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NASDAQ honors Comerica: Exec Irv Ashford explains how financial literacy impacts average Americans

Irvin Ashford (Photo Courtesy: Comerica's Corporate Public Affairs and Community Reinvestment)
Irvin Ashford (Photo Courtesy: Comerica’s Corporate Public Affairs and Community Reinvestment)

As part of National Financial Literacy Month, NASDAQ and EverFi, the nation’s leading financial literacy network, recently honored Comerica. Here, Irvin Ashford, the financial institution’s senior vice president of Public Affairs and director of Community Development and External Affairs, outlines the benefits of fiscal knowledge and accountability and shares how financial literacy affects average Americans.

How can does financial literacy impact the average American?

The average American is in debt to the tune of around $7,000 in credit card debt. It’s a pretty universal issue, especially in our consumer-driven, immediate gratification and Internet-aided society.

Only one in four parents feel confident teaching their children about financial literacy. This is a problem and one that can snowball, and arguably has, if we don’t address the root issue: better financial literacy education.

We all have a responsibility – parents, schools, corporate citizens – to strengthen financial literacy opportunities for children and adults.

What are the three keys to creating a successful financial literacy program?

Creating an environment of:

  • Trust
  • Expertise
  • Commitment

This way all parties have a win-win situation.

Why is it important for children to learn about financial services and saving money?

It’s never too early to teach children about developing smart money habits…the earlier the better, so they can begin making wise financial decisions at an early age, and carry those lessons with them through life.

How does being financially literate impact our community?

Being financially illiterate hurts communities, impacts social services, can hurt businesses, and certainly make life difficult for families.

We all have a vested interest in strengthening financial literacy education to make our communities stronger and economically viable: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” to quote Dr. Eli Goldratt, author of The Goal (1984).

Why does your organization support financial literacy through so many diverse community organizations?

Comerica is committed to enhancing the communities we serve, and as a bank, financial literacy education and awareness efforts comprise a significant portion of our community outreach activities.

We only do well if the communities (and families living within) around us are doing well.

What role does financial literacy play in the lives of adults who desire to buy a house or car?

Critical for consumers to know and understand the debt that they get into – what are the ramifications of default, can they really afford the home or car long term? It goes back to two of the most basic themes of financial literacy that we teach kids needs versus wants and budgeting 101.

How important is budgeting and financial literacy?

Basic budgeting skills are the foundation of financial literacy. If you don’t know what’s coming and going, how can you possibly know what you can afford and how much you really need to be saving?

What role does opening a savings account and checking account with a financial institution play in financial literacy programs?

Basic checking and savings accounts are a good first step. But more important than having them is the ability to know how to use them, and hold yourself accountable for being responsible with your balances.

Share why NASDAQ recognized you in NYC?

NASDAQ and EverFi, Inc. recognized Comerica Bank with a 2015 Innovation in Financial Education Award* for our work in 19 Arizona primary schools, where we implemented a web-based, interactive financial education platform to train and certify elementary students on how to become good financial stewards. Topics covered in the “Comerica Bank Money $ense” modules included responsible money choices, income and careers, planning and money management, credit and borrowing, insurance, saving and investing.

Why do you work to make a difference in the community with financial literacy?

As a company, Comerica Bank is committed to serving our communities and enhancing educational opportunities for children, adults and seniors. It serves us well to have a financially smart customer base, and only strengthens the community around us to help educate and train non-customers

Personally, it is my goal and mission in life to give back, and help people to be successful.

Who are some of your favorite business role models?

Everyone who has the guts to create and run a business that helps their community thrive and grow.

 What three books do your suggest people read?

  • The Art of War
  • On War
  • Blue Ocean Strategy

How do you suggest people set professional goals?

Be accountable for your goals. Set timelines and cross them off as you achieve them.

Keep reaching. Make goals that would “surprise yourself,” in other words, set a high bar, but also include a mix of realistic goals, too.

*Innovation in Financial Education Award recognizes significant efforts to improve the financial capability of young Americans. The financial institution was honored with this distinction at a ceremony hosted Tuesday, April 14, at Nasdaq’s Marketsite headquarters in New York City.

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