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Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.

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Delivering Financial Education to Customers and Communities

Providing trust through personal financial education is an imperative for the entire finance services sector. It is also a cornerstone to building engagement across the entire customer journey.

The need for financial education extends across every socio-economic segment and every age category. Advanced technologies have made the delivery of personalized financial education more feasible and more impactful for any sized financial institution.

We have Ryan Swift, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at EVERFI on the Banking Transformed podcast. Ryan discusses the value that financial education has in helping financial institutions make an impact in their communities.

This episode of Banking Transformed is sponsored by EVERFI:

See how EVERFI can help you reach new customers, expand wallet share, and strengthen your brand with personalized, digital financial education programs that help you drive visibility for your products and services.

More at https://everfi.com/financial-education/

Jim Marous:
Hello, and welcome to Banking Transformed, the number one podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, Owner and CEO of the Digital Banking Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand.

Jim Marous:
Providing trust through personal financial education is an imperative for the entire financial services sector. It is also the cornerstone to building an engagement across the entire customer journey.

Jim Marous:
The need for financial education extends across every social and economic segment and every age category. Advanced technologies have made the delivery of personal financial education both more feasible and more impactful for any size financial institution.

Jim Marous:
We have Ryan Swift, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at EVERFI on the Banking Transformed Podcast. Ryan discusses the value of financial education and how it is helping financial institutions making an impact in their communities and with their customers.

Jim Marous:
Research done on behalf of EVERFI dug into the emerging cultural landscape of personal financial education in the US. The research discussed the importance of financial education today, and identified relevant opportunities and messaging narratives that deliver tools to customers more effectively.

Jim Marous:
Welcome to the show, Ryan. Before we start, could you provide us a little background into who you are, and a little bit about EVERFI?

Ryan Smith:
Sure. Thanks so much, Jim. It's great to be here with you today. My name's Ryan Swift, and I've been at EVERFI for about 13 years now, or actually 12 and a half years it is. I can't remember exactly. I head up our Strategic Partnerships Initiative.

Ryan Smith:
Over the last 10, 12 years, I've worked closely with our team to build out a network of more than 800 financial institutions who trust us to power their financial education initiatives, both with customers, colleagues, and community partners alike.

Ryan Smith:
We're working on their behalf in schools, working with their customers directly, and supporting any of their community based efforts with nonprofits and community partners as well. So, we've been lucky to work with so many folks that believe in financial education and understand how important it is to bring it to the masses.

Ryan Smith:
Currently, I head up Strategic Partnerships, which it covers a few different things. I work with our clients directly and supporting their partnerships in thinking about how to innovate, and how they can think differently about how they're bringing their solution to market, as well as working with a lot of state and national organizations that play in this same space with us.

Ryan Smith:
So, Financial Health Network, you mentioned earlier. Our partnership with The Financial Brand among others, as well as like state banking associations and credit union leagues, that really find it's important to bring this technology to the communities that their members care about.

Ryan Smith:
So, I've been lucky to be here for a while. At EVERFI, that's been our mission, to bring financial education at scale to communities across the country. We do it through unique public-private partnerships, so that the public sector doesn't have to worry about paying a dime for our technology, because the private sector has stepped up to make sure that it's brought to everyone who can benefit from it.

Jim Marous:
Ryan, during the pandemic, the government really stimulated the economy, as we're all feeling right now, and in some cases made it so the financial health of Americans actually got a little bit better. But many of these were just temporary fixes, artificially stimulated, and there's still unequal access, based on demographic segments, to financial wellness. Where are we in your opinion today from a standpoint of financial wellness and financial health?

Ryan Smith:
Man, that's a good question, Jim. You're right, I think coming off the pandemic, there was government stimulus that provided short term help, but not really a long term solution to some of the systemic inequities that exist here. The truth is, if we're talking about financial education in this country, it's really nowhere near where it needs to be.

Ryan Smith:
When we launched EVERFI, 14 years ago, there were only two states that required a personal finance, one-credit course for high school kids in order to graduate. So, while we've made progress today, after Florida and Georgia are the most recent states to require this, now we're up to 13 states. That's about 25% or so of states across the country that are requiring a one-credit course to graduate.

