Financial Capability and Asset Building: A Transformational Practice Framework


  • Edward Scanlon University of Kansas
  • Cynthia K. Sanders Boise State University School of Social Work



Financial Capability, Direct Practice, Financial Literacy, Person Environment Practice, Economic Well-Being


The promotion of financial capability and asset building (FCAB) is an important and fitting professional activity for social work, which has long been concerned with the economic well-being of individuals and families. Financial capability is attainable only if we assist clients by helping them to build new skills while simultaneously helping them to connect to economic opportunity structures such as savings, job training, or credit repair programs. We propose a person-environment-centered process model for use in FCAB endeavors, using case vignettes to illustrate the application of the process. By drawing upon several theoretical perspectives such as humanistic social work, cognitive behavioral theory, motivational interviewing, solution-focused brief therapy, and diffusion of innovations theory, practitioners may increase clients’ likelihood of successfully connecting to opportunity structures. Attention to behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and policy feedback processes may help to provide the “missing link” between individual financial behavior and the institutional opportunities offered by FCAB programs. 

Author Biographies

Edward Scanlon, University of Kansas

Associate Professor

Cynthia K. Sanders, Boise State University School of Social Work



Anthony, S., & Pagano, G. (1998). The therapeutic potential for growth during the termination process. Clinical Social Work Journal, 26(3), 281-296. doi:

Archuleta, K. L., & Grable, J. E. (2011). The future of financial planning and counseling: An introduction to financial therapy. In J. E. Grabel, K. L., Archuleta, & R. R. Nazarinia (Eds.), Financial planning and counseling scales (pp. 33-59). New York: Springer.

Berry, F., & Berry, W. (1999). Innovation and diffusion models in policy research. In Paul Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (pp. 169-200). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Beverly, S., & Sherraden, M. (1999). Institutional determinants of saving: Implications for low-income households and public policy. Journal of Socio-Economics, 28, 457-473. doi:

Beverly, S., Sherraden, M., & Schreiner, M. (2003). A framework of asset accumulation stages and strategies. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 24(2), 143-156. doi:

Beverly, S., Sherraden, M., Zahn, M., Williams Shanks, T., Nam, Y., & Cramer, R. (2008). Determinants of asset-building. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Bhaskar, R. (1975). A realist theory of science. Hassock Sussex: Harvester Press.

Birkenmaier, J., Sherraden, M., & Curley, J. (2013). Financial capability & asset development: Research, education, policy and practice. UK: Oxford University Press. doi:

Blaikie, N. (1993). Approaches to social enquiry. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Blau, P.M. (1977). A macrosociological theory of social structure. American Journal of Sociology, 83(1), 26-54. doi:

Bourdieu, P. (1980). The logic of practice. Oxford: Polity Press.

Cameron, M., & Keenan, E. (2010). The common factors model: Implications for transtheoretical clinical social work practice. Social Work, 55(1), 63-73. doi:

Collins, M. J., & Birkenmaier, J. M. (2013). Building the capacity of social workers to enhance financial capability. In J. M. Birkenmaier, M. Sherraden, & J. Curley’s (Eds.), Financial capability and asset development: Research, education, policy, and practice (pp. 302-322). New York: Oxford University Press.

Collins, J. M., & O’Rourke, C. (2009). Financial education and counseling: Still holding promise. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 44(3), 483-498. doi:

Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Education policy and accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master’s programs in social work. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Council on Social Work Education. (2017). Clearing house for economic well-being in social work education. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved November 19, 2017 from

Despard, M., & Chowa, G. (2010). Social workers’ interest in building financial capability. Journal of Financial Therapy, 1(1), 23-41. doi:

Dodd, S.-J., & Epstein, I. (2012). Practice-based research in social work: A guide for reluctant researchers. London: Routledge

Egan, G. (1998). The skilled helper: A problem-management approach to helping. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ehrenreich, J. (1985). The altruistic imagination: A history of social work and social policy in the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Ford, M., Baptist, J., & Archuleta, K. (2011). A theoretical approach to financial therapy: The development of the Ford Financial Empowerment Model. Journal of Financial Therapy, 2(2), 20-40. doi:

Fox, E., Nelson, M., & Bolman, W. (1969). The termination process: A neglected dimension in social work. Social Work, 14(4), 53-63.

Germaine, C., & Gitterman, A. (1980). The life model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice. New York: Columbia University Press.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of a theory of structuration. Oxford: Polity Press.

