I encourage everyone at the beginning of their career to be introspective and identify the ‘thing’, whether it’s a skill or a cause or an expression of art, that makes them feel energized, talented and worthwhile. In my mind, that “thing” never changes. It may evolve, or take a different form, but I believe that the essence of what makes each of us tick stays with us for life. And the sooner we can recognize and cultivate that passion, the better. My thing is helping people achieve financial security. When I was a young woman living in Atlanta, I discovered I really cared about this issue when I had an opportunity to help raise money to support a cause that focused on economic empowerment for women. From there, my passion evolved and grew. The key at first was paying attention to the charge I got every time I was able to make a difference in someone’s life. And once I understood the power of helping someone achieve financial wisdom, I knew that I had landed on my life’s work.
I had the pleasure to interview Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Board Chair and President of the Charles Schwab Foundation. Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, is a leading advocate for financial literacy and one of America’s most trusted sources for financial advice. She has devoted her career to helping men and women from all walks of life achieve financial security. In addition, she oversees Schwab’s corporate philanthropy and employee volunteer programs, which aim to strengthen the communities where Schwab operates. In 2017, Schwab-Pomerantz was appointed Commissioner of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, which fosters the advancement of women and girls through policies, legislation and programs throughout the city. She has also served two White House administrations, advising on financial capability policy. In 2010 she was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, where she chaired the Partnership Committee until early 2013. Under her leadership, Charles Schwab Foundation has made important strides in promoting financial literacy. Through its national partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Schwab created Money Matters: Make It CountSM, a best-in-class financial education program that has been completed by nearly 800,000 teens nationwide. With AARP, Schwab developed AARP Foundation Finances 50+SM, a targeted effort to improve financial outcomes for people 50 and older, particularly those who are low- and moderate-income. Schwab-Pomerantz serves as director and board chair of Schwab Charitable, one of the country’s largest donor-advised funds. She also serves on the national board of governors of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and has chaired the board of trustees for the Pacific region.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up watching my dad struggle as an entrepreneur, working his tail off to launch his business. In 1976, when the company was just a startup and I was 16, I went to work for my dad as a file clerk. Back in those days the company had only a dozen or so employees in two rooms: one with all of the brokers around a table with black rotary phones and a switchboard operator switching in client calls, and the other with my dad and his colleagues. We were small and scrappy, and everyone pitched in on whatever needed to be done.
After college I did a year-long stint with another company, but came back to Schwab and decided to become a Financial Consultant, partly because my dad always talked about the importance of working directly with clients if I wanted to really understand the business, and partly because I knew I wanted a job where I could help people. Turns out being an FC was a great experience for me, and it was the best way to learn the business. I was hooked, and I’ve been at Schwab ever since in various roles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?
One of the things I’m most proud of is having served two U.S. Presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and advising them on financial literacy. The need for financial education and empowerment cuts across party lines — and there aren’t too many issues you can say that about today! I got to serve alongside some of the greatest leaders and researchers in the behavioral finance space, and as chair of the Partnership Committee on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, I was able to bring people and organizations together and push for greater collective impact. I got to work with and learn from so many talented people from nonprofits, government, and the private sector. It was a tremendous honor.
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?
While not the funniest, one of the earliest mistakes I made early on in my career was accepting a marketing job at an insurance company in Atlanta with ethics that didn’t mesh with mine.
Not too long after I joined the firm, there was a mandatory golf outing. But my female colleagues and I weren’t allowed to play — instead, we were asked to be caddies (and to wear shorts!). I was pregnant at the time and was able to sit out the event — but to this day, I still think about the humiliation my female colleagues must have felt. Even more unsettling was the fact that when I learned more about the company, I realized I wasn’t comfortable with the products I was being paid to bring to market. So I left.