Ryan Smith:
Now, if you think about that in context, versus math and reading and other skills, it's really not a lot. Is it better than nothing? Absolutely. However, what it really means, is that three quarters of the states in this country do not require financial education in order to graduate.

Ryan Smith:
Now, the vast majority of those, Jim, they do offer financial education. Or their legislature will say, "We need to teach our kids this content, but we don't have any funding for it." So, that becomes an unfunded mandate across too many states here.

Ryan Smith:
Ultimately, we've got teachers on the ground floor who are asked to teach personal finance who aren't really super comfortable with the content. We hear this all the time across our network. We have 25,000 public schools now who leverage our technology, and many of the teachers are so grateful that to have access to it because they're just not fully prepared.

Ryan Smith:
What does that mean? It means you have a social studies teacher who's been there for 22 years teaching social studies who suddenly is asked by the superintendent to teach kids in high school about mortgages and your credit score. Some of these teachers might be comfortable with it, but the vast majority are thinking, "Wow, I don't really know where to start here."

Ryan Smith:
So, we've got these unfunded mandates, teachers that aren't quite ready to do it, and ultimately we're sending kids off, young people off to the real world, college, the military, or even the working world just unprepared to make important financial decisions.

Ryan Smith:
This is this has been exacerbated really, Jim, when you think about the rapidly changing financial services sector. So, when we launched EVERFI 14 years ago, the idea to bring technology, or to use technology, to bring personal financial concepts to life for young people, was groundbreaking. Nobody had done that before.

Ryan Smith:
But now, today with how technology has completely disrupted the financial services sector, and you've got things today like crypto technology and Bitcoin that kids are asking about, they don't really understand. Banks and credit unions are scrambling to try to figure that out and how to better serve their customers and members.

Ryan Smith:
You've got buy now, pay later and all these other services that are out there that are changing the landscape of financial services.Not even to mention some of the FinTechs that are engaged in pursuing young people, especially around alternative banking programs.

Ryan Smith:
So, I think the need for financial education has never been greater, but we still have a lot of work to do. I think we're seeing progress across several states, but it's just not enough right now.

Ryan Smith:
I never meet someone who says, "Gosh, I wish I didn't learn about taxes or mortgages." Most of them are saying, "Gosh, I wish we learned more about this. I never had this in high school." So, it's clear that young folks need it, and as a society we need to be better about providing it in the educational setting, and even for adults in different settings as well.

Jim Marous:
Does EVERFI work with financial institutions so that they partner with educational organizations? Or is there also a component of EVERFI that provides financial education that can be delivered directly from a financial institution to a consumer?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah, it's actually both there, Jim. When we launched the business 14 years ago, our big idea was to use technology to provide scalable, meaningful education for high school students around personal financial concepts. That was groundbreaking. Nobody had done it. Nobody had brought software into a school from the outside before. So, that's where we started, was with high school students.

Ryan Smith:
If we fast forward to today, and I'll skip a lot of the gory details, but we have software that is provided for now 25,000-plus public schools across this country for elementary students, middle school students, high school students. Then we've even gone beyond, Jim. We have content for college students that can be consumed. As you mentioned, direct to consumer, through a bank's or a credit union's site, that they can license our software and offer it to their customers or members.

Ryan Smith:
But on the high school or the K to 12 level, Jim, it's a turnkey program from EVERFI. Meaning, we build the software, but we also have about 100 former educators on our staff, full-time employees of EVERFI who live and work all across the country. Locally, they're able to work with superintendents, principles, curriculum instructors, to help them understand how to best take advantage of our software.

Ryan Smith:
Because if it doesn't match the state standards, if it isn't engaging for a student to use, and make a teacher's job a little bit easier, they're not going to use it. So, we've got to make sure that we provide the support for educators so that they can put it in front of the students when and where they need it, and make it really easy for our financial services partners.

Ryan Smith:
We have about 800 across the country who license our software and they trust EVERFI to provide this technology to schools and communities they care about because banks and credit unions are asked to do more with less now, I'll talk with folks who work at a community credit union or a community bank and they say, "I'm the marketer, but I also do our community programs, and I also train the tellers, and I also do this."

