Andrew Crowell of D.A. Davidson: “Doing enough will get you by, but never ahead”

Doing enough will get you by, but never ahead. Truth be told, while I was a good student in school, there were certain classes that I didn’t think were important for me long-term. As a result, rather than really applying myself and trying to learn these subjects, I expended the minimum amount of effort I […]

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Doing enough will get you by, but never ahead. Truth be told, while I was a good student in school, there were certain classes that I didn’t think were important for me long-term. As a result, rather than really applying myself and trying to learn these subjects, I expended the minimum amount of effort I felt would be required to get a passing grade. In hindsight, I now see that I missed out on some valuable lessons. Simply “doing enough” did not yield the benefits I desired later.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Crowell.

Andrew Crowell is Vice Chairman of D.A. Davidson & Co.’s Wealth Management division and a third-generation financial advisor. He created Moneywise, D.A. Davidson’s community program to help strengthen teenagers’ education about financial topics. He serves as executive leader of D.A. Davidson’s community relations functions and sits on several boards, including that of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I followed my father’s footsteps and became a financial advisor 25 years ago, I quickly recognized the importance of educating the next generation. Clients would often ask me to teach their children about the importance of developing wise money habits. At the same time, my ongoing involvement with various youth and family services organizations made me realize the lack of financial education amongst younger generations, as it was not being taught at home or at school. Many years later, the intersection of both realizations gave birth to D.A. Davidson’s Moneywise financial literacy program — a program dedicated to sharing knowledge about personal finance with teenagers who will soon be responsible for their own financial futures and can benefit from it the most.

Four years ago, we partnered with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles to bring Moneywise to their approximately 6,000 teenage members who were coming in daily for various healthy lifestyle activities. We created a weekly financial education program to complement the YMCA’s work so that these same teens, many of whom came from the most under-resourced areas of L.A., could learn about money basics. The pilot program in three YMCA locations in 2018 was deemed a resounding success, and was expanded to 12 locations the following year, and over 30 total locations across YMCA’s, Girls and Boys clubs and schools in 2020.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Covid-19 altered life dramatically for most people, in both personal and professional ways. The pandemic with its myriad distractions and facilities closures could have paused the Moneywise program altogether, which was a great fear for us. Despite our desire to keep the program running, there were larger health concerns at play that were outside of our control, and we came to terms with pausing the program for an indefinite amount of time.

Unbeknownst to us, the period of change allowed the Moneywise program to expand at an astounding rate. As remote learning became the norm, the new virtual reality permitted us to disseminate financial education to an even broader geographic audience than ever before. During a time in which many families faced significant financial challenges due to the pandemic, we were able to come alongside them and offer support. While Covid-19 changed the way we delivered financial education, we still managed to keep the program running and our ability to reach even more families than ever before was a silver lining during the pandemic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I went directly to my first Moneywise presentation from the office. In my line of work, I always wear a suit and tie, as the fiduciary nature of the Financial Advisory business requires a professional uniform equivalent to the importance of the work itself. Needless to say, when I walked into an inner-city YMCA, I was dressed quite differently from the teens in attendance. I could immediately tell from their expressions that I was an outsider and was not going to be very engaging. I wanted to be approachable and interactive with them, so I quickly took off my coat and tie and rolled up my shirt sleeves. Since then, I always bring a change of clothes with me before teaching a Moneywise course.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Through the Moneywise financial literacy program, our main goal is to close the financial literacy gap by teaching the money basics curriculum to children and teens. Closing the financial literacy gap will take time and a focused commitment, but it is essential for the long-term health of our economy and its citizens. Though the program won’t necessarily reach everyone, all of D.A. Davidson’s advisors who have participated have committed to narrowing the gap.

Through the program’s expansion into 30+ locations across YMCA’s, Girls and Boys clubs, recreation departments and schools, we’re seeing students learn to create detailed budgets for the first time and gain considerable financial knowledge. By learning about banking, budgeting, paychecks, purchasing a car, savings, investing and the cost of college, teens have said the class empowered them to take control of their financial future, providing knowledge and skills they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

For the past several years, our Denver office has purchased and distributed laptops for a local school district. These gifts were always well-received, but proved critically important during the pandemic when students had to attend classes remotely. We saw firsthand the importance of bridging the digital divide. Now our associates in Denver are building on the relationship with the school district by bringing the Moneywise course to these students and providing them with tools and knowledge to control their own financial future.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Numerous studies over the past decade show that financial literacy is on the decline. In a recent survey D.A. Davidson conducted of over 1,000 U.S. adults, most respondents (36%) graded themselves a “C” on their financial knowledge. Further, 70% of Gen-Z respondents said that having greater financial knowledge would have better helped them manage their finances during the pandemic. These are alarming statistics that underscore the need for financial education.

