00:00:00 – CARRIE:
Hi, everybody. I'm Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz. I am so excited to sit down with Charles Best founder and CEO of DonorsChoose; Shelley Zalis, founder and CEO of The Female Quotient; and Genein Letford founder and CEO of CAFFE Strategies about an issue that has become my life's work, near and dear to my heart, and that's financial literacy. Charles Schwab is releasing its 2020 Financial Literacy Survey, which found that in the wake of COVID-19, the majority of US adults want to prioritize financial literacy education to prepare everyone for long-term success. We're living in uncertain times. And while the pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, it has evolved into an economic crisis, too. Every time our country faces a crisis, it becomes more apparent than ever that we need higher levels of financial literacy to protect everyone in good times and in bad. This is not a new issue and I know my fellow panelists will agree, it's time to make a change.
Today, we're going to explore some solutions, so let's get started, and let me introduce you to our panelists, Charles, Shelley, and Genein. So welcome all three of you.
So I'm going to start with a question with each of you, and, Charles, why don't we just start with you? So why don't you tell us a little bit more about what you do and why financial education is so important to you?
00:01:27 – CHARLES:
Well, Carrie, DonorsChoose started 20 years ago at a high school in the Bronx where I was a history teacher. My colleagues and I were spending our own money on school supplies. We were seeing our kids go without books and art supplies and field trips we wanted them to have, and so we created this simple platform where anyone can help a classroom in need. We started the site assuming that teachers would request strictly classroom materials, but teachers have actually used our site to request nutritious snacks for kids who are coming to school hungry, jackets for kids who are coming to school cold, field trips that go beyond what you might expect a teacher to be instructing, and that has extended to financial literacy.
Public school teachers, I think, have been one of the… the quickest to spot the value, the imperative of financial literacy, and they have started using DonorsChoose in large numbers, thanks in no small part to Charles Schwab inspiration, to create requests on our site, seeking materials that will enable them to give their students financial literacy.
00:02:30 – CARRIE:
That's great. So, Shelley, you want to… you want to share your work with us?
00:02:35 – SHELLEY:
Absolutely. First of all, thrilled to be here, and thank you, Carrie, for all that you are doing at Charles Schwab. And a lot of it starts with the data and the knowledge. I'm Shelley Zalis, the CEO of The Female Quotient, we're all about advancing women across race, age, intersectionality, LGBT, ability, and advancing equality. And we do that through experiential popups at big industry conferences, the power of the collective and the power of collaboration. But we also go do the hard work inside of Fortune 500 companies to close the gaps, the parity-policy-pipeline gaps. And when we think about money, two type of [?] words for women, in general, money and power. Those are just words that we think are bad words, and that we're not supposed to know our value, own our value, ask for it, and make sure that we are paid equal… equal pay for equal work.
And when you hear about the gaps and the disproportionate gap now widening, especially for women and Black women, and you see the numbers that McKinsey and the World Economic Forum publishes that when we do close the gap, which will take according to them over 257 years, we can add over $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. And then you look at the gap numbers, women paid 80 cents on the dollar—Black women, 62 cents on the dollar; Latinas, 54 cents on the dollar—it's time for us all to be financially literate and also financially confident, and really own our power, own our money, and be able to control it. And confidence starts at the age of five. So the work that you are doing, Charles, is so incredibly important.
00:04:19 – CARRIE:
Yeah, absolutely. So, Genein, share with us your work and how financial literacy fits with your… with what you do.
00:04:26 – GENEIN:
Sure. CAFFE actually stands for Creative Advancement for Financial Empowerment. And the research shows that the childlike curiosity and creativity thinking is actually the driving force of innovation and value creation. So we… looking at the creative… creativity levels of people now and… and coming out of… of school, they're really, really low. So we look to re… retrain the creative thinking abilities within the work… workforce for individual success and corporate success, so what does that look like creatively. And because I am a financial literacy guru and just fanatic, I attached the… the… the two that your creative health is actually attached to your financial health, your ability to produce ideas and know how to bring into the marketplace is very, very crucial to your life success, your family success, and generations beyond.
So I'm actually the poster child of what it means to look like to not have financial literacy, yet think you're. ed… fully educa… cated because I came out of UCLA, and at 30 years old, I had $100,000 worth… worth of debt. I didn't know how credit cards worked, and I didn't know anything about net worth, any of those key numbers, and I had to teach myself. And so now I was in a position… I was an elementary school teacher and a DonorsChoose teacher, as well, and I was in a position to really give my kids a heads… heads up, you know, and I started the nonprofit alumni 360, which just connect creative literacy thinking with financial literacy and entrepreneurship. So they can be empowered to do great things, and just like Shelley said, be empowered to own their… their life, own their… their fu… future. And DonorsChoose have been a huge help with me creating that here, and so has Cha… Charles Schwab.
