial limitations, but we don't necessarily make it easier.

George (05:00):

We actually make it more difficult for people to make those decisions. And so the approach really just addresses the other aspects besides the products and services, but can we deal with the external environment, the psychology, the emotional relationship or the behavior, to understand the financial decisions. I think another part of that is really looking at it in three phases. Let's look at your money past, how do we get to the place where we're at? And so let's evaluate where that's at, and that takes a lot of conversation and a lot of listening. That really is origin stories of your financial persona. And that's more of in line with financial therapy, really allowing someone to speak and understand it in their own terms, how they relate to money.

George (05:54):

The second phase is in their money present, which is based on where you are today, where you've come from in the past, how do you feel about where you stand right now and how can we best navigate your situation today? And then the last phase would be your money future, what do we need to do to pretty much create the best outcome for you and what things in terms of resources, information, products, or services do we need to provide to you? So that way you're set up the best way. So I think we have a few different aspects in the traditional financial advisory world and helping out people with their decisions. Then the very last portion of it is products and services.

Lauren (06:34):

I see. So do you do that, do you have those conversations in the discovery? Is that part of the onboarding?

George (06:40):

Yep. And so it happens in discovery. We have two different versions. I have a profile on Psychology Today, so I'm able to get individuals that are keenly interested in taking care of their own financial problems. I also work with the organizations through their employee benefits. And so as people are working with their 401(k)s or trying to understand retirement, we really use that as an opportunity to start to do better at understanding finances and understanding what that retirement could actually look like. So it's a discovery process that originates in a retail form through kind of Psychology Today through direct outreach or an institutional form through benefits.

Lauren (07:19):

Okay. And then if someone were to come and work with you, is there homework they do ahead of time? Or is it more, you just want that organic answer? And that conversation happens through that discovery.

George (07:32):

Yeah, it's more organic and we actually just take our time and build that process overall. It doesn't take long, but I think the most important part is not to do a lot of prerequisites. In this form, it's really important for you to use your own words, not bias the information at all. And so really seeing the facial expressions, having the conversation, being able to build from storytelling what is really important about the financial decisions and what is not, it really is about just listening. A lot of the information that I could provide or give people ahead of time, I'm not quite sure what influence that will have. And I'm more interested in once you have given someone information, what do they do with it? Cuz that's part of the behavior change process. So instead of a lot of prerequisite homework and kind of allowing that to build toward an understanding, start organically, building that understanding and then hold people accountable to the change that should be precipitated when you have new information. Because if you get new information and you're doing the same thing, then we should understand why that's happening as well.

Lauren (08:42):

And then how are you holding folks accountable, if that's the right word, or just keeping that conversation going as they engage with you over potentially a lifetime, right?

George (08:54):

Yeah, I think some of it just really comes to asking a question of why kind of, why are we not changing? Why are we not doing something different now that you said that you didn't have information and now that you have information, why are we doing the same thing? I think the accountability happens when you understand the origin story and you understand where they're at today. And so putting those two things together allows you to use some of the motivational interviewing to say, you said you didn't want to be in this situation, right? You said that with new information you can improve. And so now that you have new information that's allowing you to change your situation, tell me why you're not right. Let's start to work through what's preventing you from changing. And that's really where the accountability comes from. It's not about saying do this, but really responding to, you said this is what you wanted. You said this is what you needed. And you said that if you had this, it would help. And so with those three things, why are we not acting?

George (09:57):

And that may be what we're really trying to solve. It may not be a financial problem, so to speak. It may be anxiety, it may simply be in decision-making situations there's a big freeze moment and you have to overcome it. And I think that's where there's a big differentiator between traditional financial advisory. The moving forward. This approach really says that what we may need to provide you is something that we're not sure of, only you know, and only you know how to get there, but we really have to just expose you to what's keeping you from moving ahead. And I think in the traditional financial advisory space, it's that regardless of where you came from or where you are at today, this product can get you to where you want to be in the future. That's where we are kind of diametrically different. To go forward, we believe in going backwards first, as opposed to taking our first conversation and moving forward. 

