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Improving Financial Literacy


Improving Financial Literacy

"It has long been my opinion that though we live in the most prosperous country on the planet, we as a society lack financial acumen," says Todd Sanford (B.B.A'83, Finance). "The statistics prove this theory, as less than one-third of the population is financially prepared for a successful retirement. We have long needed programs focused on teaching financial skill sets at all levels of the educational spectrum in order to improve the financial wellness in Southwest Michigan and beyond."

The Haworth College of Business has received a major naming gift from alumnus Todd Sanford, CEO and founder of Sanford Financial Services of Portage, Michigan. The gift establishes a new center focusing on personal finance. The Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness will provide a variety of services and impactful programs for members of both the greater Kalamazoo community and the campus community.

"At the center, trained students will engage in peer-to-peer mentoring, offering financial guidance," says Sanford. "It is our expectation that the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness will provide experience for those interested in the financial planning field and serve as a catalyst for undecided business majors looking at career opportunities. Student volunteers and industry professionals will also work collaboratively to deliver pro bono services to underserved members of our community."

The center seeks to become a national model for how universities can serve the critical role of convening resources for education in financial planning and wellness. 

The center's activities will include:

  • Fostering and enhancing the financial literacy of area high school students, college students and southwest Michigan communities.
  • Building a network of planners and financial services professionals who give of their expertise.
  • Providing financial counseling services to students and community members.
  • Conducting and publishing research related to the impact of financial literacy.
  • Hosting speaker series, seminars, workshops and conferences.
  • Developing personal finance certificate programs.
  • Leveraging the Department of Finance and Commercial Law's Cash and Careers tool to assist young people in making wise human capital investments.
  • Offering the Dollars and Sense Summer Camp for area middle and high school students.
  • Supporting personal finance course offerings at WMU as well as internship opportunities.


"It is thanks to the generosity, altruism and vision of Todd Sanford that this center will be in a position to address and enhance the financial wellness of both our campus community and the greater Kalamazoo community," says Dr. Jim DeMello, chair of WMU's Department of Finance and Commercial Law. "The center will serve as an excellent resource for scholarships, internships and networking opportunities for our personal financial planning majors."

Why a center dedicated to financial wellness?

Most Americans, by their own admission, are not financially literate, note DeMello and Sanford, which creates numerous challenges that become compounded as increasing financial demands are placed on individuals and households throughout a lifetime. High schools and families were the primary financial educators in the past, but as that has changed, there are few places where community members may obtain financial education.

The report "Financial Capability in the United States 2016" illustrates the need for greater financial literacy:

  • Fewer than 50 percent of individuals have set aside three months of living expenses in case of emergency.
  • More than 50 percent of Americans worry about running out of money in retirement.
  • 37 percent of student loan holders will be late with at least one monthly payment.
  • More than 50 percent of people find it difficult to cover monthly expenses and 44 percent have no household budget.
  • Fewer than 14 percent of individuals can answer five foundational financial literacy questions correctly.


In addition to this need for greater financial literacy, there is also an escalating need for financial planners--an increase of 32 percent in consumer demand over the next decade.

"We are grateful for Todd Sanford's leadership in this project, which will have a ripple effect throughout our community and with future generations of WMU students," says Dr. Satish Deshpande, dean of the Haworth College of Business.

DeMello and Dr. Onur Arugaslan, director of the personal financial planning program, will serve as co-directors, while Dr. Matthew Ross, assistant professor of finance, will serve as associate director. The faculty team will work in conjunction with an external advisory board made up of finance professionals, collaborating on center strategic planning and success measures.

For more information on the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness, visit

Todd Sanford is the CEO and chief strategist at Sanford Financial Services, a full-service wealth management practice with a holistic approach to managing clients' finances. The firm focuses on family financial planning, corporate employee benefits and asset management. Sanford, with his team, sets the course for the firm, from management to investment philosophy. As a veteran financial planner who has participated in the best and worst that the economy can offer, he has the knowledge, skill and experience to lead with vision and clarity.

Sanford has been honored on Barron's Top Advisor List on multiple occasions, the Financial Times 400 List as a Top Advisor, and Forbes Magazine's State-by-State List of Top Advisors. He has also been recognized as a Top 10 Financial Advisor at Raymond James for the past 12 years, out of more than 6,000 advisors. A WMU Bronco at heart, he bleeds brown and gold. He has had a 35-year affiliation with WMU, including his time as a finance student in the 80s, a stint as an adjunct professor in finance, and now as an advisor to a variety of campus programs, as well as the new center.