Don’t wait until your children are adults to teach them about finances. There are plenty of resources specifically available for kids, everything from credit cards to budgeting apps. As soon as your child becomes aware of money, you should be teaching them the value of it — something I’ve been doing with both my 14 and 11-year old daughters.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Faisa Stafford, President and CFO of Life Happens, a national nonprofit dedicated to educating consumers about the importance of life insurance and other related products for sound financial planning. In this role, Faisa provides leadership, direction, and coordination in support of the organization’s board and member companies, which include over 140 of the leading insurance companies and associations. These efforts seek to inspire and educate consumers to take personal financial responsibility through the ownership of life insurance that will protect themselves and their loved ones.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I’ve always been really good with numbers, and after college, I gravitated to roles that were in the finance field. I originally thought that I’d work in international relations, but finance came naturally to me, and I eventually went back to school to get the certifications I needed to advance further. Life Happens provided me with the unique opportunity to not only work in the financial industry but also raise awareness around the importance of financial planning and insurance products with consumers. It was a perfect match that has sustained me for the last 16 years.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
In support of our mission, Life Happens organizes several programs during the year to educate the public about the need for life insurance. Our leading campaign is Life Insurance Awareness Month (LIAM), which takes place every September. We know that for some life insurance can be a taboo topic, so we want to encourage Americans to start having this important conversation around leaving a legacy and protecting our loved ones. As part of this annual campaign we have had the chance to work with celebrity spokespeople. This year we’re working with Brooke Shields, so it was amazing to sit down with someone who I’ve grown up with and admired from afar. Just a few weeks ago, I was just a foot away from her and her famous eyebrows and I was in awe. Once I got over being starstruck, we started talking about both of us being moms to two young daughters. We bonded over the value of protecting our families’ futures. We want what’s best for our daughters and loved ones, and by having life insurance it provides peace of mind on something we as parents don’t have control over. It’s interesting how universal those feelings are, and I love that Brooke’s message about protecting her daughters is one I — and really any parent — can relate to.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are excited to get Brooke’s public service announcement out and onto TV and radio as part of the annual campaign — which is something unique that we’re able to do as a nonprofit. This will share Brooke’s story but also break down misconceptions around the true cost of life insurance and show how it’s a lot more attainable and affordable than people often believe it is. Our annual Insurance Barometer Study shows that people overestimate the actual cost of life insurance by three times or more! For a healthy 30-year-old to get $250,000 of life insurance (20-year level term) it costs about $13 a month. You can afford that by giving up a couple of lattes each month and look at what kind of peace of mind you get in return.
We are also constantly looking at how we can evolve with consumers’ needs. The financial industry as a whole has been slow to respond to the demands of digital transformation, and we are proud of our digital initiatives that reach consumers in new ways, whether it be on social media or smartphones. These efforts have led us to become 100% digital in our outreach, a rarity in the finance industry, and our Life Happens Pro platform provides digital-first resources that make engaging with consumers more personal and effective. We’re dedicated to keeping that cutting-edge spirit, for the sake of consumers and the industry.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Life Happens is unique in that we are a third-party nonprofit voice for the industry that’s focused on the public, which means that we aren’t selling anything to consumers. Our only interest is seeing that consumers get the coverage they need to protect themselves and their loved ones from the unexpected so they can preserve their legacy.
