Meet Dr. Billy Hensley of NEFE

Welcome to the 2020 Sponsor Spotlight series! As we prepare for #AFCPE2020, November 16-20, 2020, we are excited to introduce you to our Sponsors, and more specifically, to the incredible people who work for these organizations. Learn more about the organizations and the people you’ll meet in the virtual Exhibit Hall this November.

AFCPE: Tell us a little about you and your role at NEFE?

Billy: I am proud to lead the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) as president and CEO. Since my appointment in 2018, I have focused on leading NEFE through the development of its first strategic plan, resolved to increase equity and inclusion, and committed to intentionality for transparency, collaboration and effectiveness. I am fortunate to work with well-intentioned, passionate staff who are purposeful in their work serving others—and we laugh a lot too. I started my NEFE career in 2010 and that’s when I was introduced to AFCPE. It has been very rewarding to be a part of this community for more than a decade.

AFCPE: What inspired you to pursue this career, or what was your journey like to get to this career?

Billy: NEFE is a perfect marriage of everything that I have done in my career up to this point—research, education and philanthropy. I have always been a champion of economic mobility; at NEFE I have been able to advance the work of financial education as an important component of that passion. That’s ultimately what attracted me to NEFE—the ability to channel my passion into practice.

Personally, I am a “hillbilly.” It’s not self-deprecating, but rather pride in my rural heritage. I grew up in the coal mining region of Eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest areas in the U.S., where many families live paycheck to paycheck. As such, I learned many great financial lessons as a young person that I have been able to nurture into a wonderfully rewarding career. At the root of everything I do at NEFE, I want it to directly apply to my friends, neighbors and family in my hometown—and all hometowns.

AFCPE: What are you looking forward to most about attending #AFCPE2020?

Of course, I wish the AFCPE Symposium was being held in person so I would have the chance to reconnect face to face with so many of the friends and colleagues that I appreciate in the field. Regretfully, COVID has changed that reality. I enjoy meeting new people and I always look forward to what I hear, and learn, from others each year at the symposium. I equally look forward to sharing what NEFE is working, not only to demonstrate our fascinating progress and data, but also to gain insight from attendees on how our work can best serve the field.

I am intrigued by the data coming from our consumer polls examining financial concerns and how people are adapting due to COVID. We did a first round of data capture in April when the pandemic was in its early phase, and are reissuing a survey this fall to trend new data and look deeper at areas where people are seeking support and the effects of that. I believe this information is useful to the community of counselors and intermediaries to help understand where worry is coming from so a strong relationship can be forged with their clients and learners.

I also am looking forward to sharing with the community the partnership NEFE is building with AFCPE to train and credential 100 new AFCs, all of whom will be people of color. I am very appreciative of both organizations’ commitment to promote inclusivity and be more deliberate in our support of underserved communities.

AFCPE: What tool or resource are you most excited to share?

Billy: At NEFE we’re enthusiastic about the work we’ve done to define the Personal Finance Ecosystem and the factors at play that lead to financial well-being. It’s an important tool as we seek to better understand and recognize what financial education can, and cannot, do. At the AFCPE Symposium in 2014 I spoke about the need to raise the bar with how we demonstrate success because sometimes it’s hard to pin down outcomes and the factors that contribute to, or detract from, success. The Ecosystem was something that we wanted to define so that we could better support the field. I am excited to see that others in the AFCPE community are focusing on it and providing critical thinking about its use.

Resource: NEFE Personal Finance Ecosystem

AFCPE: What message do you have for attendees?

Billy: I applaud all AFCPE members for staying active during this difficult year. Financial counselors and educators will continue to play an emotionally therapeutic role by supporting the clients and learners they serve. As a community we need to understand that people are feeling vulnerable and defeated. Perhaps, for the first time in their lives, people have had to reach out for help and use social services because of the COVID pandemic. They may be feeling shame because of that. Some may feel they’ve failed. No one ever wants to be lectured and we cannot judge people during these challenging times. We need to encourage them that this is the first day of the rest of their financial lives.

Dr. Billy Hensley Answers the Friday Five:

  1. Your Why: Right now, the “why” should be very different for all of us. Identifying ways to effectively help people through the recovery process from COVID is essential. Ultimately, we need to improve financial education access through classes, workshops and workplace offerings. Just 4 percent of students of color are required to take a personal finance course in high school. Limited access is a serious issue. Everyone should be afforded access to quality financial education in high school, that extends into college and then the workplace.
  2. Your favorite quote: My grandfather, who grew up in extreme poverty but went on to become a successful small business owner, always said that success is not defined by your income, but rather by your work ethic. We all should enjoy balance where we work hard, but also celebrate accomplishments and joy in ways that fit within our own financial circumstances. Financial success is subjective. Money should not be anyone’s source of happiness, but rather a tool to help you improve your financial well-being and to align your life with your values.
  3. Your hero: Usually my answer is some version in respect to people who overcome challenges despite the odds. I appreciate those who don’t give up on seeking their own personal and financial happiness, while never hesitating to lend a helping hand to others. My heroes are those who wish, and hope, for a better tomorrow for all and are willing to fight for it.
  4. Your favorite resource: There are far too many to name. At this moment I deeply appreciate initiatives that offer scholarships or grants removing barriers to become certified in our field or to help the average consumer gain access to information. In a time when it is so needed, those are my favorite resources.
  5. Your best advice:
    • For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Stay resolved. Financial security isn’t realized overnight. It takes time to achieve goals and pivots will be required along the way as challenges present themselves. For example, our field doesn’t talk enough about just how long it takes to build a viable emergency fund. We widely recognize the need for it, but do not regard just how hard it is for many to attain an appropriate safety net. There is a near 70 percent probability each year that something will happen that financially sets you back. Preparing for it the best that you can is what matters.
    • For a new professional: Financial well-being is not always about money or finances. For many it’s about relationships, trust and overcoming uncertainty or fear. As a counselor and professional who helps others, stay tuned to your clients and learners and recognize, and appreciate, the lifetime of experiences they’ve had. Our relationships with money run deeper than calculations or the bottom line. There is a human element involved.

Be sure to stop by NEFE’s virtual exhibit booth at #AFCPE2020, and join Dr. Hensley for his keynote address on Thursday, November 19 at 2 PM ET.

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