My biggest takeaway is that when you’re looking for an employer, find a company that aligns with your personal values and belief systems. Even if you end up in a place that offers great perks like career advancement, higher pay, better location — if it doesn’t fit with your values, that’s really hard to overcome.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What I think makes Schwab special is our strong culture of service to our clients and communities, and our commitment to making investing more accessible, helping people from all walks of life take control of their financial futures. I’ll highlight a couple programs offered by Charles Schwab Foundation that advance financial literacy and empowerment.
· Through our longstanding partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we’ve developed the Money Matters: Make It CountSM program to address the financial literacy learning gap by educating teens on topics including budgeting, saving, investing, debt management and college planning. To date, nearly a million teens have been through the program and many have been awarded college scholarships.
· We’re also addressing the gap in school-based financial education through our matching grant partnership with DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit that enables individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects through an online crowd-sourcing platform. Our program funds creative financial literacy projects in classrooms across the country, and after just a year and half, we’ve served 966 classrooms and 174,808 students across all 50 states.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In 2016 we began talks with Stanford University to explore how we could develop a best-in-class financial education program for college students. Recognizing the opportunity to marry Schwab’s personal finance expertise with Stanford’s leadership in higher education, we joined forces to launch the Mind Over Money initiative, a comprehensive financial education model that provides events and workshops , financial coaching, academic courses, and online resources for students. We’re continuing this work for the 2018/2019 academic year and hope to eventually replicate the program at universities throughout the country.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I met my first mentor when I was 23. Nicole Young and I were both enrolled in a six-week new broker training program at Schwab and I recognized immediately that she was super smart, funny, and audacious — but what I didn’t appreciate was how big an influence she would eventually have on my life. I never set out to have a formal “mentoring” relationship with Nicole, but eventually Nicole became my boss — and more importantly, my role model, my champion, and my friend. To this day, I consider myself lucky to have had this amazing woman in my life.
Our first big project together was Schwab’s Women’s Initiative. It was Nicole’s idea, and she tapped me to lead it because she knew that I was passionate about helping women achieve economic parity. Together we gathered a diverse and talented group of women across the firm to create a national program. We were committed to moving the dial. We fought for funding, and with that money we created seminars and workshops designed specifically for women investors. While the work to educate financially-wise women has never ended for me, that was one my earliest moments of success working under her guidance and I started to see what was possible.
I started to think bigger. And ultimately, I started to think bolder. Sometimes it’s funny what sticks in your head. Now, years later, I picture Nicole’s face and hear her telling me: “You have what it takes.” That was our shared code for her faith in me — and ultimately, my faith in myself. She lit a spark, and there is no question in my mind that my current team and our shared mission of promoting financial literacy through Charles Schwab Foundation are an evolution of the work that started under Nicole.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Success is hard to define — and even harder to measure — because it can mean so many things. Some people might measure success by how many figures are in your salary or how high you’ve climbed on the corporate ladder. Success is a very personal concept, but for me it ultimately comes down to impact.
I’ve come to realize that what excites me is bringing people and organizations together, seeing lives improved by a connection. When it works, I feel successful. It’s kind of like matchmaking. It’s not about me; it’s about magnifying opportunities for others. If I can help create a situation where minds and talents converge, I consider it a success. It’s not something I can always put a number to, but every time I get an email from a young person thanking me for helping them or from an employee telling me how meaningful our volunteer opportunities are, or whenever I encourage a colleague to join a board and I see them bloom and grow in their leadership skills, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I’ve had an impact — and I’m inspired to do more.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
· My advice– is to not always follow advice. Look inside yourself for your answers. I learned this lesson when I was an undergraduate at the University of California — Berkeley and was trying to zero in on my major. I liked math, especially statistics, and wanted to pursue it more. I especially liked the way numbers had their own truth, the way they could tell a story. All that ended abruptly on the day that the dean unleashed his dose of professorial advice. I can’t remember his exact words, but the message was loud and clear: “Don’t major in statistics; you don’t have the grades; try something less demanding.”