00:06:09 – CARRIE:
That's wonderful. I… I love the fact that you all come from it from different experiences and… and how the lack of financial literacy affected each of you, and… and you're teachers, and so forth. And… and the… the bottom line is there's not one, you know, fit… one… one-size-fits-all in terms of how do we impart more financial literacy. And each of you come from a different angle, which is wonderful.
So I… this is a question for, actually, Shelley and Genein. Shelley, I'll just start with you. The survey found that 89% of Americans agreed that the lack of financial literacy contributes to some of America's biggest social issues. And through my work, I've seen how the lack of financial literacy can impact people's daily lives and how financial education can be the great equalizer. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can make sure everyone has access to financial education and the opportunity to create a secure financial future.
00:07:08 – SHELLEY:
Wow, you know, first of all, it starts by not being afraid to not know something. And so it starts by being comfortable asking. And it is an uncomfortable conversation. You know, it shouldn't be, but it is. So the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we get, it becomes the new norm. And when you think about women, in general, women are earning less, we are spending more, we are living longer, retiring later, right, and we are still primary caregivers. And, you know, it comes with a lot of the challenges, where most women, you know, throughout their career, and I talk a lot about the messy middle, opt out of the workplace because they can't do it all. They can't take care of their children and, you know, have a full-time, you know, career, as well.
So when we think about education, it all starts with education. Actually, when women make more money, where do we put it? Into education, into educating our children. And so educating in any country around the world is so incredibly important to understand, you know, what you can do with money, how you can save money, how you can invest your money and watch your money grow. Even if you only have a dollar, a dollar can go a long way.
And so I think that that's what's so important, is to understand that you don't need to be wealthy to create wealth. You can start at any… any place that you are in your journey and… and make investments. Some will be good, some won't, but you need to stretch your money in the best way you can. Even looking at COVID, I advise so many female sma… small business owners, and especially Black female small business owners that are struggling the most, when you think about cash flow liquidity, but also cash flow runway, there is, as Genein said, creative ways of stretching your money. You just have to be willing to go there and try new things and not be afraid.
Yeah. Yeah. Genein, what… what about you?
00:09:24 – GENEIN:
It starts in… in the home, and in a perfect situation, you know, you have this from day one. My… my little boy is two, and actually today we were bringing out… I had money from around the world, and he can identify… at two years old he understands, you know, the concept. So, you know, if you look at how children grow, Shelley mentioned this, from zero to 12 is the foundational years, where they're building their belief systems. So that's a perfect example or the perfect situation. But, of course, we're not in a perfect world, so some peop… people get it in the… the home and a lot of us don't, so and… the… a way to equalize that is to bring it within the schools. And the fact that money touches every single area of your life, but it's not a mandated topic in all of K-12, not just high school, but all of K-12 is… is, to me, borderline in… injustice.
Because as you… as you know, just being an investment firm, time is on your side. If kids are getting their first jobs at 14 or 15 and 16, to learn about investing at that age, it's a game changer, not just for their life, but for generations down the line. So when you talk about this, it's not a generational curse. It's generational ignorance that compounds. So what… what I've come to… to… to learn is that in order to get this into schools and… you know, DonorsChoose is a great way. I just sat down with Tim Ranzetta, who is the CEO of Next Gen Personal Finance, which is a high [yeah] school curriculum. He has this big audacious, hairy goal of getting, you know, at least four out of six kids graduating with some type of financial literacy course in their pocket. So it's just… it's just to add that… grassroots organ… organizations have to take on this, when this should be mandated from the school sys… systems statewide for everyone to have these tools so they can learn how to build their best life.
00:11:20 – CARRIE:
Yeah. You're… you're speaking to the choir. I know with each of my three kids, I made them, you know, obviously, save, and then when they were about 12 years old and they had savings, I took them into the Schwab office to meet a financial consultant. And that sounds so simple, but it's demystifying finance in… you know, in corporate America, and making them more comfortable. And I do notice that my colleagues who are in the business were exposed to it. And especially the… the women. You know, from prior research, we talk to our daughters differently than our sons. We do not talk about investing and… and using debt wisely with our daughters. So both of you… you know, you come at it different angles, but you are trying to address that. So that's wonderful.
