If you have spent any time on my website or are a regular reader of my blogs, you know that financial literacy is my passion. I mean PASSION! Throughout my career and in my life, the question I ask myself is: What is the best way I can help others?
My book, How to Dress a Naked Portfolio: A Tailored Introduction to Investing for Women, is the culmination of my effort to encourage financial literacy, especially for women (More about the book later). But it took many steps, and sometimes stumbles, to reach this point.
Junior Achievement and Financial Women International
As part of my first job in the financial world (investment trader for the trust department of a bank in Illinois), I volunteered with Junior Achievement. Not only was my job my introduction to stocks and bonds and how they trade, but also my advisory role for a student run Junior Achievement company was my first introduction to how to teach financial concepts to students in junior high and high school. So fun!
After my family moved to Arizona and I was once again employed in banking, I became more involved with networking and leadership training. The latter was primarily with an organization that originally was called the National Association of Bank Women (NABW) and later became Financial Women International (FWI), as its reach expanded globally. My motives were multiple—to meet other women in the financial industry, to learn more about banking, and to develop and practice leadership skills.
What a ride FWI gave me! I became president of my group, then state president, and then served on the national board of directors. I got lots of practice speaking in front of all size groups and learned so much from my fellow members and the experts that we brought in to assist in training efforts. I eventually led the seminars on leadership, and I firmly believe that my exposure through FWI to senior management of my bank, led me to be one of a handful of employees selected to attend Pacific Coast Banking School (PCBS) in Seattle, Washington.
Pacific Coast Banking School
My world expanded dramatically with the classes I attended and papers I was required to write for PCBS. I learned about loans (assets of a bank) and funding (liabilities of a bank) and we did exercises to manage the interest rate spreads between the two (one of the ways banks make a profit). It was not long after I graduated that I became a Senior Vice President (only the second woman to reach that level at my bank) and held responsibility for the investments of the bank and for asset/liability management. In that role, I made regular presentations to the bank’s Board of Directors and supervised my department.
A different kind of challenge loomed, however. Banking mergers and acquisitions took a toll on my bank and every other bank in the state, and I was one of several senior executives to be laid off. Not fun but a great learning experience. In a way I felt that I let the women of FWI down, but it was a sign of the times, and it provided an opportunity for me to support women in the same circumstance. It was a difficult time for all of us and I used it for self-reflection and reassessment of goals, just as I suggest in my book.
At the same time I was learning and growing through my volunteer activities, we encouraged our sons to expand their learning experiences. We supported their activities—sports, band, Boy Scouts, and church. Those were the best years! Those of you who have children know the drill. We had a huge calendar on the wall in the kitchen upon which we noted the boys’ activities. Some nights we went multiple directions, but we always tried to have an evening meal together and offer our full support to the boys because every one of their adventures gave them broader perspective and additional skills. Eventually, one son was able to go to Europe with a touring instrumental group and the other traveled to Spain to visit his girlfriend who was studying there.
Then a very painful period of discovery and recovery came as I was divorced. I moved across the United States and struggled to make it on my own away from my family and friends, my support system. I had much to learn and the six years I was away provided the opportunity to try many new things. By this time, I was employed at a brokerage firm and entered the branch system with my move. I absolutely loved working face-to-face with clients and am not sure I would have discovered my “calling” had I stayed in Arizona. I enjoyed conducting seminars for our clients and, as the branch retirement specialist, I also led seminars in small businesses and in the community.
Community Involvement and Professional Development
When our branch grew, I pleaded to be the one to open a new office. I wanted to test myself and see what I could accomplish. The branch was in a different community, and I made the move and immediately became involved in there. I was active in Rotary and chaired a group that was responsible for inductions into the community’s Walk of Fame. I served on the Arts Council and, not to be denied my passion to help youth, was a mentor for women students at the local university. When the business college started a program to link executives from the community with students, I jumped at the chance. My two business school mentees became friends, and each spent time with me at my firm. I led even more seminars for the branch and in the community, was interviewed on local radio, and appeared on the local television station to promote an investment seminar for women. I loved every minute!
However, I missed my family and made a decision to leave what I had built and move back to Arizona to be closer to my sisters and sons. In a way, I started my career again from the ground level, but my experience paid off and it was not long before I was promoted to supervisor. In that role, I gave presentations to the management of other departments and led staff meetings. One of my greatest rewards was to mentor employees and watch their growth. About this time, I completed the requirements to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and I joined the local chapter of the Financial Planning Association (FPA). (By now you realize that I have a hard time keeping my hand down when volunteers are needed!) I became involved with the group and served on the Board of Directors of FPA of Greater Phoenix and eventually became President and then Chair of the Board.
Junior Achievement and Fresh Start
Through FPA, I renewed my involvement with Junior Achievement in a couple of ways. I was an advisor in JA BizTown which involves 5th and 6th graders. What energy and excitement they bring to their business roles! I also taught an in-school session for middle school students for JA and confirmed my belief that financial education must be broadly available. At the same time and along with three other women from FPA, I taught a basic financial literacy class called Financial Planning 101 offered through a non-profit organization called Fresh Start. Fresh Start was created to support women who, for one reason or another, are reentering the workforce or entering it for the first time. All sorts of classes are offered through Fresh Start as well as assistance with resumes, wardrobe, computer skills, etc.
Current Volunteer Opportunities
Although now retired, I am still involved with Fresh Start and FPA. I support Fresh Start with my pledge to give back part of the profits from my book sales to help their effort to teach financial concepts to women. I volunteer, through FPA, to co-facilitate pro-bono financial literacy classes offered in conjunction with the YWCA and MoneyW!se. (If you are interested in this virtual series of 12 classes, contact your local YWCA. There is no charge.)
I currently split my time between Iowa, where I grew up, and Arizona, and recently met with a group of Iowa college students to talk about investing. They asked wonderful questions and, I must admit, the hour and a half flew for me! I always walk away from such interactions with renewed confidence in our future!
While I know that I can only do so much and only reach so far, I will never stop asking: How can I help? Now I want to ask you: Would you help me with my effort? If you have an organization or are part of a group that would like to learn more about financial literacy or hear a presentation on a financial topic, please forward those requests to me. You might want to read through the blogs I have posted there for an idea or come up with a topic of your own. I promise to get back to you promptly and we can talk about your group and your needs.
Of course, you can also purchase my book: How to Dress a Naked Portfolio: A Tailored Introduction to Investing for Women. Books are available on Amazon, in Changing Hands Book Store and Diva Hillside in Arizona, or Agora Arts in Iowa.
Finally, when you receive a graduation announcement this spring, think of my book. It will equip graduating students for a secure financial future and gift them with the basics of saving and investing. The concepts are equally applicable to men as they are to women. What a perfect gift – to start a new chapter of their life with financial confidence!
Thanks, and please support my passion – financial literacy!
~Bev Bowers, CFP®