Apr. 12, 2021 12:41 pm

Black-led BanksGiving and Empify are focused on changing financial futures

Chris Banks and Ashley Fox talk to Generocity contributor Lisa Bryant about their financial education efforts in Philly. Not only what people need to learn, but what they need to unlearn.

Left: Chris Banks. Right: Ashley Fox.

(Photos from LinkedIn)

Financial Literacy Month began as a one-day acknowledgment that now runs the entire month of April. But for these two social entrepreneurs, advancing financial literacy is a task for 365 days a year — especially when it comes to youth.

Chris Banks, founder of BanksGiving believes that sound financial principles should be learned as early as possible and are the best way to break a cycle of a consumer mentality.

“The most marginalized not only don’t have access they often also don’t have the education,“ he told Generocity, adding that with too many adults, “all they know how to do is spend.”

So starting with middle schoolers, Banks teaches students “how to keep money and to grow it.”

Banks says that being a North Philadelphia native and the son of parents without much formal education, helps him relate to kids in a way most educators cannot. For example he showed students that the same $80 they were spending each year on the latest PlayStation games could have purchased shares in the company that owns the games. He made a similar argument for the students who buy their favorite celebrity’s makeup line. “I tell them they’re already spending the money, but they’re just not part of the earnings.”

Malcolm Jenkins (l) and Chris Banks (r). (Courtesy)

Through themed monthly seminars, Banks brings in successful leaders in various industries who look like his students. In 2019, former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins challenged students to think beyond their love of playing a sport and to consider becoming managers and even owners.

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In conjunction with Financial Literacy Month, Banks is leading a virtual book discussion on The Power of Broke, by entrepreneur Daymond John, best known as the only African American “shark”  on ABC’s Shark Tank. While helping to grow next generation business owners, Banks simultaneously aims to inspire students to read outside of the mandatory school assignments.

He also wants to redefine stereotypes.

“When I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to be a Black man and not play sports. In 2021, it’s not cool to be a Black person and not be financially savvy and not understand who’s making money from you,” he said.

Ashley Fox, founder of Empify advises both youth and adults on finances. She agrees that reaching youth is a priority. But in working with adults, Fox too sees the need to change mindsets about money. For instance, concerning debt, Fox thinks there has been too much emphasis on paying off debt before saving. She advises clients to pay themselves first (even in the smallest increments).

“People think that because they don’t have a lot, they can’t do anything, but something is better than nothing,” Fox said.

Fox also believes that much of the traditional financial advice is simply too discouraging for poorer communities; nor does it factor in a myriad of mindsets and circumstances.

Financial experts often suggest having several months’ worth of an emergency fund. But Fox starts her clients on an alternative baby step. “I tell people to start saving for the next thirty days. If it’s too far of a stretch, they won’t do it at all,” she added.

And on building wealth, Fox says further unlearning is needed. “We’re taught to go to school, buy a house etc. But that doesn’t benefit the net worth of an individual, ” she said. She points out that during the pandemic, the wealth gap only widened. Why? Because people were investing.

“So we can’t afford not to invest. People are working hard but not gaining wealth,” Fox added.

Similar to BanksGiving, Empify takes a culturally relevant approach to teaching investing. “If you’re a loyal customer, wearing their clothes and eating their food, know that they are a multi-million-dollar company because of people like you,” said Fox.

She added that once people get it on that level, she finds clients want to learn even more. Her spotlight event this month is a free online class on real estate investment.

In addition to BanksGiving and Empify, the School District of Philadelphia has been offering financial literacy events, largely through after-school programming. This May, the District is partnering with Citizens Bank to hold its first two-day conference on financial literacy for high schoolers.

As for the Commonwealth, Senate Bill 723 (2019-20) proposed financial literacy be taught in all high schools and would have also given students academic credit for the classes. The bill, however, never passed in the House.


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