Visionary Wants Financial Security For All

By Andrew S. Ross
San Francisco Chronicle.

If Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz had her way, there would be a U.S. Department of Financial Security. Headed by a Cabinet-level appointee, the job would help Americans take better care of themselves in matters involving money. In making the appointment, she would want the president to say “financial literacy is a national cause.”

It is a cause Schwab-Pomerantz has single-mindedly pursued for 30 years. Her passion has been to show how “financial education can change lives” and help address the needs of the tens of millions of Americans with no back account, credit or savings, the millions more scraping by paycheck to paycheck, seniors lacking a nest egg to see them through their golden years. “Parents, unbanked, kids, the working poor, the 50-plus, from rich to poor — it cuts across all lines,” she said.

And it’s a monumental undertaking. According to a 2011 FDIC study, close to 70 million Americans are regarded as financially underserved.

Last year, they generated more than $100 billion in fee and interest revenue, according to a Center for Financial Services Innovation analysis of various alternatives, like payday loans, auto subprime loans and very short-term credit.

Especially troubling, as the U.S. population ages, is how little Americans are saving for retirement. According to a Wells Fargo study last year, 41 percent of middle-class Americans in their 50s “are not currently saving for retirement.” Close to half say “they will not have enough money to ‘survive’ in retirement.”

“What will that mean for our country?” Schwab-Pomerantz wonders. “No one’s talking about it.”

Schwab-Pomerantz, 54, is president of Charles Schwab Foundation, a nonprofit organization that develops and funds programs for the financially underserved, and supports employee philanthropy and volunteerism at the investment company founded by her father, Charles Schwab. “She is devoted to making investing more accessible to the American public, encouraging men and women from all walks of life to take charge of their financial lives,” said Zhan Li, dean of St. Mary’s College’s School of Economics and Business Administration, who nominated her for the first Chronicle and St. Mary’s Visionary of the Year award.

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