Lauren (11:00)

And then, you had a very purposeful intention in the way that you started the firm. Even the titles, right, that are being held, the process that you're taking clients through and getting to that point took some time, right, with education and everything. And where do you see the industry going at large? Do you feel that this is a part of a bigger trend in our country? What are your thoughts as we look ahead and what should we have on our radar?

George (11:28):

I think the two things I would say that are really interesting trends is that, as a financial professional, my latter years in corporate were spent trying to develop a think tank, an institute within wealth management. So that way we're able to understand these things at an academic level and really use the academic space, where we have this idea orientation as a way to provide us with product development ideas, where these ideas are there already. We just have to get them into the corporate space. And so one way to do that is through financial therapy. It's a good intersection between mental health and financial health. It's a good combination between the products that are needed and kind of understanding the apprehensions that people have in terms of using those products. And so it creates the right type of connection.

George (12:20):

The trend is really that we start to incorporate more academic rigor into our product development. So that way we're not coming up with new problems and new solutions, but we're actually allowing ourselves to build upon the solutions to the problems that are already being worked on every single year. And I think that is the real difference that we're seeing here. We see the qualitative advantages of using this information to help out people, because it deals with behavior as opposed to more of the quantitative ways of interacting with information, which is just really probability, right? Here's big data and this big data gives me a way to understand big swaths of people without actually talking to them. And so I think that the approach is just very different, where we use behavioral sciences, where actually talking to a very small group of people may give you information into how a larger group of people are behaving and kind of understanding that dynamic, how it's worked, how, over 20 years, we've seen two Nobel prizes in economics being drawn from behavioral sciences.

George (13:33):

That's where business has to arrive—seeing academic research and idea orientation as a place to feed from. That prevents you from sitting in a boardroom, coming up with problems that don't exist or creating bad solutions to problems that have been around for a while, that you don't really don't have a chance to continue upon what people are doing if you don't look there and you don't start. So I see the research being more qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, and really looking at areas that have intersectionality with some academic partnership is where I see the industry heading.

Lauren (14:15):

Do you see any of that happening currently? I know you have that experience in corporate; it sounds like it potentially was trending that way before you had parted. And do you see any kind of hubs of knowledge, if you will, or even potentially, opportunities for folks to start to gather this knowledge, if you don't feel that they exist, articles, publications, everyplace.

George (14:38):

Yeah. Everyplace except for corporate America, I would say, right? And so there is a giant strategy, it's called the financial literacy education strategy. It's developed by a federal commission, a financial literacy education commission, composed of the heads of 19 agencies. And it develops a national financial education strategy every other year. So we have that and it allows us to have consistency in our terms and understanding of what research is really prevalent, what's moving things forward and how we can achieve our outcome of limiting financial illiteracy over time. Academics use that information. And I should mention, I teach as well. I teach managerial accounting and behavioral finance. So I understand the way that this information is being taught. So it's imperative that we actually look at it from those perspectives. I think one of the things that really makes it difficult is that nonprofits are using this information because they're aligning to the strategy because they will work to have deep information.

George (15:50):

They work with educational institutions who are using this information. Who works within government agencies, like state treasurers offices, who are responsible for financial education. And so we see this interconnectivity between a global or at least national financial literacy strategy that allows us to move people toward a common direction. We see people following it in terms of nonprofits, educational institutions, as well as our governments and what dilutes that entire messaging is when corporate America does something that's completely against the grain of what is said there. When all of those entities are moving in the right direction and to create a common language. And then we all of a sudden develop a new term because it was catchy and marketable, that is where we have an issue, right? I'll give you an example.

George (16:45):

If we're trying to fix financial literacy and we call people, and we say that there's a financial literacy problem, it doesn't mean that we're calling them illiterate, but we can't really say that we're trying to enhance financial illiteracy up until we are 18. And then, because we don't wanna call adults illiterate, we say financial capability or financial wellness from 21 to 65. And then it turns into something else after age 65, it turns into consumer protections. That's not the way, right. To allow us to create continuity and actually bridge the gap to what we're seeing, we need a whole approach that allows us to see our financial limitations that happen in K through 12 are impacting our adulthood. It is impacting our lives as aging adults. And that's where without corporate America aligning to what we already see with these other hubs makes it incredibly difficult for us to move the needle, because we really just take great strides forward to really deal with noise that makes the messaging a little bit nebulous and really hard for people to grasp onto. 