As a young woman, I believed this man — and abandoned all hopes of becoming a mathematician. Was he right or wrong about my abilities? Honestly, I don’t know (although I suspect he was wrong, given that I went on to have a successful career in finance). But I definitely know that he was wrong to discourage me from finding out. Yes, it’s smart to seek guidance from others who are in a position to know more than you do. And yes, it helps to consider different perspectives, ideas and points of view. But remember never to let anyone discourage you from pursuing something (or someone) that you love. Don’t let anyone trample your curiosity. Listen to yourself!
· As you show your humanity, acknowledge theirs. A good leader understands that people need to be recognized not just for what they do, but also for who they are. Especially in difficult times, a little personal understanding can lift spirits and foster greater enthusiasm. For instance, during the recession, we sponsored our first large-scale employee volunteer event. Given the poor economy, the company was making some difficult financial decisions, and several executives suggested we consider cutting the volunteering program. But after some discussion, we agreed it could be an important way to give our employees a greater purpose; to help bring us together as human beings and make life a little better for others.
· I’m a big believer in ‘To-Do’ lists. I learned a long time ago to make a list and put a little box by each entry so that when something is done, I can check it off and move on. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and helps me focus on the next thing. But as my to-do list has grown along with my personal and professional responsibilities, I’ve also learned what I consider to be essential to getting things done: add a few ‘don’ts.’ Of course, that doesn’t mean you should shirk your duties or ignore important tasks. What it means is realizing that to accomplish more, you have to find ways to stay fresh and focused. And sometimes that actually means doing less. My ‘Don’t’ list includes: Don’t be afraid to delegate, don’t say yes to everything, don’t expect yourself to be available 24/7, and finally, don’t ignore your need for R&R.
· Push yourself out of your comfort zone. A number of years ago, a friend wanted me to meet Khao Cates, a young rap producer with an interest in helping kids and teens. I didn’t know anything about this person and I confess I wasn’t really into rap music, but I agreed to meet with him. And what a meeting it turned out to be! Not only did Khao and I become great friends, he actually wrote a rap for me about money management — which I performed in front of 400 teachers, regulators and nonprofit executives at an awards event.
Talk about a new experience! While this meeting didn’t point me in a new career direction, it did evolve into Khao writing raps for each module of our Money Matters program for teens. It was a novel idea that made finances more relevant and interesting and helped engage the kids in the program. And I like to think it was a good example to my team of what can happen when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and explore new ways to solve problems.
· I encourage everyone at the beginning of their career to be introspective and identify the ‘thing’, whether it’s a skill or a cause or an expression of art, that makes them feel energized, talented and worthwhile. In my mind, that “thing” never changes. It may evolve, or take a different form, but I believe that the essence of what makes each of us tick stays with us for life. And the sooner we can recognize and cultivate that passion, the better.
My thing is helping people achieve financial security. When I was a young woman living in Atlanta, I discovered I really cared about this issue when I had an opportunity to help raise money to support a cause that focused on economic empowerment for women. From there, my passion evolved and grew. The key at first was paying attention to the charge I got every time I was able to make a difference in someone’s life. And once I understood the power of helping someone achieve financial wisdom, I knew that I had landed on my life’s work.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
This is easy — I hope to continue inspiring financial empowerment, especially for underserved populations. It isn’t just about managing money, it’s about opportunity and a brighter future. It’s about the freedom that comes from being able to weather a crisis and achieve your dreams. And it’s an education we need to pass on to the next generation.
Following my parents’ divorce, I watched my mom struggle to get her footing financially and, I realized that I, too, had a lot to learn. From that point on I knew that I wanted to learn about budgeting, saving, and whatever else it would take to achieve financial independence. I want to reinforce how important it is that everyoneknow this stuff. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, man or woman, young or old. We all need to know how to create a budget, live within our means and plan for the future.
New research from Charles Schwab shows that three in five Americans live paycheck to paycheck and that only one in four have a written financial plan. This shows that there is work for all of us to do when it comes to increasing Americans’ financial literacy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Lately it is “be your authentic self.” Sometimes as leaders we feel like we have to be someone we are not, but the way you lead and effect change is to be yourself.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Facebook here
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