Holly Knight has recently joined the NFP family as a Senior Advisor for WellCents. With decades of experience in financial services and education at all levels, and in collaboration with account managers and advisors in the Northeast region, her role is to introduce, integrate, and manage the financial wellness platform, WellCents, for her corporate clients and their employees.
Here is what Holly had to say when we asked her about best practices for becoming financially fit:
GenHERation®: What does your job as a Senior Advisor at WellCents entail?
Holly Knight: I struggle with job titles sometimes. They don’t always depict the full spectrum of what someone does in their role. In the context of working with WellCents, I juggle different roles depending on the situation. I lead the outreach in our region, which means I am actively talking to corporate clients and prospects about the growing need for financial wellness as part of a company’s benefits and how WellCents can dramatically impact the lives of so many people who are struggling with financial stress. Once a company decides to implement the program, I become the project manager of the launch, making sure all the aspects of onboarding the program are completed. I also oversee the maintenance of the program. Lastly, my most important and fulfilling role is that of financial coach, where I have the opportunity to hear someone’s financial story and give them some guidance on how to fill the gaps in their financial health. Once they are committed to improving whatever aspect they need to work on, I take on the role of accountability partner. When people get off track, I help them reset and keep them working toward their goals.
GenHERation®: What are the most important skills you have developed as a financial advisor that can be applied to any profession?
Knight: My career has evolved so much in the last 20 years, and it has intersected with my personal life and raising a family. I have always been passionate about education and finance, and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in education. With this foundation, and a lot of experience talking to people, I would say one of the most important skills I developed was emotional intelligence, which needs to be used with critical thinking.
I’ve taught at every level, from preschool all the way up to CEOs. I say this a bit tongue in cheek, but there isn’t a big difference between those two age demographics when it comes to how we process, communicate, and engage. These characteristics are defined at a very young age and are directly influenced by our families and our surroundings; they don’t change much throughout our lives. Using emotional intelligence means I’m able to understand where someone is coming from emotionally, whether they realize it or not, and guide the conversation in a way that will break down any barriers to us making progress toward their goals. Additionally, when I look through the lens of critical thinking, I’m able to remove any biases or blinders that may also create roadblocks to success. We are emotional beings, which is what makes us human. As such, many of us make emotional decisions, and when it comes to our financial lives, that can create a lot of problems. In my opinion, the most valuable skills a person can develop are understanding who they are, how they process information, and how they communicate and engage with others. Regardless of profession, these skills will serve you well.
I applied this theory to practice. I taught a freshmen honors business course at the University of New Hampshire where the average GPA of the students was a 4.2. These were smart students who clearly understood the process of learning. I didn’t want to spend my time with them regurgitating textbook factoids that they would get plenty of over the next four years of college. They had certain academic markers they had to go through to get a grade, but we spent most of our time together focusing on their communication skills, emotional intelligence, and strategic and critical thinking. Most of these students were 18 or 19 years old and were away from home for the first time in their lives. They were trying to figure out who they were in this different environment without the influence of their parents or families. To me, this was the perfect time for them to start creating the foundation of who they wanted to be in business and how they wanted to achieve the goals they set. These are the skills that truly accelerate careers. Learning and understanding teamwork and adversity are key, and it is important to learn these lessons as early as you can. It is important to understand who you are, how you deal with roadblocks, and how you communicate as an individual and on a team. That is where learning really happens. I still have students reach out to me to share how impactful that class was on them and how it has helped them navigate the transition to the workforce after graduating.
GenHERation®: What are three ways students can improve their financial literacy?
Knight: 79% of people in the United States first learn about financial literacy when they sign up for their retirement plan. Realistically, we need to start financial literacy education from a much younger age. Financial education has never been mandated, but that is starting to change. You need to take actionable steps daily to educate yourself and stick to your goals.
First, I would say automate, automate, automate. I cannot say that enough. There are so many apps out there to help. You can simply look up “best finance apps,” and you can find thousands of options. I found that asking my students about what they use to manage their finances provided me with the best insights. I asked my students, “What do you do to manage finances?” Several of them used an app that links directly to your bank account and analyzes your spending and saving habits. Based on your patterns of deposits and expenses being paid, the app transfers different amounts from your bank account into a separate savings account on the app’s platform. Since the amounts are insignificant, most people don’t even miss it or know it’s been taken out and transferred. Over time, that account can grow significantly, and the interest earned gets reinvested back in, which makes the compounding even more powerful.
Second, it is important to know why you do what you do. I did not understand the impact of not knowing until I went to dinner with a mentor and he asked me what my “why” was. Why do I do what I do? I answered that I want to help others. I help people do so many things, but why did I choose this career? In all honesty, I think it chose me. At one point, I was homeless and living in my car. I knew I had to pay for my education. I had three different jobs, I graduated, and I landed on my feet. No one was talking to me about personal finance. When I sit down with my clients, most of them tell me they will have to work until they die. I fundamentally believe this is not true. To reach your goals, it is all about behavioral modification. Knowing who you are and your behavioral story will help you in this process. Your behavioral story is defined by the time you are five years old. How you engage with money is shaped by your environment and your community, and we carry this with us throughout our lives. How your parents spent and saved money impacts you, and understanding that story is important. I am a big believer in increasing by one percent. Take five to 10 minutes every day to learn something new. Listen to a podcast, watch a video, read an article. Five to 10 minutes of daily learning adds up over time.
Third, be open to having conversations about finance. I am seeing shifts with younger Gen Z women in this area. This generation is so much further ahead of other generations with aligning their goals because of their willingness to talk about money. Older generations were taught it was rude to talk about personal finances. If we live in these silos, we have no comparison to determine if we are on the right track. I talk to my kids about money—probably too much if you ask them!
GenHERation®: How do you create an effective budget that will meet your financial goals?
Knight: Define the goals first. Create short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, and make those goals as concise as possible. When do you want to accomplish your goal? What exactly do you want to do? People will say, “Someday I want to retire.” When? At 50? At 60? You have to be intentional with your goals. Create SMART goals and add meat to your goals. You simply cannot say, “I want to retire, I want to pay down my debt, or I want to save for college.” If you are not intentional about your goals, it is harder to reach them. Secondly, it is important to always spend less than you make. It is crucial to learn to live within your means and hold yourself accountable. Identify your wants versus your needs. If you want to buy an apartment at 24, you have to allocate your money appropriately. To save money, maybe you do not go out to eat as often or spend money on things that aren’t a necessity. Third, identify how you will save to reach your goals and then automate the process. Compounding interest is an important concept to understand, and if combined with automation, it can increase your account balance in a substantial way. The earlier you start doing this, the more powerful that combination becomes when it comes to growing wealth.
GenHERation®: What is the best way to prepare for a salary negotiation?
Knight: The most important thing is to have confidence. Heading into a salary negotiation is not the time to question your worth or whether or not you can command a higher salary. Generally speaking, men don’t think this way. I heard this analogy once and it stuck with me: A man and a woman see a job posting and are deciding whether or not they should apply. The man looks at the list of requirements and although he only has four or five of the 10 skills listed, he applies, confident he has enough to get the job. The woman looks at the list and although she has seven or eight of the requirements, she feels she’s not qualified enough and doesn’t apply. Exude confidence, even when it’s a struggle. The second thing, do your research! Make sure that your expectations line up with the industry average or are comparable at least in the area where you work. Confidence is important, but you want to make sure you are realistic in what the market will support. You don’t want to overprice yourself out of the opportunity.
GenHERation®: You are passionate about women and wealth. What should all women know when it comes to managing their financial well-being?
Knight: When it comes to money, so much of your habits are driven by behavior. Although I have learned the hard lessons of emotional spending and have discipline when it comes to saving, I still have triggers. To keep myself accountable to my goals, I have four different savings accounts that are named by their purpose (i.e. emergency fund, college savings). Not everyone needs to put up “bumpers” to keep them in the lane, and that’s great, but I do. I know I must do this to reach my goals. I’m okay with that. Eliminating shame is super important as females. When I sit with women, they sometimes start the conversation with self-deprecation, shaming themselves for not “being smarter.” When I hear this kind of narrative, I always stop the conversation and reset it. I encourage people to understand and own their story, but then let go of the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve” dialogue and move on.
GenHERation®: What is something that you know now that you wish you knew the day you graduated from college?
Knight: I think for me it is understanding that life is not linear or straightforward. The best plans can be shattered in an instant and could be completely outside of your control. When you graduate from college, you feel justified to take on the world armed with academic theory and passion to make a difference in your own way. Be patient. Understand your deepest learning comes with experience, and no matter how gifted or intelligent you are, you cannot speed up time. Being able to adapt to rapidly changing environments and nurturing your curiosity to continue learning will make the journey to your destination much more colorful and exciting.
Holly Knight has recently joined the NFP family as a Senior Advisor for WellCents. With decades of experience in financial services and education at all levels, and in collaboration with account managers and advisors in the Northeast region, her role is to introduce, integrate, and manage the financial wellness platform, WellCents, for her corporate clients and their employees. This role compliments Holly’s experience and tenacity for helping employees navigate the many aspects of their financial lives and guiding them toward their financial goals. She strongly believes that when advisors make complexities simple to understand, help employees set goals they want to achieve, and provide an accountability partner who can help them stay on track through technology and communication, then any dream can become a reality. In her role with WellCents, she will be working with clients and the team to create annual group educational programming using data and statistical analysis to ensure they are delivering the focused education that employees need and want, facilitate 1:1 consultation that will give focused guidance and resources that align with what employees need to reach their goals, and show the ROI for implementing the program to employers by tracking and reporting back on the findings and progress of their workforce as a whole. A person’s financial journey is unique to them. Looking at it through the comprehensive lens of WellCents will help identify financial gaps in different areas of one’s life and allow advisors to support employees the way they need it most. Small changes. Big Results. WellCents can help!