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Financial services need to 'advance Black Americans & address systemic wealth inequality': The American College of Financial Services CEO

George Nichols, The American College of Financial Services CEO & President joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to weigh in on combating racial inequality in the finance sector as well as address the importance of financial inclusion in the workplace.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: As we've talked about frequently on this show, one of the things that the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the things they've highlighted is the racial wealth gap. We've also talked about the lack of representation in the financial services community. And someone we've talked about all of this with is George Nichols. He's the American College of Financial Services CEO and president. He's joining us from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

And your organization now has, George, a new sort of action plan aimed at trying to fix some of these inequalities, or at least make some progress, right? So which do you-- do you think is the most important of these various pillars that you're working on?

GEORGE NICHOLS: Sure. First of all, I am thrilled to be back with you all on Yahoo Finance and to make our first public announcement about our Four Steps Forward Initiative at the college that's focused on creating upward mobility and wealth creation for Black America. The four steps are focused on financial literacy for Black women, a collective impact strategy for all of financial services, an executive development program for a Black up-and-coming executives. And then the thing that is really important is we've really got to start recruiting more Black financial advisors.

To take this initiative, we have established a center for economic empowerment and equality. Its initial strategy will be advancing these four steps forward. And then take that and broaden it to many of the other multicultural communities that are in somewhat struggling with the same things that Black America is dealing with.

ADAM SHAPIRO: There's so many things that we want to talk about in this. How do you retain the African-American executive who is in great demand? But I want to focus right now on why that first initiative? Literacy programs for Black women is, as you said, uniquely designed to address systemic wealth inequality. Why is that the number one priority?

GEORGE NICHOLS: If you look at the statistics, 89% of single-parent households in the Black community are led by women-- 89%. Another statistic is that 63% of Black families, the female is the primary breadwinner. Then when you look at college graduates among Blacks, 68% are female.

So when we think of it that way, these are actually the gatekeepers of the community and the culture. So why wouldn't we start there to help them? And the objective is taking financial literacy at what stage they are in their life, whether it's household financials all the way up to "I want to start a business" or "I want to run my business even better." So we just think it is perfect for us to actually make the biggest impact, both now and from a generational perspective, for Black America.

MELODY HAHM: And George, when you speak about the generational perspective, I've spoken with several fintech leaders across the state of California. And many of them say that the current generation, or even folks older than me, people who are Gen X or boomers, it's almost a lost cause, that a lot of the things that are wired into their brains are perhaps there to stay. And the objective is to really get younger kids saving, really help with the financial literacy on that side of things. Is your new program gearing or allocating any resources to the younger generation to really make sure that they pave the way in the future?

GEORGE NICHOLS: So what we've initially started when we think of financial literacy is actually college freshmen. There are programs, and there are a lot of really good programs, that are dealing with youth in elementary and middle school and high school. But we also think that if you're going to do financial literacy, it has to be relevant. And depending on what family they come from, I don't know that all that information is relevant.

But when we think of a college freshman, they're now on their path to build their careers. So if we can get them then, bring them along as they're in college, focus on seniors who are getting ready to go out into the workforce and be involved in the workforce and be making money. Then the other group-- that's where we think is the best spot for us, because we really want to make an impact now.

When you think of the earlier ones, it's going to help us generationally in the future. But it doesn't do a lot right now. And that's where we want to make the biggest impact. And if we think-- if we believe today that we can impact where you are today, you're going to impact those young people that are in the schools below you, and now that's impacting from a generational standpoint.

RICK NEWMAN: Hey, George, Rick Newman here. So you mentioned education just a moment ago there. I mean, one of the problems getting more minority kids into these areas where there is good opportunity is the pipeline and the education system. Are you getting kids coming out of the education system prepared for this? Or do you have to go deeper into the pipeline to help people get ready for this?

GEORGE NICHOLS: I think you go into the pipeline today. Actually, financial services firms are doing a pretty good job of recruiting Blacks and other minorities into the pipeline. The question is, why aren't they going any farther? Why can't we advance them to more senior positions?

And we're not trying to replace an executive development program or leadership program that firms are trying to do. We're saying let's look at some of the things that are off the grid that may be impacting the fact that Blacks can't move out of middle management. And I'll give you an example. And I think of myself about this.

I've had a great career. I've been successful. I've done a lot of firsts as a Black American. Not at any time in my career have I ever stopped realizing that I'm Black. No matter what my senior position was, I've always had to remember that I may not have the same rights and privileges that others have had in a given role.

And it may not have been the case. I may get some benefits. But every day, I'm saying to be safe and be careful, and the fact that I don't have a lot of people that look like me that maybe advocate on my behalf that I'd better keep that part of me in check so that all I focus on is what I'm doing. That's a different perspective. I don't think HR officers are talking to Black executives about that.

But those are the things that we want to do. And we want to bring in Black executives who've navigated white corporate America so they can help them navigate for the future.

JULIE HYMAN: Well, George, we are really happy to have your perspective and to hear you advocate for yourself and for your community. George Nichols is the American College of Financial Services CEO and president. It's good to get some time with you, George.

GEORGE NICHOLS: Thank you so much for having me.