Lauren (18:01):

So in other words, objectively to be able to look at the whole person and not just the financial picture, and how you are, I don't wanna use the word treating, but you're interacting with them. You're helping them to solve their ultimately potentially financial challenge, but connected to other things. You can't disconnect the pieces is a little bit of what I'm hearing. 

George (18:25):

So yeah, it's like a system. Financial services is a system. How do we create a good flow of information into that system for people that may not have the means or the resources or the access to it? If the system exists, but it only exists for the people that know where to go, know who to talk to, have the right money, or have the right credit score or live in the right cities. Then that's not a very open and fluid system, right? It's very constrictive. And that means that a lot of people are gonna be ostracized. But if you develop a system that understands that we all come to this place from different times, from different areas, that we all have similar objectives, right? And our beginnings are just very different in that we are all lacking the information that we need to move forward.

George (19:15):

That type of system allows more people into it. It allows more people to learn, grow, expand, and create equity. And so I think it's really, to your point, we have to develop a good conduit to that system that allows for increased stability, increased equity, because without it, we have a lot of people ostracized from it. And what happens is that they don't all of a sudden turn away from these financial products, they just get the same financial products at a higher cost with a lack of customer service, with a lack of consumer protections and a lack of oversight. That's the only thing that happens when that system is closed and we don't allow it to be more open and fruitful.

Lauren (19:57):

So well said. I really appreciate that. And then is there anything else that you'd like to share if someone would be interested in working with you, or just interested to learn more about some of what you've shared and would love to hear a little bit more on that?

George (20:15):

Yeah, one of the things that I like to say is as a financial therapist, it really allows me to do two things, work with individuals and work with the organization. So I think if I looked at it from the individual standpoint, it is financial therapy, helping people understand where their stories come from, what their financial language is, and how to use that language to their best purpose to get what they need in terms of achieving their goals. When we move to institutional, I think the imbalance in what the organization is able to provide shifts more to behavioral sciences, and really looking at how do we understand changing behavior, human emotions, human decision-making, and apply it to our key performance metrics for our organization, or to achieve our outcome. I focus on retirement a lot. And so it's really important if we provide a retirement plan and we know that people don't have the information that they need to appropriately invest and educate, you’re not doing anything constructive for them, right?

George (21:18):

We have this product that can be a portfolio goal that helps people save as well as learn. It can help you buy your first house. It can help you pay for your first wedding and it can help you pay for your retirement. But if you only sell this and position it as a retirement product to a 25-year-old, you're gonna miss the utility. And so organizations that are looking to develop financial wellness programs, create better utility, understand how behavioral sciences are able to influence employee behavior, participant behavior. Like that's where I can help out organizations or that's where imbalance can help organizations as well as what I mentioned on the individual side. Second part is that it's more about the financial therapy discipline than it is about me and my organization.

George (22:13):

If we let more people know that financial therapy exists, that financial psychology and all of its different tentacles exist, and it becomes as commonplace as having your financial advisor or your CPA or your CFP®, your financial planner, that helps people, right? It fills a gap in terms of understanding. And so a lot of the work that I do is around advocacy for the discipline. So that way, even if you don't use me and use our services, you find a financial therapist. We're all over the place, we're all over the world. And there's a lot of people that are doing this work, but we all struggle with this one thing. We want to help so many people. And so many people don't know about us. And so I happen to enjoy speaking out about it. I enjoy doing this type of work.

George (23:06):

And so I would implore everyone to look at financial psychology and financial therapy as ways to help out people overall, people that are looking for that type of help. I would look to this discipline and say, this is a place that we can help. But if you're a compassionate employer that's looking to improve human capital and trying to understand the ways to actually limit financial stress and balance, our approach to employee wellness, as well as financial therapy and what it has the ability to do nationwide is a great place to start. And I would encourage everybody to do so.

Lauren (23:46):

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your story and a bit back about your background and expertise. So we'll make sure to include some links and more details below, but thank you again and have a great rest of your day.

George (24:02):

No, it is my pleasure. Thank you so much, Lauren.

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