Ryan Smith:
They just don't have the time to get out to all the schools that they might want to. In the old days, previous to EVERFI, not even that long ago 15, 20 years ago, that was all we were doing. But now we're bringing scale and measurement into financial education programs that allows our partners to understand the impact of their investment and the return of what they're doing when they license our software and communities they care about.

Jim Marous:
So, is the need for financial education just for the younger demographic segments, or maybe the under-banked or financially stressed? Or is financial education today really something that goes across all social economic groups?

Ryan Smith:
Well, put simply, I think it's needed everywhere. I think it's easy to say this community or these types of folks need it more than others. I don't think we would ever argue on that point. I think there's systemic inequities that exist within our education system and within our financial sector over time that have made it really difficult for folks in certain communities to be able to realize the American dream, that everyone wants to.

Ryan Smith:
I've never met anybody, Jim, that says, "I don't want to feel more financially secure," or "I'm fine. I'm good where I'm at. I don't want to feel better." But the reality is, Jim, that the pandemic especially has exacerbated some of those issues, and the income and wealth gaps that exist in this country are widening. So, the distance between the haves and the have not's, it's not getting closer, it's getting further away.

Ryan Smith:
It's easy to say, we got to start with young people. That's important. We believe that it's important to begin when kids are really young, but ideally around the dinner table, but sadly that's not happening. What research shows us is that parents today are more comfortable talking to their kids about sex or alcohol and drugs, and they are about money. That's a problem.

Ryan Smith:
Our schools are not quite where they need to be, so we believe that the public sector can be supported by private sector investment. That's been our model from the beginning. So, it's obvious that young people need to be educated on concepts.

Ryan Smith:
That doesn't mean first and second graders are learning about credit scores and mortgages, or how to fill out a tax form, but it's clear that young people are very curious, they're inquisitive and they're able to handle basic concepts around personal finance and money.

Ryan Smith:
At our younger age, we're focused on basic concepts around understanding what money is, where does it come from, how does a family get the money they have? Through jobs and work, what careers are there, the difference between wants and needs, and saving, et cetera. So, there's plenty of research that shows, yes, we can teach young people, even kindergarten, first and second graders, about some basic concepts.

Ryan Smith:
Then as they go through elementary, middle, and into high school, we can build upon their knowledge base, so that when they do finish high school they're better prepared or equipped to teach it.

Ryan Smith:
As far as when we first launched this, Jim, I remember sitting down with a community banker, a CEO in Virginia who said, "Well, some of where we have our branches, they're middle class and these are some of the wealthy communities, so those kids don't need it." It's like, "Well, wait a second, they do."

Ryan Smith:
Just because a kid grows up in a family that has money doesn't mean that they're going to have the behaviors or knowledge base they need to also make good decisions. So, does everybody need it equally? Probably not, but it's clear that there is a benefit to personal financial education for folks across the spectrum regardless of zip code, and regardless of what their parents' education level is, or what their parents' income level is.

Ryan Smith:
I think all kids, all young people, need to learn about core concepts around planning, around saving, spending or budgeting, and even borrowing and developing the right habits. We believe in staring them young, but obviously there's plenty of folks across the country that could benefit from some basic financial education in different formats. So, we're out there trying to fill some of those gaps.

Jim Marous:
You've been doing this for years, EVERFI has been doing it for years, you're not a newbie in the marketplace. This is really a community effort, that financial institutions can connect with the educational organizations around their markets. You mentioned earlier that you've worked with organizations on the return on investment, on measuring your results. What is the incentive for financial institutions to actually build a financial education platform that they can share out in the community?

Ryan Smith:
Well, I think it's been great for us at EVERFI, Jim, because when we first launched EVERFI 14 years ago, we had to kind of convince folks that this was important. I think back then, this is pre-2008 recession or right on the heels of that, a lot of financial institutions were doing teach children to save, spending an hour volunteering, and that was all they would do. They'd say, "Okay, that's good. We're getting out in our community, we're supporting our schools."

Ryan Smith:
That was fine, but the reality is that since then, since 2008 when we launched this business, the game has changed. Community banks, community credit unions and even large financial institutions, table stakes are now required that they have some resources. They have to provide different resources for them.

