Conversation with The President: How’s The College Stepping Up to Impact Racial Equality?

Conversation with The President: How’s The College Stepping Up to Impact Racial Equality?

The American College Racial Equality Four Steps Forward
Conversation with The President: How’s The College Stepping Up to Impact Racial Equality?
George Nichols III
Dec 14, 2020

2020, what a year. To reflect on a year for the history books (both the good and the bad), I sat down to answer four pressing questions summing up The American College of Financial Services, circa 2020. I touched on technological advances, a renewed focus on transformative e-learning, and the potential outcomes The College can foster in economic empowerment and equality.

Following my thoughts on The College’s student experience, I laid out our progress on Four Steps Forward, a big, bold initiative for Black America that will serve as a model for our work with underserved and underrepresented communities through The College’s new Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality. Listen to how I and our team view the steps needed to generate the sustainable, generational change that’s been missing in Black communities for far too long.

Listen to the short interview below, and make sure to subscribe to my blog to remain on the pulse of new College initiatives.

Jared Trexler: Hello, everyone. A happy holiday season to all, as we near the end of one of the most challenging, chaotic, unusual years in our nation's history. We hope all of you listening are safe and well and navigating these times with a strong belief for a brighter future. We at The American College of Financial Services are dedicated to being your lifelong learning partner and advancing our mission to benefit society. Today, I'm sitting down with College president and CEO, George Nichols III for his thoughts on the College's 2020, as well as his valuable perspectives from over three decades in the financial services industry.

Make sure to follow President Nichols on LinkedIn, Twitter, and sign up to receive his latest insights right to your inbox at www.theamericancollege.edu/president. I want to tackle professional diversity and the racial wealth gap. It's been a big part of The College's footprint for 15 years through the Conference of African-American Financial Professionals, but that focus has been amplified in recent months. You took a long look at the situation, saw the anger sweeping out onto our streets, and really understood that pervasive inequalities in the financial system were a major part of the story. And you identified pretty quickly that The College was positioned to play a leading role in the financial services industry's response to this crisis. Four Steps Forward was born, and for those who don't know about it, you can go to the www.americancollege.edu/president, and in the top right-hand corner, you can read our white paper on this big, bold initiative, as well as The College's new Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality.

I want to dive deeper than what the four steps actually are to discuss how the initiative is unique and what tangible goals you hope to accomplish. First, let me ask you why Four Steps Forward? Companies are throwing around billions of dollars on ideas in their areas of specialty. What makes Four Steps Forward the initiative that will create change that's both sustainable and generational?

President George Nichols III: Well, I'm very happy to see companies that are willing to step forward and put money, capital, upfront and say we want to do a better job of serving a particular group of people, be it specifically Black Americans, but they've always done that. Whenever there's been a crisis or this view that maybe we're not doing enough for a particular group of people of color or women, they want to put money up. And so that part's normal, but always good because there's a financial need.

But the thing is that usually when they do that, it's really focused on how do I improve and do better at selling what I make. And our view is, let's flip the script on that one. Let's actually understand what they need. And it's one of those things where we're partnering because of our relationship with all of these financial services firms, we're partnering with financial services firms to address the financial and economic issues of Black Americans, and we're saying that the way we'd like to start approaching this is not from what you want to sell, but evaluating what they need to build wealth.

And then as you begin to understand that, which is a broader context, then you can say hey, you know what, for wealth building, I fit into that. But because I started with what they need, I have a better understanding of how I should deliver that, how I should build it out. So, that's the first part.

The second part, which is related to that in my mind, is by going in this direction, you're actually driving the solution to the community. You're starting at the community level, and this is something I learned, my father quit school in the eighth grade and he finally went back and earned his GED, but he was a very, very smart man. And I remember him telling me once, he said, "Son, if you don't understand what's going on, just start following the money." And he said, "If it gets really, really complicated to follow the money, maybe you shouldn't get engaged. But it should be really simple, just follow the money."

