As the generations have progressed, more Generation X and Millennial women are in financial careers. I think it’s part of the workforce evolution. Once women conquered the workplace and demanded greater equality, the “old boys club” mentality had to fall away to keep up with the times, talents and demands of modern life. As the years pass, more and more women and people of color will have greater roles. The more diverse our population becomes, the more opportunity there will be for people of all walks of life and ethnicities to enter financial careers.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing April Lewis-Parks, Director of Education and Corporate Communications. Early in her career, April Lewis-Parks counseled employees on 401K and IRA accounts for John Hancock Financial Services. Just out of college with a communication degree from Emerson in Boston, she cared deeply about an issue most young people never contemplate: retirement. It was that concern for the financial well-being of others — spurred by her own challenges growing up in public housing — that eventually led her to Consolidated Credit. Instead of working on the investment side of the financial sector, Ms. Lewis-Park has focused for two decades on getting Americans out of debt. She is a PFE Certified Debt Management Professional through the Financial Counseling Association of America and has been involved in the creation and implementation of personal finance web-based interactive modules, video and audio education, as well as seminar and multi-level curriculum development. She develops surveys and polls to collect data concerning consumers’ financial needs and subsequent to her findings, she develops educational material and community outreach programs. Her promotional efforts have been seen in the New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, Newsday, Consumer Reports, the Business Journals, and Money Magazine among others. Her other passion is Parkland Cares, a nonprofit organization that was formed after the mass high school shooting in Parkland, FL in 2018 that killed 18 people. The organization is dedicated to raising funds and awareness for mental health and trauma counseling. To-date they have granted nearly $240,000 to six mental health and support organizations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Growing up, I had everything I needed — except for the traditional mother and father relationship that most of my peers had. I was raised in a Boston suburb by my grandmother in public housing. My grandmother relied solely on Social Security and Veterans benefits from her husband’s military service.
I remember being in high school when the 1987 stock market crash had everyone reeling. Seeing the hopelessness of people who would rather die than not have money really struck a chord.
Fast forward to college. I had a part-time job working at John Hancock Insurance, and one of my duties was preparing hardship documents for people seeking loans from their 401(K) plans. It was an eye-opening experience. I read story upon story about the hardships people faced, even though they had good jobs and seemingly stable careers.
I learned the ins-and-outs of retirement plans from my co-workers, who were kind enough to educate me. Of course, this was all new to me since growing up, I had no knowledge about money, and I knew nothing about investments.
I was lucky enough to get scholarships for college and only had to take out minimal student loans compared to todays’ standards. By the time I was near the end of my college career, I was a journalist. I interviewed politicians and covered the Massachusetts State House. I broadcast news reports for WERS and promotions for WZLX radio. I traveled to Europe and cover the 1991 EU Summit in Maastricht, Netherlands.
At the EU, one of the main talking points was a unified currency, so once again money was brought to the forefront for me. After working in journalism, I transitioned to the private sector, writing for various companies. I then found myself at the nonprofit organization Consolidated Credit, where I’ve currently been working for 20 years.
When I started, they had only been operating for a few years and wanted to enhance their awareness and personal finance education for their clients and the public. With my writing background, love of research and information-sharing, coupled with teaching people about money — I have finally found the perfect fit.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Over the years, I have attended many industry conferences and have spoken with hundreds of financial professionals. One prevalent issue: Not understanding the differences between debt solutions and how they work. When I speak to people about how they determine if a consolidation loan, debt management program, a debt settlement program or bankruptcy is best for a person, they generally don’t understand the impacts of each solution.
This year, I’m creating a series that focuses on those programs: who they’re good for, and the various impacts of each. I hope to lessen the stigma of reaching out for financial help.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our education reaches active military, veterans and their families, small business owners, first-time homebuyers, senior citizens, youth, parents, Spanish speakers, faith-based audiences and university faculty, staff and students.
By addressing the specific needs of each group, our educators are able to have a meaningful exchange. Some of our most exciting programs this year focuses on veterans, the youth and small business owners.
A 2017 report from the Military Family Advisory Network finds that 60 percent of military families and Veterans say they don’t have enough savings for an adequate emergency fund. Thankfully, service members and their families can overcome their financial obstacles through awareness and education.
