Money Angst? You Might Consider a Financial Therapist
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Money Angst? You Might Consider a Financial Therapist

Unconscious beliefs and emotions can mess up how people handle their finances. The hard part is finding experts qualified to handle both money and the mind.

By JOANN S. LUBLIN
Thu, May 23, 2024 9:39amGrey Clock 4 min

Do you worry a lot about higher food and gas bills? Fight with your spouse over spending splurges? Fear you’ll outlive your savings?

Some people seek to ease such money anxieties by hiring a financial therapist.

The goal of financial therapists ultimately is to help people make good financial decisions, typically by raising their clients’ awareness of how their emotions and unconscious beliefs have affected their sometimes messy experiences with money.

Needs for such help often arise following a job loss, bankruptcy or marital partner’s financial infidelity—when one spouse hides or misrepresents financial information from the other. Even something seemingly positive, such as getting a big inheritance or winning a lottery, can cause financial anxiety.

“Folks are craving help with financial well-being,’’ says Ashley Agnew , president of the Financial Therapy Association, a professional group launched in 2009.

Financial therapists tend to come from mental-health and financial-planning disciplines, and there are signs that their ranks are rising: The Financial Therapy Association has 430 members, up from 225 in 2015. Still, according to the group, fewer than 100 financial therapists have completed its certification process, introduced in 2019. You can be an association member without being certified by it.

The reason for the increased interest is clear: Many Americans are worried about their personal finances. In a survey of about 3,000 U.S. adults conducted last October by Fidelity Investments, more than one-third of respondents said they were in “worse financial shape” than in the previous year. Some 55% of those respondents blamed inflation and cost-of-living increases.

Similarly, 52% of 2,365 Americans polled for Bankrate.com  said money negatively affected their mental health in 2023. That is 10 percentage points higher than in 2022. Financially anxious and stressed individuals are less likely to plan for retirement, prior research has concluded.

Messy divorce

New York advisory firm Francis Financial hired financial therapist Allen Sakon last November to aid individual clients. Many are divorced or widowed women with complicated money problems.

Certain clients “don’t believe they have enough resources, even though objectively they do,” says Sakon, who is a certified financial therapist, financial planner and accountant. Meanwhile, others with limited means mistakenly believe “they can live as extravagantly as they want,’’ she says.

Sakon currently counsels a recently divorced woman who is struggling with her dramatically lower income and the imminent sale of the family’s suburban New York home. “Her world has been turned upside down” by a financially messy divorce, Sakon says.

Though the woman has stressful new money responsibilities, she long avoided financial decisions, according to Sakon. “A money-avoidant grown-up is typically someone who was excluded from money discussions as a child,” she says.

Sakon says she hopes to eventually help this client feel capable of making financial decisions based on her resources and the financial plan that Sakon created for her.

Nate Astle , a certified financial therapist in Kansas City, Mo., met nine times from May 2023 to February 2024 with Andrea and Gianluca Presti , a 30-something Texas couple who were having persistent spats over money. Andrea Presti , an email marketer, says she believed that “if we didn’t go to financial therapy, I was going to question our entire relationship and whether we could continue.”

The wife cites an argument over the possible purchase of an expensive new car to replace their decade-old vehicle as an example of the couple’s financial conflicts. They disagreed over whether to give up a car that still worked well.

The husband, Gianluca Presti, a music producer, says financial therapy taught him and his wife to communicate better through active listening. He says he stopped being the couple’s money gatekeeper, became more open-minded about spending—and agreed to pay up to $45,000 cash for a new car. “We have to be a team if we want to solve financial issues,” he now realises.

Astle helped the Prestis revamp their household budget as well. It now reflects each spouse’s interests by including expenditures, investments and savings.

Astle, who is also a marriage and family therapist, says he has seen his financial-therapy clients more than double to 43 since 2022.

Possible pitfalls

Still, there are possible pitfalls when hiring a financial therapist. One major drawback: Anyone can claim they are qualified to practice financial therapy.