Ryan Smith:
Now, what's the incentive for them? I think it's pretty clear, Jim. The research shows that when you've got an educated consumer, or a financially literate educated consumer, they're more likely to carry higher balances within that organization, with your institution. They're more likely to engage in multiple products.

Ryan Smith:
So, banks and credit unions, they're always talking about increasing wallet share. They want to support their customers, they want to support their members and make sure that they're there for them. So, an educated customer is simply put good for a financial institution's bottom line. So, that's important. I think financial institutions have opened up their eyes to that and recognize that this is important for them.

Jim Marous:
So, overall Ryan, when you structure a financial education platform, obviously there's all different levels of what we have to learn about, and it's changing every day because the marketplace is changing. What areas of financial education have you found to be maybe the most in demand, the most needed, the most accessed?

Jim Marous:
Is it in the credit area more than the typical deposit area? Especially when you're getting into the older demographic groups of students, is it really the ability to get credit and evaluate financial institutions? What is the most important area of financial education?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah, that's a great question, Jim. I think when we look at our data across our network of 800 partners who license our software and then deploy it to their customers and their communities, what we see is not all that surprising.

Ryan Smith:
When we're talking about our adult consumer platform, the most popular content that we're seeing is probably what you would think it is. It's folks who are engaging with our platform, usually two or three times a year, so we love financial education. We wish that everybody was coming to our content every day like it's social media platform, but that's just not the case.

Ryan Smith:
Folks are prompted to engage with our learning platform a couple of times a year, normally because of a major life decision. So, they're getting married, they're having a kid, they're buying a home, they're buying a car. They get a statement from their 401k provider, or from their credit union about their savings account, or whatever it might be.

Ryan Smith:
Oftentimes it's when people have decisions in front of them, when they need to engage with content, and look for a refresher, or are looking for some help around making these decisions. So, what does that mean really?

Ryan Smith:
It's around the mortgage and home buying process, that's very popular across our network. How to build and improve a credit score. We see that one playing across demographics too, different age groups, et cetera. Saving for and planning for retirement, emergency savings is a huge topic today.

Ryan Smith:
So, we're seeing some core basic concepts around credit, budgeting, savings, borrowing, a lot of the basic ones that all families and all individuals need as they go through their own financial journey. Those are the most popular ones with our adult consumer platform.

Ryan Smith:
Going downstream, Jim, into the K to 12 space, the teachers require these kids to take all of the modules typically. But when we go into the classroom with one of our partners, a bank or a credit union, and we lead them in an engaging activity to build upon what they've learned, the kids are incredible. They want to talk about investing, they want to talk about entrepreneurship. They want to understand their credit score better.

Ryan Smith:
They always talk about what we refer to as a trickle up effect. So, I'll hear kids say to me, almost every time I'm in a classroom with one of our partners that, "I know my mom's not doing this. Or my dad or my grandma is not doesn't know about this, and I talked to my mom about this." So, we think that's incredible.

Ryan Smith:
The kids are really into investing. They ask a lot of questions about crypto or Bitcoin or blockchain technology and how that is changing. We were in a classroom and they said, "Should I invest my money in the stock market, or should we invest it into Bitcoin, or these NFTs," and other things that the young younger generation is into.

Ryan Smith:
I think we hear a lot around entrepreneurship, young people wanting to start their own business, work for themselves, asking questions around how to build good credit and then how to invest properly. I think these kids want to build wealth. These kids want to engage in markets and they want to be financially secure.

Ryan Smith:
Again, nobody doesn't want to feel secure, but I think too many young people today are living in homes where they're not secure. Their parents are living paycheck to paycheck. They're one false move away from having real financial troubles. I think most of the young people we see throughout our K to 12 network want to build upon that and don't want to experience these same difficulties.

Jim Marous:
You talk about the K through 12 network, so I'm going to give you an example. Let's say I have a child in high school. They come home and they start talking to me about things that I would put in the category of the new math, where I really don't understand what they're talking about, because they're talking about things that you just brought up, NFTs, crypto, things of this nature.