Operation FinEd and Code Red RX are two new veteran programs we’ve created. Operation FinEd is in partnership with Mission United, which is part of the United Way of Broward County. It’s a series of quarterly seminars designed specifically for Veterans and their families. The curriculum builds upon each lesson to help veterans and their families get on stable ground and provide resources for their unique situations.
In partnership with Nova Southeastern University’s Director of Veteran’s Affairs, we’re presenting the Code Red Rx series. This seminar series covers the medical and wellness impact of financial stress, as well as the impact of financial stress on work and employment. We also cover tactics to deal with credit card debt, strategies to solve student loan issues, and the first steps to homeownership with a VA loan.
Consolidated Credit recently collaborated with the Community Redevelopment Agency of Riviera Beach, Florida. We developed curriculum and presented a six-seminar series titled the Small Business Certification Readiness Training. Attendees gained knowledge from educators and industry experts that allowed them to become knowledgeable in business essentials such as, financing, accounting, credit, marketing, social media, business operations, insurance, how to become certified by the county and other government entities.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that truly changes people’s lives. During the recession, we helped people save their homes. We’ve saved elderly clients from creditor harassment. We’ve helped veterans get back on their feet. The list goes on and on.
What sets Consolidated Credit apart is our philosophy that personal finance education needs to be taught through honest communication and compassionate motivation. When intelligence and understanding are combined, counselors are more effective, and our students benefit as a result. The entire community benefits.
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?
Over the past 20 years, more women are attending and graduating from college than ever before. As a result, they’re becoming executives. Additionally, more women are the household financial decision-makers. Since they generally outlive men, they have to be able to handle money to survive.
As the generations have progressed, more Generation X and Millennial women are in financial careers. I think it’s part of the workforce evolution. Once women conquered the workplace and demanded greater equality, the “old boys club” mentality had to fall away to keep up with the times, talents and demands of modern life.
As the years pass, more and more women and people of color will have greater roles. The more diverse our population becomes, the more opportunity there will be for people of all walks of life and ethnicities to enter financial careers.
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?
Individuals need to bring respect to the workplace. They need to listen to each other and their bosses to find greater opportunity for advancement. And they need to support one another making sure their departments are fair and profitable.
Companies need to institute fair wages that are based on the position, not gender. They need to be open to flexible working hours and styles and offer incentives for greater educational advancement so they can promote from within.
You are a “finance insider.” If you had to advise your adult child about three 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.
1. Credit cards aren’t built to help you “make ends meet” or for emergencies. Credit cards are a tool to gain a positive credit score, rewards and points. They’re not for carrying revolving debt that you pay off a little at a time.
2. The first rule of investing is buy low and sell high, but it’s wrong. The first rule of investing should be buy low and never sell. Trading generally doesn’t make people wealthy. Compounding interest makes people wealthy.
3. Prioritize at least 20 percent of your income to financial priorities. If you dedicate 20 percent to achieve your goals, you’ll have greater success — whether it’s for a down payment on a home or for education, retirement, or investments.
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?
It’s a challenge for me to pinpoint one person who has influenced me because I’m undoubtedly a product of a village. I’ve been able to meet many knowledgeable people who have guided me along the way.
Credit counselors taught me about the various paths that lead people to financial distress and the best ways to counsel them. Leaders of other nonprofit agencies like the United Way, Junior Achievement, and 2–1–1 Broward — just to name a few — taught me about the needs of the community and how financial stability plays a crucial role.
Women business leaders have led by example and determination. My college advisor showed me with hard work, dreams are within reach if you don’t give up. But mostly my grandmother, who taught me by example that not all riches equate to gold and dollars. Money used wisely can take you far. Let your character be your currency.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.”
– Dali Lama
This quote is one of my favorites because life isn’t about being better or having more material goods than another person. It’s about making positive changes in your own life so you can help others. Doing good feels good and spreads happiness, wellness — and sometimes wealth.
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. 🙂
Bringing financial education to our youth has the potential to break the cycle of generational poverty. Educating students from low-income families about budgeting, how to avoid common money mistakes, credit scoring and banking can give students the tools to be financially capable. Providing financial literacy with real world examples that kids can relate to may help future generations be financial stable and money smart.
Thank you for all of these great insights!