So, when I think about what we're doing, and I've talked to people at The College about the value and the impressive nature of what tech and consumer firms have done to understand how consumers think and act, and then actually watch and understand the flow of money. That's how we've created Venmo and Cash App and all of these technology apps, because we're watching how money flows. That starts at the community level. So, when I think about financial services firms that have made a lot of money, whose money is it? Where did they get it? Did it just drop out of the sky? No, they're getting it from consumers. And so, what if we empowered the consumer more? In our mind, understand Black America and then partner with financial services firms to help them understand how Blacks build wealth and understand which companies are best at providing the products and services to help them build that wealth.

We're now starting by empowering the one that actually has the money that we're trying to acquire. That's a different process because now some people will tell you that their job is to create a product and convince people that they need it. Well, I would agree with that. I think that Apple has done a wonderful job letting us know that we need an iPhone, but when we're talking about wealth building, this is life. This is real stuff. This is not easy. This is about how people sustain themselves and their family. It's about preparing for the next generation. It's about delivering the opportunities our great country has created.

So, we're leveraging our partnerships, our relationships with financial service firms, we're amplifying their intellectual capital, we're using their financial capital, but we're saying that we're going to deploy it differently by first, making sure we understand what this community, the Black community, needs. And then we're saying, to what end? Is it just a sale? No, it's an end to create generational wealth.

And then you look at statistics that say how much our country is losing in GDP as a result of the racial wealth gap. Well, if you even just think about money, then you have to realize there's something we could be doing more of that can actually improve overall GDP. It's going to improve my bottom line, but it's actually helping people who are helping us continue to grow the economy.

There's all these values and win-wins in this, but it really is, in our view, consumer first and then work backwards in terms of what the company's doing. Because of how successful they've been and how they finance America, we think they know how to do it. We just don't think they've really applied it directly to a particular community.

Jared Trexler: So, The College is going to run this Four Steps Forward plan for Black America through its Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality. I think a key point here is that the Center isn't narrowly focused on the Black community. It's just starting with the Black community. So vision casting again, how do you see the Center benefiting society long term?

President Nichols: If you look at all of the demographic data and all of the projections of what America is going to look like in the next 20, 25, 30 years, we're moving toward a minority-majority country. That's what America will look like.

But let's just talk about the demographic shift over the last 10 years: it's towards women. Women have become the dominant population here and they think differently. They approach things differently. And so we've already seen the shift, and I know that there are some organizations that say, it doesn't matter that they've grown, they don't have the wealth, but that's short-sighted. The statistics are saying that over the next three to five years, the wealth transfer to women is in the trillions. Well, part of it is men don't live as long. So, they're transferring their wealth. Part of it is there's just more women than men and they're in the workplace, and the number of couples that I know where the wife is the breadwinner is growing. And so wealth ownership has changed and it'll continue to change. The companies that have figured it out, and there's not a lot of them, but they're probably ahead of the game.

So, now everybody's catching up to say, "Oh my God, we've got to recruit more women. We need more women in leadership roles." And I've seen it cap out at about, well, women make up 50 plus percent of the population. Most companies, you probably say they probably feel comfortable when they say, "Oh, we're at 30% to 35%," and they feel really good about it. Think about the numbers now. 35% is where you are, but you still don't represent the population nor do you represent where wealth is transferring over the next three to five years.

If we started trying to get in front of that and trying to better understand, back to this community, better understand women and the needs that they'll have both as advisors and potential clients, then we can also learn that there are similar issues going on with Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other groups. So, as that's happening, they're not thinking like the white affluent, which is really what drives the financial services market today. And so the Center's purpose is to represent and to focus on underserved and underrepresented groups. You can put women in that, and we will create synergies with our women's center, which will help us as we focus on those people of color.

It starts with Blacks because that’s what our nation is currently dealing with, but then it'll move to Latinos, and then it'll move to Asians, and it'll focus on other groups. It may look at rural whites because it's focused on underrepresented groups benefiting from the financial and economic greatness of this country.

Jared Trexler: Thank you so much, George and thank you for listening. As The College continues to fulfill its mission, check back for another conversation with George in the months ahead. Here's to a safe, happy holiday season and make sure to bookmark www.americancollege.edu/president for President Nichols' latest professional insights and announcements of College initiatives.