Lisa Frison, Director of Wells Fargo Diverse Consumer Segments, and Ahtis Davis, Black African American Consumer Segment lead, share their money stories.
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Michael: Hey humans, I’m Michael Liersch and this is the About Money podcast, presented by Wells Fargo. I’m a behavioral scientist with a PhD in cognitive psychology who loves openly discussing money to help humans better understand their money behaviors. By understanding our money behaviors, we all have the opportunity to make better money decisions.
This season, we’re going to talk about jobs money can do for us. Jobs, you might ask. Yes, money does many jobs for us, such as helping us with our family, lifestyle, the community, aging, travel, investing and more. We have a great lineup of guests for you, so let’s get into it.
In this episode, we’re going to be speaking with Lisa Frison and Ahtis Davis who help to lead our diverse customer segments strategy at the Consumer Bank at Wells Fargo. Lisa leads the overall strategy, and Ahtis leads the Black African American customer strategy. And I’m so excited to be speaking with both of them because they’re going to help us answer the question today, how do our experiences impact or affect our money decisions?
And so Lisa, Ahtis, I’m so happy to have you on the Wells Fargo About Money podcast. So let’s get right into it. And I’m going to start with you, Ahtis. Let me kick it off, then by asking you, Ahtis, where did you come from? What are your experiences as you’ve emerged as a human being?
Ahtis: Well, for me, it’s deeply personal. And I started out a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York, pretty humble beginnings. And I developed my career in banking over the course of over 20 years. And I’m proud to lead the segment strategy for a number of reasons. But mostly because I want others to know that it is possible to move your experience beyond what you knew growing up. And that drives me every day to show our customers alongside them that it is possible to achieve their goals, financial goals, and to move forward for their families and their futures.
Michael: So tell us what you knew growing up, then. Give us a few highlights of what you knew about money growing up.
Ahtis: Well, what I knew about money was it was important to have. Personally, we didn’t have enough of it. We needed more of it. And so that inspired me.
Michael: And is that to keep the lights on? Or was that to buy fancy clothes? What do you mean you needed more of it?
Ahtis: That was to cover the basics.
Ahtis: It was to keep the roof over our heads, to keep our clothes on our backs, food on the table, just the basics. Money was important and always something that was scarce.
Michael: Well, Ahtis, thank you for sharing that.
I’m going to turn it to Lisa. And when you think of your experiences, where did you come from, Lisa? What are your experiences, especially as you kind of connect it to this idea of leading a diverse customer segments strategy?
Lisa: Yeah, what I’ll tell you, Michael, is similar to Ahtis. When I grew up, we didn’t have conversations about money. Let me just start there. My father worked second shift at a distribution center. My mother was a personal care aide. And I would say, you know, we lived in a rented house for the majority of my life growing up. And so we didn’t have the traditional conversations about money, if you will.
And one of the things that I thought about is that notion of scarcity, right? That, you know, we mostly operated in this place of barely enough. And so there was this notion of scarcity. And along with that, though, there was this optimism, right, and this faith, if you will, that, you know, God will make a way and somehow it will all come together. And I believed that, but I also knew, I think intuitively, that there were things that I would have to do differently and choices that I would have to make to have a different financial life for myself and a different financial life for my family and my future.
Michael: So it’s interesting that you both mentioned this concept of scarcity. And Lisa, this idea of optimism even in the midst of this scarcity, and hope. Did you have the same feelings of optimism and hope, Ahtis, as Lisa articulated, or was it a bit of a different frame?
Ahtis: Absolutely, absolutely. The message growing up, like Lisa, work hard, study, get your education and that will put you on a path to a better life. And so I followed the playbook, and that is exactly what I did. I went on to college, started a career, but there was still a lot about money that I didn’t know. And like Lisa, it wasn’t discussed in the home.
So it really required an initiative on my part to go out and seek that information, whether it be through books, now the internet is in our pockets. We can literally access anything we want to know. There’s a lot of information out on social media. But back in that day, there really wasn’t that proliferation of information. But the hunger was there to go out and get it.
Michael: So it’s interesting how different things motivate different human beings. And so I’ll share a quick lens from my experience and then a broader customer client lens.
For me, there wasn’t a lot of hope to get out of this certain situation that I was in with my family. And I’ll remember back to when I was in — think of it as like the middle school timeframe for listeners to kind of understand where I was at. My mom would drop me off at a fabric mill, I’d roll the fabric, you know, had a punch card. Mom, I’m sorry I’m sharing this story, but I am. And there wasn’t necessarily a sense of optimism around that.
Lisa, you mentioned this idea or potentially different frames of reference. I thought that was really all there was going to be for the rest of my life. I just assumed that for a very, very long time. So for those who are listening, you know, it’s interesting, you can come from a place or a family of hope and optimism around these concepts of scarcity. You know, in other situations, you have the sense of scarcity, and there’s no way out of it.