So Charles let's go to you, speaking of schools. So your organization does a lot with Schwab to help teachers bring financial literacy to life. We found in the survey that 65% of survey respondents said outside the home school should play a primary role in providing financial education. So how do you think nonprofit and private sector partnerships help move the needle? And what barriers do teachers face when teaching personal finance?
Well, I think that when… when there are a huge number of people who want to do something, and in this case, we're talking about teachers and parents who want to incorporate financial literacy into instruction in our public schools, but you do not have a graduation requirement to compel that focus, you don't have legislation demanding that financial literacy be a focus, that's actually an incredible opportunity for philanthropy to be really catalytic. And I think Charles Schwab… Charles Schwab Foundation has demonstrated that on DonorsChoose by inspiring thousands of teachers to share their best ideas for introducing financial literacy into their instruction, for helping their students to become financially literate. And I… I really do believe that there is a sweet spot when something is not legally required, when something is not graduation required, but there's deep organic demand for that thing, philanthropy can… can unleash all kinds of innovation and activity and… and mobilization.
00:13:37 – SHELLEY:
You know, it also goes, Carrie, to another important point, which is when programs are not mandatory in schools, like STEM is an elective, science, technology, engineering, math is elective in public schools, and because it's elective boys go into STEM and girls don't because they don't want to be the minority in the room. And it's the same thing with financial literacy. If they're elective programs, you will see the boys tend to go into those programs and not the girls. So I just… I just wanted to reinforce the importance of what you just said there about, you know, creating these as part of curriculum, so that everyone equally will attend.
00:14:17 – CARRIE:
Yeah, absolutely. And kids from all walks of life, and we're all… you know, we're leveling the playing field for all of us, for all our youth.
So, Genein, the survey respondents ranked responsible money management as the top skill to learn. What lessons do you teach your students about personal finance and how do you demonstrate to young adults that financial literacy is something they should care about?
00:14:42 – GENEIN:
Well, I think a key word here is ‘access,' and the whole thing with financial literacy, like even that title, itself, it… it's… it's… it's… there's a barrier there, like… if you say it to a sixth grader, ‘financial literacy,' it doesn't really like make them excited. You know, so even with fi… the financial sector, there's a lot of terms and vocabulary, and that's very distancing to the demographics that I work… work with. So that's one thing that I break down.
And another term that I love, I call it… I Hamiltonize it. Basically, no one's going to pick up a 300-page book about Alexander Hamilton and read it, like, especially some of my kids, but they will watch Hamilton, the play. [yeah] So Miranda did a great job of taking, you know, all this thick history and making it really accessible to people who wouldn't normally do all… go through all the re… the research. So that's what I do with financial literacy and some of my creative train… training programs. I really make it visceral and I make it come alive. Youi know, financial literacy is a lot of graphs and… and numbers and…. and things like… like that. So how do you make those… those numbers speak?
So one thing I do that I talk… talk about in my book is I do the old… Oldify app, where I Oldified myself, and I turned myself into a 75 year old, and I showed them. You know, and they had to do it, too, because there's an old person living in you that's expecting you to get this right at 16 and not wait ‘til 56 to start dealing with your financial well-being. So that really opens their eyes, you know, just really to normalize the future for… for them.
And then… I… I have a arts background, so I really believe in the arts as a way of communicating and storytelling. So with compound interest and… and my creative think… thinking strategies, I bring all those in to bring the numbers alive, and really make it app… applicable and assessable to my demographics. I work pri… primarily with lower wealth students who have parents who don't really have that foun… foundational skill of investing and… and that. So I just really want them to know that this is for them and I make a gener… gen… gen… generally connected what… as… as well. I'm saying, ‘You're doing this for your daughter, you're doing this for your son, for your grandchildren… are hoping that you get this right.'
00:16:57 – CARRIE:
Yeah. Yeah. You know, Genein, we need to take your work and apply it for everybody. The… the finance world is so complex, I mean, even for those of us who were in the business. And… and I think that, you know, not only being in the schools and so forth, and talking about family, but how do we de… not demystify, but… but simplify the language of money? Hugely important.
So, Shelley, about one third of the surveys… or survey respondents said that the lack of financial education contributes to gender inequality. What role do you think financial literacy plays in helping women feel empowered?
00:17:35 – SHELLEY:
You know, I was just thinking as Genein was talking about a girlfriend of mine that wrote a Dr. Seuss-like book. Charles, I have to send that to you. And it really just simplified the concept of equal pay for equal work, and made it fun and creative, and not scary, and not using big words. And it was all in rhyme and… you know, about fairness. And just imagine if you go in and you… you're with a boy, so a boy and a girl and you go into an ice cream store and you both asked for a scoop of ice cream, and, you know, the boy gets a big hefty scoop when the girl gets a little scoop, you know, unequal, but that's what you become, uhm, perception, becomes reality, that's what you expect. So it really starts with the simplicity of, you know, equal and being able to achieve that.