Jim Marous:
I don't want to feel stupid. So, my financial institution has made a partnership with my son's or daughter's high school. They have made partnerships with the elementary school. How does an adult, a parent, get access to the information that my child's being taught in a way that's built from EVERFI?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah. No, that's a great question. Our most successful partnerships, Jim, are what you describe. We'll have folks that say, "We want to provide meaningful education for the local high school students in our communities. We think that's super important. We want to get them before they go off to the real world and have to make these decisions. We want to help them be ready to be good citizens, and good participants in the local economies and ultimately good customers."

Ryan Smith:
But our best partners will not only do a K to 12 program, but they'll provide consumer education to their own customers, their colleagues and their community partners as well. What does that look like?

Ryan Smith:
Well, today Jim, as you probably know, most consumers have a very high bar for how they're consuming content, whether it's news, or sports highlights, or communicating with friends and family via social media. The reality is that we're doing everything on our mobile phones.

Ryan Smith:
I'm turning 50 next year and I can remember a time before I had my smartphone, but the truth is that consumers today, they want content that is always on or just in time, meaning it's there when they need it. It's digital or mobile-first, so that it can be in their pocket. When they get a statement from their 401k provider, they can go, "My bank has some stuff about this, or my credit union provides this, let me go check that out again." But they want personalized content, Jim.

Ryan Smith:
I remember the first time I had a conversation with my wife about a pair of sneakers that one of the young colleagues of mine in the office had a few years back. The next time I scrolled my Facebook, there it was, an ad just for that brand, right there. It kind of blew me away. It was a little scary at first, but now I think we're comfortable with having advertising and marketing that's curated for me, that is personalized for my experiences.

Ryan Smith:
I think financial education is no different. I think it's important that when a financial institution licenses our software, that they work with us to help personalize it and serve up content that's just right for their learners.

Ryan Smith:
We do that in a few different ways. It's mobile first and digital so it's always there. The most popular time for adults to engage our network, after eight o'clock at night where their young kids have gone to bed. You can be sitting on the couch, and then boom. That's when they get onto our content. So, it's got to be engaging, relevant, timely, just in time and personalized.

Jim Marous:
So, you really have built content across all age categories well before a consumer gets into the banking industry in a traditional sense, in your K through 12. But then you have ways for these people to access it themselves if they're student, but also for their parents, and other people, customers to access it through the platform. So, you really take care of the consumer all across the entire life cycle that they have, don't you?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. We used to say K to gray, we've got young people all the way up. I think about my own parents, who are now in their early 80s.

Ryan Smith:
My dad is retired, and my mom retired a while ago, but they're going through estate planning issues. They're thinking about how to handle physical and health crisis that come up because of the cost associated with it. They have so much saved up just for potential health issues that might come up and all of these different things.

Ryan Smith:
The reality is that folks of all ages are going to be tasked with making important financial decisions throughout their life cycle. So, we want folks to feel comfortable as they do that, we want them to be prepared. Our content, Jim, is bite size for an adult consumer because of how we've been conditioned to have short attention spans through social media over the last 10 years or so. So, our content's usually two to five minutes in length and it's nice and easy.

Ryan Smith:
It's not going to make anybody an expert, but our goal is that we're laying a foundation, and we're helping folks feel more comfortable going to a financial professional and then engaging in a meaningful dialogue around what they need. Because everyone has unique financial goals and desires and issues that are coming up.

Ryan Smith:
So, all across our network, the banks and credit unions say, "We're ready. We want to help them, but we don't always know what they need when they need it." We believe that this educational platform can also provide real data for our partners, who license it and provide it for their customers, to have some insights into what Jim needs at different points in his life. Because they'll know what content you've engaged with, and then can have good conversations with you about it.

Jim Marous:
You used a great word there, what they engage with. On the podcast we've talked quite a bit lately about the importance moving from the transactional mindset of banking into the engagement mindset, actually getting people to come to this site on their own to search out education, ways of understanding financial services better, but also just to have that engagement, because that's how you're going to get loyalty.

Jim Marous:
Educating consumers about banking doesn't seem all that hard. In a way, it feels like, "I could educate a high school person around how they should manage their finances and all this." But you've been doing it for over a decade. When organizations come to you, they've made the decision to most likely buy versus build. What do organizations look at when they look at that buy versus build decision?