And so with that frame in mind, I do think it’s important, as you mentioned, Ahtis, to think, you know, that was then. We are in a different space now, which is there is a lot of information, a lot of access to that information about how to either make different decisions, get access to solutions that can help human beings navigate those really sometimes burdensome and extraordinary situations they’re in.
Where would you say humans should go first, Lisa, to maybe start changing a frame or thinking about ways in which they could make decisions differently, like you highlighted? What are your thoughts there?
Lisa: I think what’s been most transformative for me, and I think might be a great starting point for people in general is to start with a why. You know, looking at the data and wanting to reverse the trends that we see.
There’s a study that we often refer to that talks about the biggest generation of wealth transfer is going to happen in the next 30 years. And at the same time, the median wealth for Black families is going to go to zero. Zero. And so for me, that’s a motivator, right? It’s what can I do personally to change that? How can I, you know, have conversations with my family and friends, my close circle, right, my tribe, to change that?
And then of course, how do we leverage the opportunities that we have at work to do that differently? So a lot of it is just being courageous to ask the questions and being curious about, how can I learn more, right? Where do I — taking that look at where do I stand today with my finances and not being afraid to see where it is? Because all it is is a data point, right? If you think about where you are today, it’s just a data point. But then if you know you have the power to make different choices.
Michael: Ahtis, if I could turn it to you. You’d mentioned this idea of being inspired by the concept of ownership, I believe. So tell me about this why in terms of ownership, Ahtis. Why did that motivate you? What was your thought there?
Ahtis: Sure. Well, for me, the ownership piece came in really out of — I kind of go back to that scarcity, housing scarcity, and never wanting to feel insecure about the roof over my head. Ownership to me also gives me rights that for our community have been denied for quite a long time. So it’s important that I take that ownership now that we’ve had that opportunity.
But also it means that I can secure a future for my children; that they have an asset that they can leverage, not only to live in, but also to make other financial moves. So the concept of ownership, I think, is rooted in our country’s history. And I think it’s really about access for everyone to participate in that ownership. And that is where the gap that Lisa referred to earlier comes into play, is how do we get more people in that position of ownership? Because that is really a primary contributor to the gap.
Michael: So let’s dig into that a little bit. When you talk about ownership, I think a lot of people go quickly to homeownership. So I want you to comment on that relative to an investment, owning investments, let’s say, which is different than a home. I think a lot of people think of a home as an investment. And so it can be in certain contexts. In other contexts, it’s not.
Michael: It’s what you could consider a consumption asset, you’re living in it, you’re enjoying it, but you’re not necessarily buying it to intend to have it grow in value or increase in value. So we have homes, we have investments, you know, stocks, bonds, cash, you know, those kinds of things. You could own, you know, a lot of other things, you know, that are tangible in nature.
What are you referring to when you talk about this concept of ownership? Is it all of the above? Or did you have something specific in mind that you’re starting with?
Ahtis: Primarily, I think about real property.
Ahtis: That has been a gap for specifically the Black community, as we’re talking about our roles at Wells Fargo. But, you know, just also in our daily experience that has been a gap in my family growing up and in our communities. So it to me starts with homeownership. But it doesn’t end with homeownership. And it can have many paths, almost parallel, if you will. I think the idea and the reality of owning assets is really critical to disrupting that wealth gap statistic that Lisa shared earlier.
The participation rate in investments and in real estate is quite low in diverse communities, relative to the non-diverse community. And if you’re not part of that, you will be left behind. And I think that can’t be underscored enough for diverse communities, is to participate from an ownership perspective, so that the momentum is carrying them forward as well.
Michael: So Lisa, when you think of that ownership, do you think of it in the same way as Ahtis? Do you have a different point of view? What are your thoughts there?
Lisa: I very much have a similar point of view as Ahtis. For me personally, and also for the Black community, I just think it’s important to make sure that people are, as Ahtis said, getting into that more full economic participation in owning things that appreciate.
Michael: I see, yep.
Lisa: And going from being only savers to being investing. And I think it’s so critical to call out the various ways that this epiphany I had for myself, that I’ve been over-saving and under-investing, right? And I want to make sure that I kind of flip that. And so that’s really what I’m focused on, personally.
But I also think it’s really important that we share these concepts more broadly with consumers, and not just consumers who we might consider have a certain level of affluence, but how do we democratize that information? How do we democratize that access? How do we democratize that sense of agency that everybody deserves to be in this conversation?
Michael: So let’s then switch to the frame, the psychological frame. And Lisa, what do you think is holding people back from accessing this information in their own minds or, you know, the things that we have control of, if you want to give it that way, in our own brains that are holding us back that we can overcome? Whether that’s emotional or literal, because we don’t have the information, as Ahtis mentioned. What are your thoughts there?
Lisa: We need more people to see themselves and see others like them, right, as investors, as owners. And, you know, being courageous about having money conversations.
