Originally published on The Industry Cosign January 7, 2015
I’m still amazed that finances aren’t taught in elementary school considering that money plays a great role in our adult lives. Maybe if children are taught earlier about money, then the mindset about finances would greatly improve beyond the attitude of just wanting to make a living.
Luckily, there is someone who shares my views on this important issue. But not only does he share my view, he is actually doing something about it. Ronald Williams, author of Before You Start Banking, has taken the necessary steps to educate both youth and adults about the benefits of knowing how to handle their money.
Williams spoke to The Industry Cosign about the reason he chose to teach financial literacy, his thoughts on how banks hire, and he explains how he got into writing a financial crime thriller.
Please briefly tell us a little history about Ronald Williams and why did you decide to make a career in finance?
I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio but now I reside in Chicago, Illinois. I am an experienced banking professional. I’ve worked in banking, lending, and higher education for many years, holding many different titles from teller to associate director. I am an author and I also ghostwrite. I have written my own literature, as well as literature for other clients about professional subject matters. I am also a financial literacy speaker and I have delivered many financial presentations to high school and college students to educate them about the banking industry. My goals are to educate teens and young adults about the banking industry before they start banking, while helping others that may need financial guidance or assistance. There are many people that work very hard for their income, but they do not have much to show for their grueling efforts. Banks have made tremendous amounts of revenue on overdraft fees, which are usually paid by households that do not have many financial assets. The responsibility does fall back on the customer, so what can the customer do to help themselves? That’s my purpose.
I fell into my career in finance and management. I was just searching for a job and I applied to be a teller. I never thought I would work inside of a bank because of some of the violent bank robberies that I had seen on TV. I overcame that fear and the bank hired me. I learned things very fast about banking products, other departments, and how the banking revenue model operates. With work and increased knowledge I moved up the ranks very fast. During that time, I also went back to school and I obtained my Bachelor’s and my Master’s degree in business administration. I am thankful for my work experience because I have obtained a plethora of priceless knowledge about money and finances. Priceless knowledge that many people are not aware of.
You’ve written a book, Before You Start Banking? Could you tell us what the premise of the book is and why you decided to write it and who is it written for?
The premise of Before You Start Banking is to provide a financial educational resource that outlines how banks earn revenue, what a credit report is/isn’t, some criteria that loan underwriters use, financial resources, and my list of “do’s and don’ts.”
I decided to write the book after watching a segment on the “Today Show” about finances. The previous day, I found out that my position would be ending soon due to cuts. After watching the segment about finances, I believed that a lot of information was neglected about finances and banking. That was the catalyst that made me start developing my outline for Before You Start Banking. I really liked the job that I was performing but things happen for a reason. I really believe that this was God intervening to initiate Before You Start Banking. What was an idea and a concept that I wrote fairly quickly, has turned into a book that has opened up so many opportunities for me. I have not received one negative review yet. I would love for Before You Start Banking to be used similar to a text book for high school students. The technology may change in banking but the principles will remain the same.
Before You Start Banking was written to enlighten young adults, those trying to rebuild their finances, and as a guide that parents can use to educate their kids on this subject as well. I know that reading about finances can be boring and most people do not want to read a 200-page novel about banking. I knew that a short read about the basic and moderately advanced principles of banking, while applying practical scenarios and including my own personal experiences, would be a lot more suitable. Future books will include more advanced financial subject matter in my Before You Start series.
Why take on the role of a financial literacy advocate?
I became passionate about financial literacy because of my work experiences. During my career, I worked mostly in urban low-income neighborhoods. After witnessing many African Americans struggle with money management, and the inability to obtain the things that they need and want; mostly due to lack of knowledge and tarnished credit, it made me want to develop ways to tackle this problem. I truly believe in being a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Some people made mistakes and didn’t realize it. What you don’t know can severely hurt you when discussing finances.
Many households have not prepared a budget or a savings plan. Once the unexpected happens, then a financial collapse happens. I mention the unexpected a lot because the unexpected is usually what destroys someone’s financial picture. This is why prevention is key; making good choices in advance. I discuss in my book about how I made unwise purchases then the unexpected happened. I want people to be prepared for the worst while they are doing their best. I want to see improved knowledge, resources, and assets within underserved communities.
I have met many people that were denied job offers within certain financial institutions and other companies because of their credit history. Many corporations look at candidates with the rationale of, “Why should we pay you to manage our money, when you cannot manage your own?” This is why I discuss what a credit report isn’t. It is not a character reference; it is an assessment of financial responsibility. Companies may look at candidates that cannot manage their finances as irresponsible. It may not be fair but these are the circumstances.
You also wrote a financial crime thriller, Why Tell the Truth – Chess Games, what is it about and what was the motivation behind it?