Grinstein-Weiss, M., Wagner, K., & Edwards, K. (2005). Diffusion of policy innovation: The case of Individual Development Accounts as an asset-building policy (CSD Working Paper 05-08). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

Johnson, E., & Sherraden, M.S. (2007). From financial literacy to financial capability among youth. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 34(3), 119-145.

Kemp, S. Whittaker, J., & Tracy, E. (1997). Person-environment practice: The social ecology of interpersonal helping. New York: Aldine DeGruyter.

Kerkmann, B. (1998). Motivation and stages of change in financial counseling: An application of a transtheoretical model from counseling psychology. Financial Counseling and Planning, 9(1), 13-20.

Kim, J., & Elliott, W. (2013). The role of identity motivational based and solution focused brief therapy in unifying accounts and financial education in school-related CDA programs. Children and Youth Services Review, 45, 402-410.

Kirst-Ashman, K., & Hull, G. (2011). Understanding generalist practice. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Kjosavic, D. (2003). Methodological individualism and rational choice theory in neo-classical economics: A review of institutionalism. Forum for Development Studies, 80 (3), 202-245.

Klontz, B., Horwitz, E., & Klontz, P. (2015). Stages of change and motivational interviewing in financial therapy. In B. Klontz, S. Britt, & K. Archuleta (Eds.), Financial therapy: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 347-362). New York: Springer. doi:

Mahon, C. (2006). Achieving scale in asset building programs: Operational challenges and opportunities in Individual Development Accounts. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.

Marlatt, G. A., & Donovan, D. (2005). Relapse prevention: Maintenance strategies in the treatment of addictive behaviors. New York: Guilford Press.

Meyer, C. (1983). Clinical social work in the ecosystem perspective. New York: Columbia University Press.

Miller, W., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people to change addictive behavior. New York: Guilford Press.

Nabeshima, G., & Klontz, B. (2015). Cognitive-behavioral financial therapy. In B. Klontz, S. Britt, & K. Archuleta (Eds.), Financial therapy: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 143-160). New York: Springer. doi:

Northen, H. (1995). Clinical social work knowledge and skills. New York: Columbia University Press.

Olen, H. (2012). Pound foolish: Exposing the dark side of the personal finance industry. New York: Portfolio.

Payne, M. (2011). Humanistic social work: Core principles in practice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Proctor, E. (2004). Leverage points for the implementation of evidence-based practice. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 4(3), 227-242. doi:

Roder, A. (2015). Building stronger financial futures: Interim findings from the evaluation of LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers. New York: Economic Mobility Corporation.

Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. London: Constable Press.

Rogers, E. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Rollnick, S., Miller, W., & Butler, C. (2008). Motivational interviewing in health care: Helping patients change behavior. New York: Guilford Press.

Rothman, J., & Mizrahi, T. (2014). Balancing micro and macro practice: A challenge for social work. Social Work, 59(1), 91-93. doi:

Sages, R., Griesdorn, T., Gudmunson, C., & Archuleta, K. (2015). Assessment in financial therapy. In B. Klontz, S. Britt, & K. Archuleta (Eds.), Financial therapy: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 69-85). New York: Springer. doi:

Scanlon, E., & Wittman, L. (2010). From Helena to Harlem: Experiences of lower-income urban and rural parents in children's savings account programs (CSD Working Paper 10-38). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

Shanks, T., Nicoll, K., & Johnson, T. (2014). African-Americans and assets: Attempting to capitalize on hopes for children through College Savings Accounts. Review of Black Political Economy, 41, 3, 337-356. doi:

Sherraden, M., Laux, S., & Kaufman, C. (2007). Financial education for social workers. Journal of Community Practice, 15(3), 9-36. doi:

Sherraden, M. (1991). Assets and the poor: A new American welfare policy. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Sherraden, M., Huang, J., Frey, J., Birkenmaier, J., Callahan, C., Clancy, M., & Sherraden, M. (2015). Financial capability and asset building for all (Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative, Working Paper No. 13). Cleveland, OH: American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

Walker, C., & Huff, D. (2012). Expanding financial opportunity: LISC’s experience with scaling up Financial Opportunity Centers. Retrieved January 16, 2015 from

Woods, M., & Hollis, F. (1964). Casework: A psychosocial therapy. New York: Random House.

Zahle, J., & Collin, F. (2014). Rethinking the individualism-holism debate: Essays in the philosophy of social science. London: Springer. doi: