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Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Mar 22, 2016

In 1967, the Beatles sang: "I get by with a little help from my friends." That sentiment captures something at the heart of many people's financial lives today, and it embodies the idea behind the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the oldest and largest nonprofit credit counseling organization in the U.S.

I have known Susan Keating, NFCC's President and CEO, for about 30 years. I've been wanting to record a Barefoot Innovation episode with her, because the NFCC is on the front lines of the topics we're exploring here. They work directly, personally, with the people who are not thriving in our consumer financial system. The reasons people don't thrive are complex. We've talked about a lot of them, and I find it's easy to get excited about new technologies or regulatory challenges impacting them, and to lose sight of the real people who are immersed in these struggles. Helping these people is the driver behind much of the search for better solutions by industry, government, and the innovation world, and it's good to pause and think about who they are.

As we discussed with CFSI's CEO Jennifer Tescher LINK TO IT, the so-called "underserved" market is enormous -- estimated between 70 and 140 million Americans -- and covers a huge percentage of the middle class. It is also heterogeneous. Data from NFCC, CFSI and others is breaking the old stereotype of a monolithic "low and moderate income" category whose problem is just not being able to afford traditional financial services.  Many underserved consumers, in fact, can afford to pay for high-cost financial services, and are doing so, but are stuck there due to a wide array of issues. Some of their problems are caused by their own errors and difficulties. Some are caused by the difficulties of serving them through the business models and cost structures that prevail in the industry today. Some are a mix of both.

Both of these kinds of problems are ripe for improvement today, thanks to the innovations we discuss here on this show. I think, though, that we'll still have a big gap between new financial solutions and the people who need them, unless we build some bridges -- add in some glue -- in the form of human beings who can help people learn to use new technology. NFCC is one of the key organizations able to do this.

Susan talks about all this in our conversation. She describes the massive scope of the challenge; the "new face of poverty" in the United States; the NFCC's focus on "breadwinner moms;" and its key new initiative for helping people manage student debt, with a insight into the daunting scope of that challenge.

Susan's background:

Susan began her banking career in 1974 at First Bank System in Milwaukee, where she became Senior Vice President of retail banking. In 1988 she joined MNC Financial in Maryland and later became President and senior banking executive for Maryland when NationsBank (Bank of America) acquired MNC in 1993.

She went on to become the highest-ranking female CEO of a US-bank holding company, as President and Chief Executive of All First Financial from 2000-2002. Then in 2002, she was appointed to the Group Executive Committee of AIB (Allied Irish Banks plc), which is responsible for developing corporate strategy and overseeing management of AIB Group.

In 2004 she took on the role of NFCC President. She thought is was a short term move but, to her own surprise, she's still there twelve years later, caught up in the mission. Upon reappointment after her first three-year term, she said, "The NFCC is uniquely positioned to serve the many consumers who are struggling to make ends meet and find their way to a better financial future. I am deeply committed to doing all that I can in order to lead the efforts in the years ahead."

Susan also serves on Bank of America's National Consumer Advisory Council; is a board member of the Council on Accreditation; and participates in the Financial Regulation Reform Collaborative, a non-partisan group committed to finding solutions for reforming financial services regulation.


Last fall I had the honor of joining the NFCC's board on the occasion of the organization's 50th birthday. Today the NFCC works with 90 member agencies through more than 750 offices in communities nationwide. Its certified counselors counsel and provide financial education to three million clients annually, focusing on issues that include seniors and the military and guidance relating to financial literacy, mortgages, and credit cards. It recently launched a key initiative on helping people with student debt, and in helping illuminate that magnitude of that challenge, and plays an invaluable role in consumer financial research overall.
Here are some links:

Enjoy my conversation with someone on the front lines -- NFCC's CEO Susan Keating.

And please note:

The video series is launched!  Please come to my new site  where we have launched my video briefing show. It's a practical guide for financial companies trying to figure out how to thrive on disruption-to thrive through the twin, intertwined challenges of technology disruption and regulatory disruption. We're off to a terrific start with the series.

The next video will be called, "The 5 Tech Trends." I made it because I think financial people often underestimate the disruption underway, because we tend to think of fintech as a financial topic. In reality, it's mainly a technology topic. That means the forces shaping it lie mainly in the tech world, not the financial world. That in turn means they are mostly over the horizon, outside the field of vision of busy people focusing on finance.

I've been spending a lot of time in that world, and am creating this video to explain what these five huge drivers are, how they are converging, and how they will transform both consumer financial services and financial regulation. Again, fintech is way more about "tech" than "fin."

I'll also have a light-hearted short video for your entertainment, brought to you from my very own kitchen. I'm going to demonstrate an extremely odd little gadget that contains a big lesson for innovators.

Coming episodes:

Last but not least, come back next time to Barefoot Innovation, when my guest will be the visionary CEO of Opportun, Raul Vazquez. Among other things, he is totally fascinating on the topic of how he personally keeps up with technology.

Up next in the queue after Raul, we'll have a short update with Simple CEO Josh Reich, and then an interview with the founder and CEO of Betterment, Jon Stein.

See you soon!

As always, please donate to my free podcast series (which seems to be trying to take over my life) and please write a review of it on ITunes!

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