Jim Marous:
I know from my own perspective on what I've talked about third party providers for quite some time now, is that if you want speed and scale you've got to work with somebody that specializes in this. But what do you see when you're out there in the marketplace and you're talking to financial institutions? What decisions do they go through in that build versus buy decision?

Ryan Smith:
Well, it's a tough one. It's not an easy decision, because over the last 10 to 15 years especially, banks, credit unions and large financial services firms have made significant investments into technology to better support their own clients or customers, and to make the experience easier and more engaging.

Ryan Smith:
So, on some levels, what we hear often, Jim, if I'm talking to a banker a credit union, they'll say, "There's some folks that think we might be able to build a platform ourselves," and they're probably right. They could build something. I think what they're not prepared for, or what we see more often than not, is the need to maintain and update a software platform like this.

Ryan Smith:
So, building it out, like you said, it's not that hard. The concepts are not that difficult. There's plenty of blueprints to follow around how to build an engaging software platform. The challenge is how do you update it? How do you maintain it for changing regulations, changing legislation?

Ryan Smith:
Changing products and services, things like crypto and buy now pay later, and all of these different subjects that are popping up over the last several years? I think most financial services firms are not prepared to maintain and upkeep a piece of software like this.

Jim Marous:
Or even create it. You mentioned what you look at, the length of time in all these other elements. Leah, my producer, often we talk about the fact that I call it the GPS of financial services.

Jim Marous:
Why do you want to make the mistakes that EVERFI made eight years ago if you can avoid them? Why not take advantage of the winning strategies that have been put in place by the last 10 clients you've signed on, that even surprised you and said, "Boy, we want to implement this across our system."

Jim Marous:
So, really, it's the GPS of financial education, where organization like EVERFI can really help organizations get it done right, avoid the pitfalls, take advantage of the opportunities, and most importantly make an impact on their bottom line and on their loyalty of their customers.

Ryan Smith:
I think you nailed it right there, Jim. I love how you described it as the GPS of financial education. But one point I want to echo and dig a little deeper on, is around best practices.

Ryan Smith:
Over the last 12 years, we've built a network of now 800-plus partners. These are banks, credit unions, financial services firms of all shapes and size. We have some of the biggest global financial firms who license our software and deploy it in multiple languages in different countries.

Ryan Smith:
But here in the US, we've got small community credit unions and community banks. We have mid-size financial institutions, what we would call mid-regional banks that might support a couple of states in 12 counties. Over time, Jim, we've really aggregated what we call best practices.

Ryan Smith:
So, all the great ideas that we share across our network don't always come from EVERFI. We can't take credit for it, but we have some really creative, innovative partners across the table from us who care about providing good experiences for their customers or for their members, and are thinking innovatively about how can we engage folks on educational concepts at the right times?

Ryan Smith:
So, what we've done is aggregate this into what we call a partner marketing center. All of our partners who will have a dedicated account manager who helps them navigate, how do we use this? What audiences do we want to engage? What topics are important to the people that we care about?

Ryan Smith:
Because what works for a big bank in New York might not work for a small credit union in Arkansas. Now, some of those things might overlap, but we can share best practices around how most of our partners will think about using education as a vehicle to engage their clients on the types of products or services that they need to push towards greater or increased financial health.

Ryan Smith:
A lot of folks are navigating their own personal financial journey by the seat of their pants. Most folks are kind of doing their best and winging it. What we find is with thoughtful intervention on behalf of our clients, they can engage folks in a meaningful way and help them down that journey with the products and services they need at the right time.

Ryan Smith:
I think that's what customers today want, and that's what they require. They don't want a big bank pitching them this product or that product without understanding who I am and what I need at different times throughout my own journey. We've been lucky, 800 partners. We have 800 marketing teams, and 800 member service teams, and they all do some really cool things.

Ryan Smith:
So, if you're a client of mine, Jim, and you work at a mid-regional back and say, "Listen, we want to engage our mid-size employers in the area. All of these businesses, and we want to provide financial wellness for their employees." I can say, "Jim, I've got some great suggestions for you. Over the last couple of years, we've got some great partners who have done just that. Let me share a couple of things, and then you tell me what you think is best for your audiences, because you know them better than I do." That works really well.

