“Financial literacy helps break down all barriers. It’s one of the foundation stones to give people their pathway to set themselves up for success.” - Devon Lyon

The future of the financial world is transformational, not transactional. According to Devon Lyon, president and CEO at Central One Federal Credit Union, true success comes only when the financial industry keeps the focus on learning, not just preserving dollars and cents.

That’s why Devon is such a strong advocate for financial literacy among both customers and banking executives. Financial education opens fresh perspectives on a wealth of other topics, including emotional and interpersonal wellness.

Is Your Financial Brand Living Its Mission?

Plenty of banks and credit unions have mission statements about serving and helping the community. But are they leading the charge? What is your organization doing to establish greater financial literacy in the community?

Devon and Central One Federal Credit Union are taking this mission to heart. One of his passions is breaking down barriers to financial literacy.

His credit union fulfills this mission by doing things like providing student-run branches that help young people better understand how the financial world works. Central One is also engaging with people at vulnerable turning points in their lives. They’re revamping and reopening a closed hospital branch for people who need financial options while battling health challenges.

These efforts take an enormous willingness to learn and change. Devon asks his team to stay open to learning new things that allow the credit union to problem-solve and thrive.

In short, Devon is helping his credit union learn how to learn. He’s leading an effort to turn his credit union into something greater: a financial literacy organization for the community. This involves building innovative new partnerships the credit union never considered before.

“It's going to be looking at everyone's ideas, regardless of where they come from,” Devon says. “I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all special partner to make an organization stronger. So it's going to be about listening first and then evaluating and helping craft the best process forward to an organization that's already doing an amazing job of delivering exceptional service.”

The Power of Listening

Devon uses the term “listening first,” which is a key part of the transformative process. Transformation depends on individuals’ capacity to listen carefully to what others are saying.

Another crucial skill is “learning through observation.” It boils down to listening, asking questions, listening more, asking follow-up questions, and watching quietly to observe insights that arise in the unspoken space.

This process is related to the ancient tradition of Socratic reflection, or stoic reflection, which allows someone to thoughtfully apply new insights to moving forward. 

Central One has a program called Direct Thinker where anyone in the organization can make suggestions directly to the top execs. If a customer service worker sees something that would improve the member experience, they can submit it for consideration in the company’s strategic initiatives.

“I firmly believe that the role of the CEO is twofold,” Devon says. “One, it's to listen. Listen first. The second is - I've always used the acronym, ‘It's not chief executive officer. It's chief reminding officer.’ A play on the CRO.”

Devon uses his role as CRO to listen to what people are saying and provide gentle reminders about the company’s mission. He reminds his people not to lose sight of the important things, reinforcing the importance of the credit union’s grander vision.

Taking a Longer View of Literacy

Just like transformation, financial literacy isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes years or even decades of learning, plus it requires a constantly open mindset.

Devon shares the example of someone who golfs twice a month and can’t understand why their game isn’t improving. But consider that Tiger Woods has a coach. He practices every day. All great athletes have coaches and practice every day.

Leadership and learning are no different. If you don’t actively engage with some type of mentoring program and make it your mission to learn something new every day, you won’t grow.

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This is just as true for financial customers as it is for employees. “My ideal situation is we have every member have a financial literacy component to their membership,” Devon says. 

Banks and credit unions can teach people about their own habits and how they can make smart financial choices. For example, imagine alerting someone when they’ve gone 10% over their monthly food budget, which puts other financial goals in jeopardy.

Now people can understand how their behavior leads to financial fallout, like not being able to pay their bills or cutting into their child’s college savings. It’s a type of financial accountability, but when it’s handled correctly, it comes across as helpful and kind.

Devon encourages all financial institutions to comb through their data and look for opportunities to provide these kinds of customer experiences. What digital vaults of data do you have? Is there information from your call center sitting in an archive somewhere? Could you be gathering more data that leads to better customer conversations?

“That's the accountability piece,” Devon says. “That's where all institutions need to look at their data, look at what warehouses they have, and how can you link that to financial literacy to then push out true, effective coaching conversations.”

Humbling Yourself to Listen and Learn 

The financial industry is full of smart, well-educated people who genuinely care about helping their organizations and customers succeed. Still, it’s all too easy to fall into a rut where you believe you’re at the top of your field and there’s nothing else to learn.

Money management is a chaotic endeavor and the financial world is constantly changing. It’s simply not possible to learn everything and stop learning.

As Devon puts it, “You have to honor what you don't know. I feel like, too often, people get very comfortable with what they know, and they're an expert in it…And you either get a false sense of security with that or you miss the eight ball entirely.”

Instead, think of yourself as a master who’s determined to remain a master through constant learning. Like a golf pro or a martial arts champion, you remain at the top of your game through ongoing practice and coaching.

The successful organizations of the future are learning how to transform and self-actualize. They’re inclusive, they care about the human experience, and they don’t shy away from emotions. They encourage people to maintain personal and interpersonal wellness.

Where does your organization fit into this picture? 

If you’re not sure, maybe it’s time to humble yourself, start listening, and start learning.