April 29, 2016
For kids back in the day, finances and money management were stuff your parents worried about. Today, those skills are taught to many students as early as middle school.
But Ashley M. Fox, a former Wall Street analyst with nine years in the financial industry, is working to take financial education for children to the next step.
“I believe that financial education should not be something you learn through trial and error, but unfortunately, that’s how most adults learn,” said Fox, a Philadelphia resident.
Her passion to teach others about personal finance is rooted in her time on Wall Street, where she spent a good part of her career. In asset management, Fox and her team worked closely with millionaires and billionaires to help grow and sustain their wealth. She began to notice that there were “a lot of things” the wealthy were doing financially that she and her family were not. She learned much from her position, but Fox still experienced a lack of fulfillment when it came to her life purpose.
“There has been a need for financial literacy within our schools and community, so I wanted to create something that provided financial empowerment for people of all ages,” Fox said.
In 2013, she started her company, Empify Inc., with the mission of "educating, empowering and modifying" the mindset of clients and students by changing the way they perceive themselves and the role of money in their lives. (The name of her company combines the words empower and modify.)
Fox became an independent financial coach and now works with more than 200 clients, helping them to plan and build their financial foundation.
But something still nagged at her.
“Being a financial coach only put a Band-Aid on the problem,” said Fox. “I was helping clients through implementation, but I realized that we were still missing the education.”
The revelation became clear: We don’t understand money because we were never taught about money.
“Money, finance, student loans, grants and student debt are all very important topics to know about, but traditional schooling fails to teach you.” – Tiffany Coles, Central High School senior
“I want to ensure that wealth creation is embedded in the mind of a child before he or she starts to believe it’s not possible,” said Fox, a 2006 graduate of Central High School and 2010 graduate of Howard University.
She’s since launched Empify University (EU), an educational program that partners with organizations, schools and universities to equip students with the tools and knowledge necessary for financial literacy. In addition to teaching youth and young adults how to earn, spend and save, the EU curriculum also helps them to understand student loans, the basics of banking, debt vs. credit, and how interest works.
According to Fox, the program has financially educated more than 2,000 people in 21 Philadelphia organizations, middle schools and high schools, including Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School (HISTCS). One of that school's traditions is “Family Business” and each grade explores entrepreneurship with the guidance of their teachers.
“After meeting with Ashley it was very obvious that Empify University would fit perfectly with the mission of our school by helping students to understand the ins and outs of finance and how to run an effective business,” said Tennille Peeler, principal at Harambee Institute.
The EU program – taught by “Mama Ashley,” as the students call her – is conducted on Wednesdays and Fridays during a 45-minute class session. Ansar Saleem, a 6th grade student at Harambee, is a kidpreneur who started A & G Juices in 5th grade as result of a school project that focused on business and financing. He’s found the EU program to be rather supportive of his entrepreneurial ambitions.
“I really didn’t know about finances, and I really needed some help with it because I have my own business,” Saleem said. “I learned about revenue and expenses, and it’s just been going really well.”
“How it’s taught is what matters most. We take pride in ensuring that financial literacy is not just memorized, but also understood.” – Ashley M. Fox
“Being an African Centered Charter School, the core of our foundation is the principles of Nguzo Saba,” Peeler said. “Empify takes those principles and allows students to see the practical aspect and make real world connections.”
If those connections to financial education are important in the 6th grade, they’re imperative in the 12th grade.
“Money, finance, student loans, grants and student debt are all very important topics to know about, but traditional schooling fails to teach you,” said Tiffany Coles, a senior at Central High School who attended a EU seminar. “Ashley plainly tells you that if the people around you are not knowledgeable and informed about money and the cycles it goes through, it's a slim chance the individual will not know, which is something I know is true.”
With the apparent wealth of knowledge that Coles has gained from the EU program, she’s now able to pass it along and empower her peers.
“The more money you make, the more money you spend. That is imperative to understand because you have to make sure the way you're spending it isn't going to destroy you,” Coles said.
No matter the age of a student, the EU program aims to make all concepts digestible. For example, the program teaches the concept of interest to middle school students by using Hershey Kisses. College students learn about the same topic with people, numbers and case studies.
“How it’s taught is what matters most,” Fox said. “We take pride in ensuring that financial literacy is not just memorized, but also understood.”
To adults who aspire to amass wealth, Fox advised to think small at first.
"If you can't afford to save $1,000 a month, what about $10/week?" she said. "How you do little things is how you do big things. How you do small things is how you do all things. Master the small things, and prove to yourself that you can and will do it."