Ryan Smith:
So, when you think about the build versus buy, it's not just EVERFI, but it's our network of 800 partners and the power and thought partners that we have there that help all of our newest clients as well.

Jim Marous:
It's interesting, I've worked with EVERFI on webinars with The Financial Brand for going on three years now. It's interesting, in that a lot of times your company brings in clients to help with the webinars and to have the discussion with us.

Jim Marous:
They're always so passionate about what they're doing in the marketplace, in the community, in creating educational platforms for the community. What is also interesting is that every one of them doesn't look like this simply is an altruistic-type mission. It's a financial mission. They can tell you what they're making, what the ROI and the platform is. In many cases they have one, two, as many as three people assigned to continue making this program more and more effective.

Jim Marous:
I think you said it really well, when you said it's amazing what your clients can bring to the table that can help them do it better and do it differently than you would've even thought of. Then, they're excited when other organizations deploy it, because these aren't companies that are in competition with them, they're actually sharing ideas that they're really passionate about as well.

Jim Marous:
For these organizations, and you've already mentioned that all sized organizations work with EVERFI, but let' say I'm a financial institution. I bring you in and I love what you're talking about. How long does it take from me saying let's go forward, to being able to implement some platform of education with EVERFI?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah. No, that's a good question. What we found is that it sometimes depends on the size of the institution. I'll say that the smaller the institution, oftentimes they're a little more nimble and we can get things [inaudible 00:35:58] and going earlier.

Jim Marous:
No doubt about that, yeah.

Ryan Smith:
But generally speaking, if you've secured the right buy in on your level from the top levels, and they're ready to make a commitment to this, from that point on, once we have an agreement in place, it's usually going to be anywhere from probably two to six months to get a site live, from a consumer perspective. So, we're talking about supporting your customers or your members. Do we have some that go longer-

Jim Marous:
So, that's really the content on the website?

Ryan Smith:
Yeah, so on the adult consumer side. On the K to 12 side, we've got an established network of 30,000 or 25,000 or so public schools who use our technology. Generally speaking, if you say, "I want to sponsor the 10 high schools in my footprint here, the 10 high schools," we can get those up and running pretty quickly because we have established relationships over the last 12 years.

Ryan Smith:
On the adult consumer side, once you say, "Yes, we want to do this," then what we do is set up a plan together. We'll go through a timeline together and a plan. Typically two to six months is fair. We've done several that can be two to three weeks, with smaller institutions that can just move quickly, and they want to get a site up and they don't have a lot of feedback for us.

Ryan Smith:
The larger the institution, sometimes we have compliance reviews and legal reviews and all of these different things. So we're very used to that, we're accustomed to that, but sometimes that will slow down the time necessary between you saying, "We've got the thumbs up, we're ready to go forward," to the site is actually live, in market, it's linked into your website and available to all of your customers, your colleagues, and your community partners. But I'd say probably two to three months is pretty typical there.

Jim Marous:
This can be compartmentalized. Somebody doesn't have to deploy the entire platform at once, I don't believe. They can actually take parts of it. They can say, let's deal with the credit side of the organization and make it so that they can actually implement some of this faster.

Jim Marous:
But you're right, we as bankers tend to get in our own way when it comes to speed of implementation. I know from working with you in the past, you can go as fast as somebody wants, they're going to want to personalize some of the information and all that. But the reality is the slowness is usually not on your shoulders, as much as it is on a financial institution because of the normalcy of the day, as you said, the compliance, the legal side.

Jim Marous:
I remember being a salesperson often saying, "I have 25 institutions that have said this is okay,' and the comment comes back always, "Yeah, but we're different." At some point we have to make the decision, the do I benefit more from getting it out in the marketplace quicker, or do I benefit by having to go through all the hoops?

Jim Marous:
So, lastly Ryan, I have two really quick questions from the standpoint of financial wellness and financial education. Number one, what's the biggest challenge facing the financial institutions from a financial wellness and financial education perspective? Secondly, what's the greatest opportunity out there that you see?