Why Tell the Truth – Chess Games is the first novel in a three part series that I am co-writing with Kyle Battle. During my career in banking many unbelievable financial frauds have been exposed. We thought that it would be a great idea to combine some of the frauds that were happening into a white-collar crime fiction novel with a lot of twists. Phil Castner, the main character, has a troubled past but he builds his own empire because of the relationships that he had built in college. His greed eventually gets the best of him, and he has to start doing horrendous acts to clear his name. All while keeping the business brand safe and his wife from knowing. Hence the title, Why Tell the Truth? The truth will not set him free. To keep the truth from coming out, Phil does the unthinkable; more than once! It is truly a great story, and our goal is to turn the book into a movie.
In the black community, there isn’t really much concern regarding financial matters, what is your take on this and what do you think can be done to alter this perception and get people on board to be better at finances?
Financial literacy is a subject that has not had too much concern around it. Most people become concerned when they are having financial difficulty. And of course, people don’t want to tell their friends, family, and kids about their financial difficulty. When people are not having financial difficulty then financial literacy is out the window. I recently had a conversation with my aunt about this subject matter. She said, “This is just something that we never talked about.” That short quote is one of the key reasons why financial literacy is not seen as an area of concern; the lack of emphasis around it.
Many believe that financial literacy falls on the parents. This is true to a point, but there are many parents that lack the essential financial knowledge. It is truly up to financial professionals and parents to teach the youth. any of the readers of Before You Start Banking are parents. Many parents have told me that this book should’ve been written 10 to 30 years prior. They would’ve exhibited wiser financial decision-making.
When I was young, I remember hearing that I need to maintain good credit. What did that truly mean? It’s more than just paying your bills on time. That’s another reason why I wrote Before You Start Banking because there are many factors that can affect your credit. I truly believe that increased knowledge will lead to better households and communities.
What do you think it will take to get younger people interested in finance?
I believe that three things will help younger people: starting early, making financial topics easy to understand, and making financial literacy a mandatory graduation requirement nationwide.
I have 4-year-old boy/girl twins and they have his and hers piggy banks. Somehow they seem to always find loose dollars and coins. So, I’ll give them a small task, and once they complete the task then they can put the loose dollars or coin into their piggy bank. We use the money that they have accumulated to practice counting money and teaching financial principles. At 4 years old, they understand that money is obtained through work, simple savings principles, and smart spending. As they get older I will teach them more advanced financial topics, including: budgeting, checking/savings accounts, the banking model, credit, purchasing a house, and investments. This information is most useful when it is taught in phases. You do not want to confuse anyone by trying to teach them an assortment of financial topics all at once.
Financial literacy is like basketball. You do not pick up a basketball and start making three-pointers. Progression is the key element. You have to dribble, pass, make layups, make free throws, and then you can shoot three-pointers and start dunking. You have to do the same in financial literacy. Start with simple matters then progress to more advanced matters.
Make things interesting with the board game Monopoly. What a great way to talk about spending, budgeting, mortgages, taxes, fines, rent, etc., while having fun at the same time. Financial literacy is already boring enough, but making it fun while learning is a way to put some excitement around this topic. Let kids see with Monopoly money how good or bad decision-making can affect their financial situation. It’s a lot better to lose play money than real money.
Also, financial literacy information must be explained in common verbiage. Many of the Before You Start Banking readers really enjoyed that it is written in plain English. I stay away from using too much technical jargon because if kids cannot comprehend it, then the information is not as powerful, and their attention will divert elsewhere. I am very candid during my presentations without using a lot of technical jargon. If I do use technical jargon, I will explain it. In all of the presentations that I have delivered, I have been well-received because I provide real life scenarios that make people think. Once people start thinking, then they want to know the answer(s). The answer will usually remain in their memory because you challenged their knowledge first.
I also believe that all high-school students nationwide should have an advanced level of financial savvy once they graduate from high school. Advanced! When students graduate from high school they can find employment and obtain credit. Financial institutions view them as adults, so they should have an adults worth of financial knowledge. Some students already have families and others to care for. I don’t care if you have a GED diploma or a PhD, this is essential knowledge. But you may not learn finances in the classroom. You do not have to be a doctor to be financially savvy. You just need the knowledge. Credit is so powerful, and can be the deciding factor of many things including: obtaining employment, leasing a car or apartment, insurance, and for the unexpected when it happens.
If you could see one change in the way banks operate, what would it be and why?
I would like to see changes in the hiring operation. Banking changes frequently, but the lack of diversity has remained the same. I would love to see a diverse group of management professionals and leaders across all financial institutions. When I used to tell others that I was a manager at a bank, I often received a look of amazement. From the date that I started in the industry until late last year, I cannot see a difference in the diversity trends. Diversity may even get younger people interested in finance by seeing more minority professionals in entry and top-level positions. Finding employment is another topic that I discuss when I am delivering my speeches. It’s not simply graduating from college and getting a job. Your degree is important, but you will be valuable if you already have industry related skills, experience, and a network before graduating from college. If more African Americans worked in the industry, then the emphasis on financial literacy will increase. People that have worked in banking for a considerable amount of time view things completely different than people that haven’t.