Listed below are some of our recent projects.  If you would like more detail about these and our other projects, please contact us.


Financial Coaching for Specialized Groups

ICMM is partnering with nonprofit service agencies to carry out research activities on effective financial literacy education for special populations.  Research has shown that tailoring training and coaching to people’s specific personal histories and goals is much more effective than delivering a single program across settings.  We are working to design and test just such trainings to help people from a variety of backgrounds improve money management knowledge and habits.

These activities may include:

  • Analysis of financial training and coaching sessions as they are currently delivered
  • Interviews with individuals receiving coaching
  • Online survey-based tracking of longitudinal data on financial attitudes and finance-related behaviors after individuals receive financial coaching to assess effectiveness
  • Experimental use of alternative training approaches such as online training, use of a smartphone app, or emerging technologies, if appropriate

This is applied research geared towards generating specific solutions for the problems of financial education for special populations.  Recommendations as to “best practices” for effective training will be delivered at the end of these projects, and include curricula and guidelines for the “soft” communication skills most effective for different groups will be proposed at the conclusion of the research. Further directions for research in this area may also be generated.

Data Analysis

DMP Retention Rate Assessment Projects

A database of a national non-profit credit counseling agency consisting of clients who enrolled in a debt management program (DMP) between October 2014 and October 2016 as well as between March 2015 and March 2017 were analyzed according to client enrollment status (active/completed, cancelled, or inactive), length of time of enrollment prior to account cancellation or inactivation, and reason for cancellation.  Demographic variables, including age group, gender, marital status, debt load, monthly income, and monthly expenses, were also examined.

Key findings and recommendations:

  • During each two-year period, the percentage of clients remaining active in their DMP was identified. Client groups who called the agency to cancel their DMPs and those who dropped out of the program without any notification were assessed.
  • Follow-up interviews or surveys with clients were recommended to investigate impressions of enrollment counseling sessions and events leading to cancellation.
  • Recommendations were made to decrease cancellations due to specific causal factors.
  • Women were overrepresented in cancellation reasons related to negative life circumstances, such as loss of income, whereas men were overrepresented in reasons related to positive life circumstances, such as ability to pay the debt directly.

Program Evaluation

Financial Coaching Following a Financial Shock

To receive a financial hardship grant through their employer, clients had to participate in three financial coaching sessions. The program’s goal was to implement the coaching soon after the client experienced a financial shock. As such, completing the first coaching session was required to receive the grant. ICMM analyzed anonymous recordings of the coaching sessions and provided financial coaching recommendations to increase the client’s ability and willingness to understand and implement money management skills.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • The sessions had an emphasis on financial education, covering numerous helpful topics in depth (i.e., credit counseling, monthly budgeting, and financial planning). It was recommended that coaches should closely follow the detailed Coaching Guide.
  • Specific and general financial coaching recommendations were provided, including a list of coaching tips, a list of coaching recommendations for the supervisor to guide the coach, and a revision of the company’s Coaching Guide.
  • Clients tended to respond positively to interactive sessions on topics directly related to the clients’ own financial situation as opposed to the coach presenting broad financial topics and content.
  • This was the second of two evaluations of this program. The first study utilized qualitative research to determine if the financial coaching program did positively impact money management behaviors.  ICMM’s research confirmed that the program was effective.

Program Innovation and Implementation

Small Business 401(k) Programs – Employee Information Sessions Pilot

As part of a comprehensive project, ICMM is researching potential improvements to encourage and assist small businesses in providing retirement savings programs for their employees.  The project is studying 401(k) plans from the perspective of financial institutions, small business owners and small business employees.

ICMM is developing a new way of introducing small business employees to 401(k) plans with a more simplified approach.  Many employees in these businesses are low- and middle income. The goal is to motivate employees to take a consistent interest in saving for their retirement either through active management of their investment decisions or single investments (such as, target-date funds).

The initial field test (pilot) of this project will involve employees of small businesses in the Raleigh-Durham area.