Mac Gardner’s life mission is to teach the basics of financial literacy to people traditionally excluded from access to financial planning, and he’s targeting children in a way that’s convenient and accessible.
A certified financial planner, Gardner is the founder and chief education officer of FinLit Tech. He has published two books on financial literacy. The most recent one, “The Four Money Bears,” teaches children the four functions of money: spending it, saving it, investing it, and giving it away. In the book, he represents the four functions as “money bears.”
Gardner hoped to get the book on financial literacy into public schools but strict regulations made that difficult, so he turned to digital channels powered by strategic partnerships.
One such partnership is with fintech giant eMoney Advisor, a financial planning software advisor that claims to nurture a culture that values diversity and inclusion. Together with Gardner, the company is developing a financial wellness app called Incentive that combines financial education with actionable steps to put users in control of their financial health.
Through these and other projects Gardner is running at FinLit Tech, he targets Black groups and others who would not otherwise have access to financial literacy.
Gardner talked with The Moguldom Nation about how financial literacy can lift Black people.
Moguldom: Why did you write your books?
Mac Gardner: My first book is titled “Motivate Your Money.” I have been working with people that have substantial assets and good net worth for years. But it was surprising that they didn’t have a basic understanding when it came to financial planning. People need to know the difference between the types of insurance, an IRA, 401k, a regular brokerage account, the difference between a trust and a will, and why it is essential to have that stuff.
So I utilized the first book to share my “Mac nuggets” — my little stories and little things that have helped clients over the years.
Then one of my clients came to me about a year into my practice and said, “Hey Mac, would you be open to writing something for kids?” And so that is how “The Four Money Bears” came to be. The book is the story of me teaching my kids about money, letting them know that there are only four things you do with money: spend it, save it, invest it and give it away, and they’re all bears.
Moguldom: I purchased the book for my niece and nephews, and they loved it. What is the next step after kids read “The Four Money Bears”? What can kids or parents do to continue the conversation?
Mac Gardner: We initially view “The Four Money Bears” book as a sort of a ramp to financial literacy for young kids. The target demographic is children age 5 to 11, so elementary school. We initially sent copies of the format of our book to state school boards across the country years ago when I first published it.
The process of getting a book into a public school is mind-numbingly arduous and very difficult. We realized elementary school teachers and students are utilizing a lot of digital platforms to learn.
We then partnered up with Synapse and eMoney to put together this competition to develop an app based upon “The Four Money Bears.” The idea is to develop an app (based on the) book that can be used in schools, direct to consumers, and financial institutions, to get the word out about why it is important to start managing money.
Moguldom: How do you see financial literacy as a tool to help Black people move forward?
Mac Gardner: I intentionally made two boy bears and two girl bears. I intentionally made all the bears different colors and shades — a pretty overt gesture towards the need for more diversity and inclusion in the financial services industry as consumers of financial services goods. But I’m also a CFP (certified financial planner) by trade. I want to see more people of color, more women, and more diversity in the advisory space.
My thought process is to get more kids from neighborhoods who are overlooked and underrepresented and resources like “The Four Money Bears” books into their hands to understand the first thing to do when they get a $100 bill.
The first thing to do isn’t to go and buy something and use all of it to do other things with it. You can put some money in a bank.
Instead of purchasing Under Armour or those Nikes, you can own shares in that company.
And with technology and the ability to own fractional shares, that can be done for as little as $5. Or you can give some of the money to someone in need, a church, or some organization.
I think that is how “The Four Money Bears” book can help kids of color around the U.S. or worldwide introduce the options early and show them you can do other things besides just consuming and buying.
Moguldom: What is one area that you feel Black adults need to jump into right now to secure a better future?
Mac Gardner: I think a better understanding of capital markets. There are two sides to the capital market. If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a business, these new rules and regulations like Reg CF and Reg D allow these businesses to acquire and get access to the capital needed to grow their business. On the other side of that coin, they can utilize their hard-earned dollars to invest in ventures. It doesn’t just have to be like Exxon and Coca-Cola, all these large-cap companies. It can get as granular as enterprises and companies in your community.
Moguldom: What do you think it would take to get more Black people certified as financial professionals?
Mac Gardner: In a word, education. We went to school but personal finances aren’t taught in schools. How can people even be aware of the fact that it is even a career choice? We’re hoping with “The Four Money Bears” book, more young people will realize dealing with money is not only important, but there’s an actual career path where we can help people with their investments, insurance, retirement planning, their taxes, or their estate planning. If we can do that at an earlier age, we can start filling the pipeline.
The certified financial planning industry needs it badly. The average CFP, I think, is in their late 50s, early 60s. There will be a huge wave of retirees, and then sadly, there are not enough young people to fill those gaps.
Moguldom: Right now, we see this wave of interest in people purchasing fractional shares of stocks and cryptocurrency. Some think crypto is a wave, not a straight line where you buy one coin and be a millionaire in six months. What type of advice would you give someone who wants to expand their investments, make strategic decisions, and not just base their decisions on somebody on Facebook or Clubhouse?
Mac Gardner: We’re working on a second book and introducing new characters. The second book is titled: “The Four Money Bears Go to the Bank.” There is “Banker Box Turtle” to teach children or young kids about banking. There is “Lender Lion” who introduces children to lending and the different forms of lending that are out there. There is “Omnibus Owl ” who introduces kids to the different capital market options. The fourth character we’re introducing is “Crypto Cat,” who introduces kids to digital currency and blockchain concepts.
We think it’s necessary to do that because it’s not going anywhere. A lot of regulation is coming in, and the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is coming on. When the federal government puts this much regulation into something, it’s not going anywhere. And so what we need to do is educate people about what blockchain is.
There is potential volatility in that space, just as the Forex space is volatile and the capital markets. Is it something where you can potentially make a lot of money? Yes, but you could possibly lose money. That’s what it’s all about — educating people and let them know that.
Moguldom: So besides the new four characters you’re introducing for the children, any other thing that’s coming up that readers should know?
Mac Gardner: Yes, so we have been working with eMoney Advisor. eMoney is a large fintech company. Our partnership is working on developing a financial wellness app called Incentive. It is a tool that helps with some financial planning, understanding some rules of thumb when it comes to how much should be saved and how much should be used for certain expenses in your life.
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It’ll have resources in there to allow folks to aggregate their accounts and get some good baseline information on financial planning. We’re working with eMoney to help develop that financial education and wellness platform. It’s only being distributed through financial advisors that work in the 401K space but the game plan is to eventually have it distributed through financial advisors and, at some point, direct to the consumer.
Moguldom: Where do you see FinLit Tech in five years?
Mac Gardner: I see us developing cool, multimedia financial education solutions from a very young age, all the way to middle school, high school, and college. On the book side, we have “The Four Money Bears,” which is the on-ramp for the young kids. Then we have “Motivate Your Money” for adults, and we’re developing a multimedia financial education platform for adults.
I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from financial services institutions saying, “Hey, Mac, can you build out educational content from a diverse perspective for people who need this guidance and not just the 1 percent the financial service industry caters to?”
That’s something that we’re looking at tackling and creating actual financial education content for an industry that wants to address the 99 percent.