CEO of the American College of Financial Services
American College of Financial Services President and CEO George Nichols joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss offering financial education courses to students and how financial services providers can establish better relations with black communities.
Brad Smith: And, everyone, shifting gears here – for the first time in its 95-year history, the American College of Financial Services has launched a financial wellness program for consumers. 19 HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities, are part of the program. And the initiative aims to add up to 25 HBCUs.
George Nichols, President and CEO of the American College of Financial Services, joins us now along with others. It is a pleasure to have you with us today. First, let’s talk about where this initiative starts and how it gets involved in HBCU programs, and specifically what sparked this. Why is college a good time to have this program and the Consumer Financial Wellness Program inserted into this college experience?
GEORGE NICHOLS: Sure. First of all, thank you for having me. When we developed this program nearly a year and a half ago, we created a new Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality. And the focus was on how to help underserved communities on their journey to upward mobility and closing the wealth gap?
We wanted to start with black America, given where the country was. And we created a program called Four Steps Forward. And in that it was, how do we provide them with culturally relevant educational content to help them?
And one of the things we found in our research is that most people start with financial transactions. Well, how much money do you have? Our goal was to go to students who now have relevant financial decisions. Can I pay for my books? How am I going to eat? Am I going out and partying on the weekends? What am I going to do when I get out of college and have to pay off my student loans?
So now we have a point where people have relevance. But more importantly, we wanted to help them understand who they are, how they think and feel about money. Then we can actually help them make those important financial decisions as they come.
Brad Smith: And so I ask why college is a good time to add this program into the curriculum or as a complementary offering or service for so many college students, because college itself is one of the most important things people are going to do in their education. And so, where do you think it also plays a role in the future, even at earlier stages of education?
GEORGE NICHOLS: Yeah. You know, Brad, one of the things you’ll find in this country is that there’s so much financial education and literacy material. I think the country has done a great job. Unfortunately, most people don’t pay attention to it.
You really need to stop and think about when it is most relevant. And we’ve found that when you’re getting ready to go to college or when you’re in college, you have to think about it. Will I be able to afford it? And whether I work with my parents or take out loans on my own, now you have to think about those decisions.
Well, even when you go to college, you have to make other decisions. You are going to be bombarded with credit card applications. You’re going to be bombarded with things you want to buy just to fit in on campus. Each of these touchpoints is really important for you to make decisions.
If you don’t know who you are, if you don’t know what you think and feel about money, you risk making bad decisions that will only make a difficult situation worse. I’ll tell you in my family… I remember when I was young, you weren’t allowed to ask my parents how much money they earned. It was none of your business.
Well, it took me a long time to figure out, how do I feel about money? How do I think about it? What do I even know? And that was really the impetus that drove us to create this program.
Brad Smith: If you saw what I wore in college, I didn’t really care about fitting in. I think you would just infer that. When you think about the numbers and the projections themselves, 15,000 juniors and seniors you expect to hand out certificates, and then what? How do we continue to track the shrinking wealth gap and disparity?
GEORGE NICHOLS: Well, this is a self-paced virtual program. So what we do is we go to college campuses, HBCUs. We find ambassadors, people respected and trusted by their classmates. We train them, and then they go out and they train their classmates, their family members when they go home.
And so the goal is that when individuals train, they too arrive virtually. So we’re going to be able to get information about them, and then we’re going to be able to send information back to them so that we become their lifelong learning partner when they have to make financial decisions, even about whether or not you want an advisor at some point.
But it’s really about integrating them into the system. And I want to share with you…there is some information that we have already received. We started this about two weeks ago, and we already had a young woman say, you know what? I smoked cigarettes, and I quit, and now I want to open a savings account.
I had borrowed and bought quite a bit of stuff from Amazon, I’m sending it back and I’ll make sure. I want to open an investment account. Well, as they make those decisions, American College is here to be their partner with them to continue to answer questions and help them get a better sense and understanding of their financial decisions and values.
Brad Smith: George, while you’re thinking about where there needs to be a better relationship, it’s not just on the consumer side and who is the recipient of the services, it’s the service itself that’s being offered. Where have we seen improvements from some of the financial services players who need to have a closer relationship with multicultural consumers?
GEORGE NICHOLS: Yeah. Well I think as we were all dealing with the national turmoil I really think the financial services industry has been very, very focused on how it can be more responsive and provide the important things that the black community needs ? So one, the consciousness is there. They are striving to do much more.
Many of them are in partnership with the American College. I want to share with you a bit of a study we did on 3,500 middle-class black women across America. And what we’ve learned is that black women play such an important role in the financial decisions of the black community.
So we wanted to focus our research on that. And I want to share just a few points that I think are relevant to the question you just posed. The first is, the black women said, I want to trust the organization I deal with. Trust has become a big issue – not whether you’re financially stable or how many ads you run, but trust.
The second element, however, was that I wanted to see you in my community. I want to see you in my community advertising, associating with black-owned businesses, and doing business with black people. It is important. I want them to understand the connection that in the black community, it’s important that not only do I succeed, but my family succeeds.
I want my community to be part of it. And we believe that now companies are listening. And they try to think, how to recruit more? How to retain more? How can we partner with black-owned banks? It now comes out in-game.