No government agency regulates the young profession. Candidates for certification by the Financial Therapy Association must take online courses designed by the association covering financial and therapeutic techniques, counsel clients for 250 hours and pass a 100-question test. But you can call yourself a financial therapist and not be certified by the association.

Meanwhile, the cost of financial therapy varies widely—from $125 to $350 an hour, Agnew estimates. Insurance rarely covers the tab.

In addition, there is no broad evidence that financial therapy works well. No large-scale studies demonstrating the field’s effectiveness have been conducted.

Another potential downside is that financial therapists with mental-health backgrounds typically lack extensive financial-planning experience—and vice versa. It is wise to interview at least three financial therapists, experts suggest. Then, pick someone who admits the limits of their expertise.

“I am very upfront about my boundaries,” says practitioner Aja Evans , a licensed mental-health counsellor who isn’t certified in financial therapy. Evans adds that she failed the certification test but plans to take it again during 2024—and before she becomes Financial Therapy Association president in January.

She says she feels well-qualified to help clients recognise how their upbringing affects their money beliefs today. “But I am in no shape or form going to be advising you about your investments, money moves or creating a financial plan,” Evans says. For clients who want that assistance, she says, she refers them to certified financial planners and accountants she knows well.



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How the Middle East Became the Latest ‘Gold Rush’ in Marketing

The Middle East is set to be the fastest-growing marketing region in the world, driven by momentum in countries such as Saudi Arabia

By MEGAN GRAHAM
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 5 min

Saudi Arabia’s fledgling advertising industry and continued growth in the sector in the United Arab Emirates are helping to make the marketing business in the Middle East the fastest-growing in the world.

Ad spending in the Middle East is projected to increase 8.1% to $6.6 billion this year, up from 3.5% last year, according to advertising research firm WARC.

That expansion is building from a much smaller base than in many other ad markets. The Netherlands alone will generate $6 billion in ad spending in 2024, up about 2.3%, WARC said. But it is also enough to outpace every other region in 2024, the firm said.

“It reminds me almost of the gold rush,” said Reda Raad , chief executive of TBWA\Raad Group, an ad agency based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, that is part of the U.S.-based ad holding company Omnicom Group . “I don’t think we’re going to see this type of growth again in our lifetime.” TBWA\Raad has won eight new clients over the past year, with an increase in head count of 17% to accommodate the new work, Raad said.

Some international brands have long maintained a presence in the region. PepsiCo has considered the area a strategic market for decades, said Karim Elfiqi , senior vice president and chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Sponsorship deals with local stars such as Mohamed Salah , a soccer player from Egypt, “are a testimony of how over time, we have been part of the cultural fabric of the region,” Elfiqi said.

Other major brands have formed a more recent focus on the Middle East. The Lego Group opened a Middle East and Africa headquarters in Dubai in 2019, citing the size of the region’s young population. That office has developed work such as a Ramadan-themed campaign that ran in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

‘Massive growth’

The Middle East’s ad market has lagged behind regions such as North America and Europe partly because of stricter cultural norms and regulations that affected business, as did a more limited media landscape and economic instability, according to Raad.

But marketing growth in the region is now being driven in part by newfound marketing interest in Saudi Arabia, where ad spending this year is expected to reach $2.1 billion, nearly double its level in 2019, according to WARC. Growth is also coming from the U.A.E., whose ad market is expected to reach $1.7 billion in 2024. Smaller contributors include Qatar and Kuwait.

The landscape has changed now because of economic diversification, increased connectivity and a move into the digital world, leading international brands to enter and invest in campaigns tailored to the region, Raad said.

Four years ago, Saudi Arabia made up a small proportion of business at Lightblue, a creative experience and tech agency based in Dubai. These days, 40% of its business comes from the country, says co-founder David Balfour , who opened an office in Riyadh last month as a result.

“The conversation used to be, ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai.’ Now, it’s ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai—and in Saudi.’” Balfour said. “We’re seeing massive growth in that region.”

