Kristen Holt got her first fiscal life lesson from her parents.
When she was 10 years old, they allowed her to start her first job—walking dogs. But the condition was she save half of the money she earned.
“That really stayed with me,” said Holt. And it shows. She is now CEO of a nonprofit financial counseling company.
GreenPath Financial Wellness counsels and offers programs for people to pay down debt. In the position for just 18 months, Holt says it suits her to a tee given her skills as a Certified Public Accountant and her penchant for personal finance.
Holt plans to take her skills and create a seismic change in the company, going from just working with people who are in a debt crisis to helping people improve their long-term financial health. This includes helping people manage payments for credit cards, mortgages, car payments, health care debt, student loans and also doing prepurchase housing counseling.
“I am trying to turn things on their head,” Holt said. “I want to create a culture of change across the company.”
To usher in the changes, she is using “human-centered design,” a process that seeks to understand everything about what the customer is going through to be able to design products or services that fit their needs. The approach will be used internally to revamp the culture and enable the organization to think quickly, test and try new partnerships, and develop new products and services that are designed around the needs of their clients, Holt said.
“It’s an immersive process that looks deep into the customer to discover their needs, barriers, etc.,” Holt said.
For example, GreenPath learned that clients often don’t follow through on payment plans because they feel ashamed or hopeless. So, GreenPath hired an “empathy coach” who is helping the counselors (and GreenPath executives) listen to customers and communicate without judgment, Holt said.
“This helps our customers feel safe and more open to receiving help and advice. And it helps them follow through on their payment plans, because they feel more supported,” Hold explained.
She is already learning that things can’t happen overnight. Her mistake was “not giving people the time to learn themselves,” Holt said. “I came in thinking I could just talk about these things and they would be done.”
Holt said the incident taught her patience, which is necessary virtue in her industry along with quality, integrity and teamwork.
“We need those things to ensure our clients’ trust,” Holt said.
Already, the company is counseling and creating fiscal plans for 200,000 people a year. Holt has 500 employees and gets business through referrals, including credit card companies, credit unions and people who have worked with the company.
Holt has a 10-year goal of reaching more people “to help them achieve their dreams. I’m thinking much bigger about what we can do.”
She feels equipped for the job she has taken on, and describes effective leadership traits as “listening, being bold, energizing people and creating space for people to go after big things.”