Ryan Smith:
I love these questions. The biggest challenge for financial institutions ... Let me think. It's rare, Jim, that we're encountering an organization today in 2022 that doesn't see the value of providing financial wellness tools. It's almost like it's table stakes now.

Ryan Smith:
So, I think the challenge is finding within an organization the right landing spot for it, and the right ownership of it who can navigate internally. Because an institution doesn't want to say, "We want to give financial education to everybody. We want to be everything to everyone."

Ryan Smith:
Oftentimes, Jim, we'll start with a very strategic implementation where we say, "Let's start with your own employees first." Let's put your money where your mouth is, and let's test drive this with your employees. Then we'll roll it out to your customers, that way your employees can talk with them about this resource, share their own experiences with it.

Ryan Smith:
Then let's work strategically within your own product marketing calendar, and think about what are you aligning with your customers over the next nine to 12 months? How can we layer in education as a solution there? I think the biggest challenge is probably navigating complex organizations, and being able to work towards that vision and helping them understand that it's okay to start small, and then grow over time and build consensus with the right people.

Ryan Smith:
We've done it great with so many great organizations, and other times it's been difficult. It's not always an easy implementation, but I think when you've got some buy-in and folks that are ready to do it, that's it. But navigating those complex systems and structures internally can sometimes make it a little more challenging to get this in front of the folks who can really benefit from it.

Jim Marous:
Yup.

Ryan Smith:
The opportunity, I think it's pretty clear. I think consumers today have higher demands for their financial institutions. That's very clear. They're looking at these Neobanks, these FinTechs, alternative solutions.

Ryan Smith:
I know Apple and Walmart and others have been kicking the tires around, maybe we can enter this space. They're probably not going to enter into it as a traditional bank because of too much regulations, but they're going to come at the financial services sector with competitive products.

Ryan Smith:
The opportunity here, Jim, for me is simple. It's how can you better engage your customers or your members? How do you build trust and loyalty with them through education, and allow that to lead, rather than products?

Ryan Smith:
I think a lot of institutions are getting this now. They don't necessarily need to lead with products, but they need to lead with relationship, trust building, and education. Those that do it and do it well are going to be the ones that, I think, win. The shift to online banking and mobile banking has been incredibly disruptive.

Ryan Smith:
I think the institutions that we deal with really need to figure out how to provide that awesome service, because you said it earlier, Jim. You said, "We're different." We've always heard, what sets our bank apart, or what sets our credit union apart? "Our service, and our people."

Ryan Smith:
Well, how do you build a great relationship with a customer that you just don't see? Because I got to be honest, I haven't been to a bank in a long time that wasn't an EVERFI customer that I wasn't visiting. I can do everything on there, and that's great, but how do you deliver an incredible experience to your customer that engenders loyalty?

Ryan Smith:
We believe, and the research shows it now, that education should be a part of that strategy. Not the end all be all, and we would never say that, but when it's done thoughtfully, and strategically, and personalized to your consumers, using the data in a meaningful way, this can add significant value and build trust with your customer base. I think that's where folks can win today.

Jim Marous:
Ryan, thank you very much for your time today. It's extraordinarily important in the marketplace, but it's always good to talk to you and your team, because you are making an impact. You have very passionate clients.

Jim Marous:
It's always a thrill to do a webinar, to do an event with some of your clients, because they all believe in what's going on, but they're making an impact in the marketplace right now, where a lot of people, and especially with inflation and the cost of everything going up the way it is, are feeling very insecure about their finances. Again, Ryan, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Ryan Smith:
Jim, it was my pleasure. I appreciate your time. We love the partnership and working with you, and hopefully folks will find this helpful and informative. So, thanks a lot.

Jim Marous:
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed, the winner of three international awards for podcast excellence. If you enjoy what we're doing, please take 30 to 45 seconds to give some love in the form of a review. It really helps us continue this great platform.

Jim Marous:
Finally, be sure to catch my recent articles on The Financial Brand, and the research we're doing for The Digital Bank Report. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to my producer, Leah Longbrake, Audio Engineer, Sean Rulel Hoffman, and Video Producer Will Pritts.

Jim Marous:
I'm your host Jim Marous. Until next time, remember financial wellness should not be a luxury for the few, but a basic and standard requirement for everyone.

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