There have been speed bumps. As government spending reaches huge levels , Saudi Arabia experienced a rare economic contraction in 2023.

But the country’s efforts to expand its economic pursuits beyond oil have led to the creation of new brands, which are seeking the help of marketing agencies to get the word out.

Marketers in the region are seeking help to stay on-trend in areas such as generative artificial intelligence and social media, said Greg Paull , principal of R3, a consulting firm that helps match advertisers with agencies.

“U.A.E. has been a magnet for the region for 20 years as more investment has come in—but with the new leadership in Saudi since 2017 [when Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince ], this market has gone through remarkable growth,” Paull said.

Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its human-rights record under the crown prince, the day-to-day ruler of the kingdom, especially over the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the more recent jailing of women’s rights activists.

Mohammed has outlasted the international isolation that followed Khashoggi’s killing, however, and continues to pursue an economic diversification plan dubbed Vision 2030. The country last year unveiled plans for a new international airline called Riyadh Air, is investing billions of dollars to build its tourism and videogame industries, and in March hosted a golf tournament in Jeddah under the auspices of LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed league that has both challenged the PGA Tour and struck a deal to unify with it.

Changing tides

Vision 2030 also calls women’s empowerment a top social priority and seeks to increase the country’s employment rate of women.

Nada Hakeem , CEO and co-founder of Saudi creative agency Wetheloft, said the perceptions of hardships for women in the marketing and advertising industry are outdated and inaccurate.

“As a Saudi woman who founded my company in 2012, I’ve always felt supported by the creative community and the industry as a whole,” Hakeem said. “While every society may have its challenges, I can confidently say that these challenges have not hindered our growth.”

A progression of new laws, policies and incentives are making the industry in Saudi Arabia more inclusive and supportive for women, she added.

In certain parts of the Middle East, “absolutely, it’s still challenging, but they are making the right strides, and they have the right quotas and ambitions in place,” said Rebecca Bezzina , CEO for the EMEA region at R/GA, an agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos.

“They’ve got wealth, they’ve got world-class ambition, world-class budget. They’re not shy of doing things in the right way,” Bezzina added, speaking of the region overall. “But they still have a talent shortage, especially from a creative and design and product point of view. So often what we’ve found our success has been that they’ve come to us and said, ‘Oh, we want a world-class agency to help us launch this new venture or do this new brand.’”

R/GA said it sees 69% more requests for agency work from marketers in the region today than it did five years ago. It recently handled a brand redesign for Banque Saudi Fransi, which wanted to reaffirm its Saudi roots with a modern identity, and created Weyay, the brand for a new digital bank from the National Bank of Kuwait.

The agency hasn’t notably increased its regional workforce, but it has made changes to facilitate working across Europe and the Middle East.

Other Western players are making moves to capture a piece of the growth. Advertising giant WPP has long worked in Saudi Arabia through units such as Ogilvy and GroupM, but in 2021 established a joint venture with a local company to create ICG Saudi Arabia, a communications and media company based in Saudi Arabia. Ad holding company Stagwell opened new offices for its media agency Assembly in Riyadh in 2021 and in Cairo in 2022.

Regional hospitality

Some executives said certain facets of business dealings in the Middle East are different than in other parts of the world.

Bertrand Morin, a group account director for R/GA who is based in London and works often with Middle Eastern clients, said he spends much more time speaking about personal lives and families with those clients than those in the U.K. or U.S. He has been invited to Middle Eastern clients’ homes to join their families for dinner, something that has never happened with clients elsewhere.

But others say it can feel surprisingly familiar.

Balfour, the Lightblue co-founder, said he was struck by the number of ad-agency workers recently having dinner at the Riyadh location of steakhouse chain Beefbar, and the scene’s similarity to far-off locations.

“The staff are from everywhere in the world. The service and the food is unbelievable. There’s a DJ playing,” Balfour said. “Apart from not having alcohol, you could be anywhere in the world.”

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