5 Things to Know About Cultural Competence and Your Practice with Saundra Davis

We have officially kicked off season three of 2050 TrailBlazers with the theme money and culture. One taboo that transcends many cultures is talking about money. I recently sat down with Saundra Davis, MSFP, APFC®, FBS®, a world-traveled distinguished adjunct professor and financial coach with decades of experience, to have a deep discussion about various cultures and their lenses of money.

In our interview, Davis covered how to ask questions as financial planners or money coaches when working with a diverse client base. She also discussed different money values, and how planners and money coaches can stay in the mindset of curiosity to help our clients build their best financial lives.

What is your advice to the financial planners who want to work with a more diverse set of clients, but don’t know how?

Davis: This is why [financial] coaching is so crucial. Because as a coach, it doesn’t matter who I’m sitting next to because my first question—once we’re ready to look at their goal—is what do I need to know about this? What do I need to know about you? What do I need to know about what matters most to you? Once I lay that foundation, they don’t have to rattle off all their cultural stuff to me, it is going to come out.

And if I’m staying in the beginner’s mind and I’m staying with curiosity, if someone says, “Well, you know, I got to make sure that I cover my parents.” I would say, “OK, so tell me a little bit about that. What does taking care of your parents mean to you? What things are you willing to adjust to make sure that you do that?”

A comprehensive planner still has to look at that Monte Carlo [simulation], right? I don’t have that barrier, so I get to stay in that coaching seat. Whereas for you all, you have to balance those two things.

I would invite people to really make sure you truly make space in the beginning for people to say the things that are really important to them.

In other words, set very clear expectations up front with clients and hold them accountable to the promises they made to themselves. Is this accurate?

Davis: Absolutely. I often call it holding up the mirror. I’ll tell them, “Is what you’re doing getting you what you want, and is it congruent with what you say you want the desired outcome to be? Terrific. Keep doing that. If what you’re doing is not getting you what you want, what do you want to do differently and then how do I support you in figuring that out and then staying on task.”

You said that the client you’re sitting beside, and their culture, will determine how you approach various conversations. Tell us a little more about that.

Davis: The first thing is that I don’t make any assumptions and I don’t try to behave as though I understand what their experience is. I can empathize, but my experience is not the same.

I am a Black woman, born and raised in Northern California, and I have a very specific lens. If I’m dealing with a man from the South, I have to let him and his perspectives and his experience guide me in how I support him. I have to be able to hear what he has to say and listen for what’s important and then reflect back what I think I hear. That’s the most important thing—say, “So what I’m hearing is this. What did I miss?” Something that gives people permission to say, “You missed it completely,” or “You nailed it.”

Ask, “What are your top five values?” When we’re talking to people about their financial lives, there is nothing that doesn’t touch money, nothing. So how does money live in our lives? How do we live with it in our lives? If we’re pushing what we think is financial health … we have to do that in the context of what matters most to them.

Let’s talk about the difference between discovery of understanding and discovery of data, because those are two different meetings.

Davis: They are different, different things. And I would suggest not putting them together. The first discovery meeting is: Who are you? What do you want your life to look like? What are the things that influenced that? Describe the vision that you want to come out of this. How will you know we’ve got it? What is the best way for you and I to work together? What happens when you get stalled on the implementation of the plan? Who are the people we need to be thinking about in this mix? When you’re successful, what does it look like when you’re struggling? How will I know? What should I do when you’re struggling? The discovery is who we are together.

Then, once you’ve got that number one, the client now knows this isn’t just about my money. You’ve already sent a signal. Then you can say, all right, one of the things that’s important for you to know about my work as a planner is that there are some assumptions that I will have to make to make a good plan for you. And these are those assumptions. What do you think about this? Where am I wrong? Give yourself room to be wrong. Get them to correct you because what you’re getting out of that is their ownership.

As you mentioned, America is a beautiful melting pot—a mosaic. We’re going to be working with clients from different cultures. What are the top three major differences we should look out for?

Davis: I have had to learn—in traveling in and outside of this country—to not assume that my perceptions and my fears and my concerns about money are shared by other people. What I value or what I think is struggle isn’t necessarily struggle. What I think is a poor use of financial resources may not be a poor use of financial resources.

The idea that we have here in this country now about the side hustle makes me absolutely insane. The idea that people should be working all the time and always trying to make a dollar. I don’t think we’re thinking about what are we giving up—who’s raising our children, who is checking on our elders? Are we sitting out in the sun? We have to remember that our way isn’t always the best way and it certainly isn’t the only way. I would like to leave you with this: when we’re thinking about culture—whether it’s European culture, Latin American culture, South American, Africans on the continent, the different countries—let’s not predispose ourselves to a specific viewpoint that may or may not be accurate.

The more open that we can stay, the more free people will be to say, “Yeah, that’s not how I interpret it. That’s not going to get me the plan that I need. And I’m surely not going to execute it because it’s not my reality.” As professionals, if we can leave that space for people’s individual needs—whether it’s based on culture, whether it’s based on fear, money scripts, hopes, dreams, desires—they have the room to come through.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Saundra Davis’ interview on the 2050 TrailBlazers podcast. Listen to the full episode.

Rianka Dorsainvil

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.

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