Executive Conversations is a HousingWire web series that profiles powerful people in the financial industry, highlighting the operations and the people that make this sector tick. In the latest installment, we sit down with Cheryl Travis Johnson, co-chair of the Council for Inclusion and Financial Services and chief operating officer for VRM, to discuss insights gained from the 2017 Financial Services Expo on the future of finance.

JohnsonQ. The Financial Services Expo this summer was sponsored by The Council for Inclusion and Financial Services and The Mortgage Collective to provide a new approach to solving the finance industry’s toughest challenges. What are some of those challenges?

A. Our industry is aging and we need the next generations to see the value in working within the financial services industry. Moreover, as the Baby Boomers continue transferring wealth to Generation X and the Millennialsthese young men and women will need to be financially savvy to ensure the wealth continues for the next generation. So generational inclusion has become an important part of any business inclusion and sustainability plan.

CIFS is addressing the educational programs that help consumers understand and compare financial products and services. CIFS offers an educational platform to companies for consumer outreach purposes, which we hope will improve the declining new home purchases in some emerging markets, and yield more responsible use of investment, credit and insurance products nationwide.

Wealth management starts long before you purchase a home and should not be limited to the top wage earners. Understanding how to grow your money is something everyone should know. 

We have also developed curriculum for colleges to used that will certify students to work in various positions within the industry.  We want to combine this certification with part-time jobs and internships for two and four-year college students.

Q. The event focused on a variety of different stakeholders, including homebuyers, lenders, job seekers and industry leaders. Why such a broad approach?

A. Financial services affect all stakeholders, whether they are planning for their financial future, seeking employment opportunities or professionals within the industry addressing specific challenges like disruptive technology.

Additionally, the number of women, minorities and Millennials in middle management continues to decline, which is limiting the number of these resources available for C-Suite and board seat opportunities.

Further, there are also new business start-up opportunities that entrepreneurs might want to consider. CIFS wants to be intentional about educating on all financial services opportunities.

Q. How did the different stakeholders benefit from being brought together at this conference?  

The primary mission of CIFS is to help the financial services industry recognize the economic benefits of inclusion in employment and supplier opportunities, and to enhance the public education about financial products and services for growing personal wealth.

Opening up the event to the public helped to accomplish this goal. CIFS is a platform to help the financial services move towards a norm of inclusion. The message was clear that there is an economic and competitive advantage with an inclusive workforce. Moreover, professionals received some effective tips on how to leverage inclusion to improve their business. 

The sessions addressed some of the nuances that can make it difficult for small businesses to secure financial services contracts like cyber fraud, social media and positioning. Not having access to information is an exclusionary tactic that can prevent inclusion. The expo helped to close some of this knowledge gap, by letting registrants interact with key industry leaders on various topics.

Q. The theme of the Expo was the future of finance. How did the conference address engaging the next generation — whether as homebuyers or people who want to join the industry?

Most conferences within our industry focus on professionals and businesses within the industry.  Companies are limited to B2B opportunities. CIFS gave its sponsors access to consumers both from a B2B and B2C perspective. 

So, organizations can grow their business from either track. Therefore, consumers learn about improving their financial future and their decision to do so is a business opportunity for the financial services companies they work with. 

The career fair gave college students and others a view into many opportunities the financial services industry has to offer. Additionally, the sessions addressed many of the misconceptions about generational inclusions and how not being intentional about inclusion could actually hurt a business model.

There were sessions on the benefit of mentoring with panelists that were Baby Boomers and Millennial mentoring relationships, that have been successful. Additionally, one day’s sessions focused on working with Millennials and how biases about them may be create unintentional exclusion. In fact, CIFS is made up of a diverse team of professionals that represent all generations, from Millennials, through Gen-X and Baby Boomers. In fact, CIFS just named John Darden, a Millennial from Wells Fargo’s Advisors, as its first president.