We connect with consumers in unique, impactful ways providing them with free online tools, like our life insurance calculator, so they can assess their needs in real-time. We also share powerful stories of how life insurance has profoundly impacted the lives of people across the country through our Life Lessons Scholarship Program. Like the story of Brittney LaCombe, for example, who at only 20 had to step into the shoes of her mother, after she unexpectedly passed away, to care for her two sisters. Without life insurance, their financial struggles started immediately with their utilities being shut-off a week after their mom’s death and the bank calling every day looking for mortgage payments. Despite these struggles, Brittney has been able to attend college and work on a social work degree with the help of our Life Lessons Scholarship Program. I wish that no child had to realize their parent didn’t prepare for the what-if’s, but to see how so many students have benefitted from our scholarship program after experiencing the worst hardship possible is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and the work we do at Life Happens.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Like many industries, the finance industry has come to understand that there is significant value in having multiple perspectives, mindsets, and experiences at the decision-making table. Businesses don’t have the luxury of making the wrong decisions, things move too quickly. By being more diverse, it allows for different points of view that openly challenge traditional ways of thinking, and can lead to new, successful paths forward. Companies are seeing its value, through the establishment of departments and leadership positions dedicated to diversity, and the growing presence of CEOs that are more diverse in gender, race, and age. It’s no longer rare to see a financial CEO who is a woman, under 60 or both. Financial services companies are also shaking off their notions of who consumers are. They are realizing that women are making more of the final financial decisions in the household, and if they don’t engage with us, they will lose out.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Firstly, there is a lot that can be done to help achieve parity. To start, companies should continue to strive to offer opportunities for women to branch out and try new things, but importantly, we as women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for these opportunities ourselves. What helped me was that I was never pigeonholed into one set of tasks, I was curious and explored other aspects of business which is ultimately what led me to my current career. Life Happens gave me the flexibility to experiment within the organization and those opportunities helped me find my own strengths and build my confidence in my abilities.
It’s also important to create a supportive work environment for women that makes them want to stay in the industry. At Life Happens, we offer Summer Fridays, generous maternity and paternity leave, and flexible work hours so that women (and men) can better support their families. In turn, we’ve found that our employees respond with both creativity and loyalty.
Finally, women should be open to breaking the mold that has been historically set for them and bring their own unique spirit to the workplace. The days of everyone wearing the same navy blazers — and the mindsets that go with them — are over. Now is the time to find ways for you to bring your identity to the workplace.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
- First, don’t wait until your children are adults to teach them about finances. There are plenty of resources specifically available for kids, everything from credit cards to budgeting apps. As soon as your child becomes aware of money, you should be teaching them the value of it — something I’ve been doing with both my 14 and 11-year old daughters.
- Learn how to budget. As valuable as it can be, most people don’t talk about it enough. With the tools and apps available today, we’ve come a long way from the Excel budget sheet I kept (and still keep) for my family. It’s now so much easier, and there really isn’t an excuse.
- You don’t think the worst is going to happen, but you still need to prepare in case it does. The cost of not being protected is far worse and not worth the small savings it takes to be prepared. We insure our phones but what about our families’ futures and assets?
- Your health influences your finances in the short and long-term. When you’re planning for your future and retirement, your health will play an important role in how financially prepared you’ll be. Take care of yourself physically and mentally so that you don’t incur health costs that could have been prevented. I’m seeing my father now having to reallocate savings to pay for his health care, some of which could have been avoided.
- Pay your future self. Be diligent about moving funds into a separate account to prepare for what could happen or incidentals. If you lose your job tomorrow, you need to still be able to make ends meet.
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?
There were many people that helped me get to where I am today, from board members to industry association executives and colleagues. I feel lucky to have had each one of these people see something in me that they wanted to invest in, which helped me strengthen my abilities and skills, propelling me forward. I also wouldn’t be who I am now without my husband who showed me that finding a partner, or a colleague, that will be able to push you when you doubt yourself is invaluable. As women, we often downplay our strengths or think it’s not ‘ladylike’ to talk about what we want for ourselves. Sometimes, we all need a little extra shove to change our thinking, as others can more easily see the future you when you aren’t able to see it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote that has always stayed with me is that of writer Toni Morrison, “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” It’s something that has meaning for me both in my career and personal life. We can’t only take; we need to pay it forward and give back — helping those that came before us and those that will come after.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to make acquiring life insurance a non-decision for people. I’ve seen firsthand how difficult life can be for families without it, and I would like to mitigate those circumstances for as many people as possible.
Thank you for all of these great insights!