This basic life skill has been eliminated from most schools due to budgetary reasons. We believe that omitting this vital subject is sending our children and young adults into the world unprepared. It is of practical, moral and social importance that we reincorporate financial literacy into schools to better prepare the next generation and help close the income inequality gap. Just as we created the Moneywise program, politicians can prioritize financial literacy by providing the necessary funding to ensure that all students graduate high school with a basic financial foundation.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is providing vision, inspiration and trust that can motivate individuals toward achieving a goal or objective. Leadership is not about titles or an organizational chart, it is about influence. Effective leaders do not just set the tone, but they also help individuals dream of opportunities they may not have previously believed to be attainable. Leadership is about directing people and teams, while helping them grow and accomplish great things.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Lead by serving. Most of the richest experiences in my life have come from doing something for someone else, with no expectation of anything in return. Rather than concerning myself with being “paid back,” I have found that simply serving others carries much more lasting rewards. Moneywise has proved to be a tangible example of leading by serving. Rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else to fix the financial literacy gap problem, we take this program to audiences ourselves in hopes that we can positively change the financial trajectory of their lives
  2. Doing enough will get you by, but never ahead. Truth be told, while I was a good student in school, there were certain classes that I didn’t think were important for me long-term. As a result, rather than really applying myself and trying to learn these subjects, I expended the minimum amount of effort I felt would be required to get a passing grade. In hindsight, I now see that I missed out on some valuable lessons. Simply “doing enough” did not yield the benefits I desired later.
  3. Change is the only constant. Life is very dynamic, and those who stand in place too long, can quickly find they’ve been left behind. Years ago, I led an initiative to move our firm forward technologically and help roll out an e-mail system. I recall numerous older Advisors telling me that their clients would never use e-mail; either they were too old to learn or would only prefer more personal forms of interaction. It took less than six months before many of these same Advisors began receiving e-mails from their clients, even retired ones! While the Advisors thought they knew what their clients wanted, they missed the mark. Their clients wanted to learn new ways of interacting as they embraced new technology, thus underscoring the importance of embracing change.
  4. Always be learning and growing. Young children approach their world with curiosity and wonder. “Why?” is a question with which parents are all too familiar. Sadly, some lose this sense as the years progress and responsibilities increase. In my experience, life is far richer when one continues lifelong learning. Beyond keeping one’s mind active, it opens up new possibilities in terms of hobbies, relationship, skills and more.
  5. Live an attitude of gratitude. All of us have been helped throughout our lives. Whether by a parent, teacher, mentor or coach, where we are today has been shaped by numerous influencers. Remembering the impact others have made and thanking them for that, makes our lives and relationships richer. Gratitude reminds us that we are not alone and not to take things for granted.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be the change you want to see in the world. As co-inhabitants of planet earth we are all interconnected and have the ability to impact for good. Rather than wait for someone else to fix things, realize that you individually have the ability to leave places better than how you found them. It’s remarkable how much of an impact a simple “Enjoy your day!” comment can influence the trajectory of another’s day, and the ripple effect can be profound. It’s all too easy to think that problems or situations are beyond our ability to change them, and yet starting where you are and looking for small ways to effect change by picking up a piece of trash, checking in on a neighbor or mentoring a young adult can make a meaningful difference. If we all approached our lives with a “pay it forward” attitude, the world would look quite a bit different.

It’s with this same mentality in which we approach the Moneywise program. It’s about our responsibility as financial advisors at D.A. Davidson to share our knowledge about personal finance with young, deserving children and teens who can benefit the most.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” — Albert A. Bartlett

I first heard this quote while attending university, and I promptly posted it on the door of my dormitory. Beyond the seeming audacity and randomness of such a pronouncement, the provocative claim of its universality stuck with me. Compound interest, population growth, the spread of a pandemic can all be understood and modeled through the lens of the exponential function. Similarly, the spread of joy, the impact of giving and the ripple effect of paying it forward can all make profound and even exponential changes for good.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One person is Howard Schultz.

Howard Schultz is the founder and former CEO of Starbucks. After growing the coffee company from a single Seattle roasting facility into a global chain, he left the company only to return years later to “right the ship” after realizing the company began drifting. In his book Onward, Schultz explains that as the company grew rapidly, it also began adding menu items which shifted the focus away from its coffee roots. On one occasion he walked into a Starbucks location and couldn’t even smell coffee, but breakfast sandwiches more akin with a fast-food restaurant. This dramatically displayed just how far from its coffee roots the company had moved, thus prompting his return.

I find it inspirational and motivational to learn from a leader who creates and executes on a vision and after moving on and seeing deviation, can return and restore the mature enterprise back to its foundational purpose. Further, I marvel at how a business as fundamental and straightforward as a coffee shop has been able to raise social awareness across a broad range of issues from sustainability, to income inequality, to climate change and more.

Another person is Robert Iger.

I have always been enamored with the Walt Disney Company. This unique global entertainment franchise has grown dramatically and expanded far beyond mere animated cartoons and theme parks. Under Robert Iger’s leadership, the company acquired Marvell Entertainment, Lucasfilms, Pixar and Fox within a short span of time. This revolutionized the company for a new generation of consumers, while demonstrating strong respect and reverence for its roots. Someone once said, “Change or die!” to dramatically illustrate the importance of a company remaining relevant as time progresses. Iger’s bold and visionary leadership has assembled a franchise of unsurpassed storytelling and content, which has proven to remain timeless for decades to come.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: Andrew E. Crowell

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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