Meet the Research Leaders: Isaias Hernandez & Luisa Blanco, PhD, MBA
Interviewed by Maria Bertrand
Could you tell me about your project?
Luisa: We are designing and implementing a mobile intervention about financial capability. We call it “Mind Your Money.” We have two main objectives. First, we want to know whether a mobile financial capability intervention that will mostly happen via the mobile phone, could lead to changes in financial behavior. Second, if our intervention has a positive effect on financial behavior, what will be the impact of this change on financial stress?
Isaias: There aren’t many investments aimed or geared directly at helping develop programming for financial coaching. A lot of the financial coaching models out there are still relatively new. Their approaches vary depending on the non-profit partner implementing the program or community they are trying to serve. If successful, this intervention could have a strong impact on the communities we serve because financial coaching, which is generally perceived as a costly program, would be introduced with a more accessible delivery method for a demographic it has long been out of reach for. Having a virtual mobile intervention seems to be something that would be accessible to many more individuals.
Could you speak more to what you mean by “financial coaching”?
Isaias: Financial coaching continues to evolve and was introduced to me over 10 years ago. It’s a client-driven process where we are supporting individuals with their goals. Financial coaching complements financial education. With financial education, we are supplying the knowledge to make healthy financial choices. With financial coaching, we are able to provide them with the tools, resources and products they need to change their financial behaviors.
How did this project come about?
Isaias: Luisa approached me with this idea. We finished our first project, and a few months later she was informed about this opportunity for IRL. I was a bit hesitant at first because I didn’t feel I was the best fit mainly because I didn’t know what community-based participatory research was. I thought, “I’m just a community advocate, community partner. I work well in my own arena and my comfort zone.” I had no real previous involvement in research. When I realized the project was going to be tailored towards the community I serve, I saw this as a shared responsibility between the researchers and myself. We were going to have equal say in the project. That gave me the confidence to move forward and work with Luisa and April.
Luisa: This idea was developed from working on community-based research projects where I realized the Hispanic community is in disadvantage when it comes to good money management skills. There’s also a lack of good information in Spanish, so we’re going to make all of our material in English and Spanish. We need financial institutions to be aware of this population. On a previous study with Isaias, we found that when it comes to retirement savings, Latinos face significant barriers. When we met with participants to share information about retirement savings, specifically about the government sponsored retirement account called myRA (this program no longer exists), they were pulling out their phone, saying, “I’m going to sign up for this retirement account and, “Ok. I’m just going to go onto the web, and I’m going to try to do it from my phone.” For that intervention we also sent reminders via text, and they were very effective. People can access the internet through their mobile phone. They don’t need a computer anymore. I also conducted a mobile money diary study while I was a Senior Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and that’s where I was able to develop even more knowledge about the feasibility of a mobile financial coaching In that study I followed Latinos for 8 months and learned about their finances and the link between finances and stress.
Isaias: What I enjoy most about the project is that we are trying to measure individuals’ stress as an indicator of their mental well-being. As a financial coach, we’ve never had the opportunity, resources, or knowledge to do that at a community-based level.
How do you plan or hope to use the research from this project?
Isaias: I believe LA County is facing a crisis when it comes to the financial wellbeing of its residents. I would like to present the data to the Board of Supervisors in hopes that it will encourage them to invest in the necessary resources and tools that will help lift many low-income individuals out of poverty and into financial security. Financial health should be seen as a component to public health.
Luisa: I want to do research that has a meaning, that leads to policy change. I want to be part of the LA community. It’s very important, if we want to change things, that we do community-based research.
Isaias: Throughout my experience in the non-profit sector, I’ve attended many conferences and seminars to learn about the findings of research studies. I often felt like I, along with community partners and other nonprofit organizations, could not connect with the research that was oftentimes presented. It didn’t feel like it was something that would change our organizations approach or that we can immediately implement and integrate within our programs. However, I find that the research we are conducting and the manner in which our study is being carried out through this researcher-community partner model can be highly relevant and useful to other organizations. Investments in more partnerships and relationships like this are needed.
Isaias Hernandez and Luisa Blanco are IRL fellows from Cohort 2019-2022 of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). To learn more about them and Team Los Angeles, read about their research project: Mind Your Money.
Interviews conducted, transcribed and condensed by Maria Bertrand, MPH ‘21. Isaias Hernandez and Luisa Blanco reviewed and approved this blog.
The views represented in this post are those of the authors, not of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.