And that's, what's happening with women today. We have that imposter syndrome, that voice in our heads that tells us we're not good enough, we're not qualified. If there's a job that requires 10 skills and a guy can do six out of 10, he's like, ‘Yep, I got this,' whether he can or can't. And a woman is like, ‘Oh, my God, I can't…' and we shy away and we opt out. And, you know, I learned recently, both men and women, we all have that voice in our head. It's just men ignore it. And women let it get louder and louder.
And so I think this is what sets our expectation of our value and our worth, and what we need to understand, and we need to shut that voice up in our head, and believe in ourselves, and bring our best selves to the table, know that we are valuable, know that our difference are our greatest strength, know that we are as competent, if not, I don't… I don't want to say more competent, but we bring a different skillset that we should not hide and, you know, conform or make invisible. We need to be fully present and fully visible.
But caregiving does create a… a tremendous challenge because caregiving is still predominantly a female issue. And so what we need to work on to ensure that we are attracting and retaining our best talent, not just our available talent, is to create the structures within organizations to reward great leadership and also take care of some of the policies, the flexibility, the fluidity to allow life-stage accommodation so we can all earn to our fullest potential and bring the value that we deserve to the table.
00:20:05 – CARRIE:
I'm just going to add to that. You know, we talk a lot about having financial knowledge rings a lot of confidence in one's life, it's… it's… it's empowering, and that can, you know, uhm, ah, go into other parts of our lives, you know, in terms of… of feeling empowered. So that's kind of when I get back to financial literacy is the great equalizer. And… and it shows up in a lot of the work where, you know, in terms of workforce readiness and also even domestic violence, which people don't really talk about it, but it's primarily women, but men too, who are subjects of it. And it's shown that if you do have financial literacy, you will leave the relationship. You're in a much empowered situation. And that goes like, even with a job. You know, if you're not being treated equally… or whatever, or any type of relationship, you can walk away. So it's empowering. And it… it… you know, it gives you more options in your life.
So, Charles, our survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans would prioritize financial education as a supplementary graduation requirement versus less than half would prioritize health and wellness, which is noteworthy, right, because we're in the middle of a global health crisis. So why do you think financial education is top of mind?
00:21:32 – CHARLES:
It really is noteworthy that folks would prioritize financial literacy over even health and wellness education during the pandemic. I think partly folks appreciate that we're not just in a… a public health crisis, but an economic crisis, and… and really, I think you three have said it best. Carrie, you were talking about the empowerment, the personal empowerment that comes from financial literacy. Genein and Shelley are far more expert than I am in… in ascertaining exactly why it is that the public is awakening to the value and importance, the imperative of… of financial literacy, which is I'm just so excited to be in this conversation.
00:22:10 - CARRIE;
00:22:12 – GENEIN:
I do think…
Well… oh, go ahead.
00:22:14 – GENEIN:
So if I… I equate the… you know, the pandemic is like a storm and everyone's in the storm, but people are in different sized boats. Like some people are in yachts or cruise boats, and some people are in like row… row boats. We're all dealing [yes] differently with this. But the financial literacy piece and the creative literacy piece, you… you being able to think of i… ideas to get creative with how to bring income into your home when millions of Americans are… millions of Americans are out… out of work, that creative spark is… is huge.
00;22:43 – CARRIE:
Yeah. Well, I… I hope you're right that, you know, we could turn lemons into lemonade and that many of us have learned from this experience. And, of course, everybody comes from it…at this in different way. And I think it was you or… or Shelley was saying, you know, just a dollar, you know, saving, or just little bits can really make a big difference in your life. And so hopefully people will start… savings… savings is… is been confirmed or researches… well-researched that that is the key to resiliency. So, hopefully, we can encourage more people to just put little bits of money away for their… for the future and… and for emergencies such as this.
So, anyway, my fellow panelists, Charles, Genein, Shelley, thank you so much for joining us today. This was such a great discussion and you… you all three have so much insight to share, and I wish we could go longer.
And I want to thank everybody who's listening today for joining us and suggest that you go to SchwabMoneyWise.com for opportunities to learn more. There is so much more work that needs to be done to advance financial literacy. And so, again, to my panelists, I so appreciate your perspective on how we can make sure that every American gets the financial education they need and deserve.