A lot of my first conversations came from people that I didn’t know, and they didn’t even know that they were talking to me about money. I’ll give an example. When I was in college, I was working at the admissions office, and one of the ladies there talked about she bought a car with cash. Blew my mind. You bought a car with cash? Who does that? So even though it wasn’t really — she wasn’t talking to me about money, per se, but that stuck in my head. I’m like, “Okay, there’s a thing that I can do that maybe I haven’t seen done in my family. But if she can do it, it means that people can do it, and maybe I can do it.”
Michael: I love that example. And do you feel like then it’s important to destigmatize those conversations so we can all share that a bit more publicly?
Or do you think that’s possible, you know, in terms of all the struggles we go through to make it work?
Lisa: I think it’s important, and I also think that it’s possible. I had a conversation recently with a young woman that I mentor who is, you know, college-educated, in a fabulous career track, making good money and young, right? And the conversation I had was a little bit around investing and saying, “Hey, you know, you’re young enough, you make a great income, you could be a millionaire in 10 years.” And the response was, “I don’t think so.” So that was a very high bar.
But then how do we take what might be a high bar and a low box, and then continue to build on it and continue to build on it? And so I said, “No, actually, you can do it, and I can give you some examples on how,” right? And then making myself available to say, “Hey, and I’m happy to have these conversations, because I know how hard it is when you haven’t had anybody to talk about it with.”
Michael: I love this idea, Lisa, of “and then” — right? So once you get into that uncomfortable situation, and you navigate it, and whether you fail or you succeed, you know, you try again, whatever that is. I like that idea of keeping on pushing yourself. So all of these experiences create that “and then” moment, Lisa, when we push ourselves, which I really like that concept.
So if I am in debt, then maybe I can go to neutral, right? Even if it is zero, Lisa, right? And then maybe I could go to saving, right, positive, and then ultimately to investing and create that momentum that you described, Ahtis. Lisa, tell me — and then, Ahtis, I’ll have you close this out: What do you think, if you were to give one piece of advice to someone who’s either at that — actually two pieces of advice. Give a piece of advice for someone who’s really in that part of the journey where they don’t know if there’s a way out of the situation they’re in. Can you give a piece of advice to that human? And then also a piece of advice to that human who’s like, “I made it.” But it’s really that “and then” advice. If that makes sense, Lisa. What are your two pieces of advice for those humans?
Lisa: I think for the first person who’s out there and you may consider yourself being struggling in some way, I would say, first of all, give yourself some grace. And give yourself permission to create a different narrative for yourself and tell yourself a new money story.
And then I think the last thing I would say in terms of — so I think mindset is really important, Michael. But the other thing I would say is identify just one tangible action you can take. Is it looking at your bills? Is it finding out where you might be able to save a little bit more? Is it a place where you can get a little bit more income? But pick one thing to do. And pick one thing to do with some regularity so that you can begin to have a view and a different narrative about where you are and where you can go.
And then I would say for that person who’s, you know, on a path, I would just say that if you have room and space to be curious and just to make sure that you’re turning over all the rocks that you can, then do that, right? Turn over the rocks and make sure that you’re continuing to advance your knowledge, and that you also find one person to reach back to and have a conversation like we’ve had. Because it will make an immeasurable difference in somebody’s life.
Michael: Thank you for that, Lisa. How about you, Ahtis? What are your thoughts on those two types of humans?
Ahtis: Wow. I would say very simply the first person, ask questions. Just start asking questions. A lot of what keeps us stuck and keeps us hopeless is lack of information, a lack of access, and just not seeing what’s possible. So get curious and start asking questions to get yourself informed. You may not be able to ask the people around you. You may have to ask the internet, you may have to ask strangers, pushing yourself into spaces that you’ve never been in and being uncomfortable — getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Because if you want to change your situation, you will be uncomfortable. That’s just the nature of it.
And for that person who has, “made it,” similar to what Lisa said, someone that you can pay it forward with, sharing the information that you have that got you where you are. Perhaps person two can connect with person one, and we can have the best of both worlds in terms of an outcome.
Michael: I like that idea. That’s a great idea.
Ahtis: But if more people start asking questions and more people start giving information, I think we will close the gap.
Michael: Well, I want to thank you both for being on the Wells Fargo About Money podcast. You’ve shared a lot and given us a lot to think about. And so I would leave our listeners with this idea of, you know, ultimately where we’re coming from is a notion of framing. Our experiences frame our decisions. When it comes to money, you know, getting exposed to a broader frame of reference of what’s possible. So thank you again, and we hope to do this soon.
Ahtis: Thank you.
Lisa: Thank you.
Michael: That’s it for this episode of the About Money podcast. Please email us with the topics that you would like us to address at AboutMoney@Wellsfargo.com. And if you really liked the episode, share it with family, friends, and anyone who listens to podcasts.
About Money is produced by Wells Fargo. You can learn more about ways to work with us at WellsFargo.com/AboutMoney. I’m Michael Liersch asking you to talk about money today.
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