Jocelyn D. Wright, MBA, CFP®, is Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at The American College of Financial Services. She’s also Director of The American College State Farm® Center for Women and Financial Services, and holds the State Farm® Chair in Women and Financial Services.
In addition to her roles at The College, Professor Wright is the founder and managing partner of The Ascension Group (Ascension), where she has been working with individuals to help make their financial dreams possible since 2002.
Professor Wright is a champion for women’s financial success and advancement in the financial services profession. She has authored numerous financial assessment profiles for Black Enterprise magazine, hosted a weekly radio show called The Bottom Line on 900AM-WURD, created a financial education series called Debt Boot Camp, and spearheads the FA 204: Marketing Financial Services to Women course offered at The College.
Get to know Professor Wright in this edition of faculty spotlight. Learn about her admirable work leading women to financial freedom, her excitement for all things Philly-sports and why fate may have played a role in her newest position at The College.
What brought you to The College?
Without sounding sappy — I would say that it was fate. I was at a conference and found myself browsing The College’s website; my eye caught the Center for Women in Financial Services.
In my practice I predominantly work with women and, being a black woman in the profession, I know how few of us there are. I knew it was an opportunity, something that I wanted to help change. As I read the description for The Center it spoke to me in terms of everything that I was interested in and passionate about, but on a much bigger scale. My now-colleague, Dr. Melisande McCrae, picked up the phone when I called to learn more. I thought it was going to be an informal chit-chat, but she was seriously looking for a candidate.
I scheduled a day-long interview for right after Memorial Day and within a month was offered the position. I started in July of 2014 and have been here a little over two years now.
What projects have been especially fulfilling for you over the last two years?
We recently launched a scholarship with the goal of encouraging more African American advisors to join the profession. It's focused on students. Although it's not completely off the ground, it has such tremendous potential, and that’s what really charges me up as we’re planning it, putting things together, and connecting with schools and organizations.
It's going to take a village, so to speak, to really see that happening. In the long run it's a great legacy for The College and because of my role it's a great legacy for me as well. It's about service and how we can make a difference.
Are you a big reader? Do you have a favorite book?
If I have any time to read, I do. Although now I’m a big fan of audiobooks because of commuting here to campus, so I do that a lot. My favorite book right now is “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes, who might best be known for her role as a television producer. I’ve listened to that about three times now. Although she owns Thursday night on ABC, she was really kind of introverted. Then, one day, she made a commitment to say yes to everything that scared her for an entire year. So that’s my current favorite book, but I would say my all time favorite, just because it’s timeless, is the Bible.
Can you describe a challenge or moment of adversity in your personal or professional life and how you overcame it?
When I started in the business in 2002, I didn’t realize that there were so few women in the business and even fewer black women. I was fortunate to have a mentor who was a black woman who had her own firm and was very supportive. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t still be in the business. Sometimes I would walk into an office and people would think I was some kind of administrative assistant — one, because I’m a woman and, two, because I’m a black woman.
I’m not one to wear my degrees or credentials, but sometimes you do have to go there and let people know that you are qualified to be in this business. Now, when I go to conferences, I may be the only woman or the only woman of color, but I see it more as an opportunity. You stick out, you get noticed. I own that position and find a way to network with people, explain to them why it’s important that we have more diversity in the room.
I call myself a disruptor. It’s not so much militant or anything like that, just challenging where we are in the industry. How do we shake up the status quo so we do have more opportunities for everyone; women, people of color, younger people, the whole thing. If we’re going to be successful and continue as a profession, we do need to make more room for people at the table.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Africa is beautiful; I went to Kenya on a mission trip with my church almost 10 years ago and it was life changing. We spent about two weeks working there and it gave me such perspective. You’re thankful for everything you have because you know that there are people who are less fortunate, and to see how appreciative they are of you is really rewarding. It was like I was visiting family. We stayed on a farm for about four days, and the family treated me like their daughter. They have such an appreciation for life. It helps to put things in perspective in terms of where we are in the States and how much we do take for granted. I’d like to visit different parts of the African continent. And of course any beach — any clean beach — is always beautiful.
What is something that people might be surprised to know about you?
I am probably a good example of what a Libra is in terms of balance. While I was a huge tomboy growing up, I was also prissy, wanting to model on one end and then be a football player on the other. In my next life, I would love to be a sportscaster. For football!
Do you have a favorite team?
Of course, the Eagles! All things Philly.
What are some of your interests outside the world of financial services?
I try to stay as active as possible, so for one of my current fitness goals, I am doing what’s called the 50 states half-marathon challenge. I just finished state 19, Michigan, a few weeks ago and I’ll do New Hampshire in December. It’s fun; I figure that's the only way to see the country and some states I would never really visit, and I’ve met some really awesome runners along the way. Runners are crazy! There are groups; the Fifty States Challenge group—they call us “half-fanatics” — and the “marathon maniacs” who do full marathons in all fifty states. You meet a lot of people along the way, it’s great networking.
Who is a famous or notable person that you would love to spend time with and what would you do?
I would say Oprah because, of all living people, she knows everyone. If I knew her, I could get to everyone else. I’d be like, I just want to hang with you, who else can we call? And the impact she’s had, is tremendous. Even though now she’s been off television five or six years, she still has her OWN network, and she’s so generous in terms of the work that she’s doing with her school in South Africa. You know, when Oprah talks, people listen. And she just has a great success story of how she got to where she is, and she still seems so very humble.
Who has made the most significant impact on your professional aspirations or achievements?
I would have to say, my father. I clearly remember him saying ‘Just make sure that you take care of yourself.’ He had worked at a company for 15 years and he got laid off. So he started his businesses after that, and that just reminded me that only you can control your destiny. I knew at that point that I was going to have my own business.
How did you get into the financial services business?
Growing up I always loved money. Monopoly was a favorite board game, I loved being the banker. My dad had largely cash-based businesses so he would bring the receipts home at night and I would get to count the money and organize the money. For a while, I thought I was going to go into banking. Then, in my sophomore year of college my grandmother passed away, and she only had a $5,000 life insurance policy. Even in 1990 that wasn’t enough to bury someone, so my father and his siblings had to come out of pocket for the difference, and that just struck me. It didn’t make sense and I thought, why is this happening? We were a smart family, why didn’t we know better? That’s when I switched my focus to personal planning.
Have you always worked more specifically with women?
It kind of naturally happened that way. I don’t know if it was intentional, but sometimes you attract who you are, so that’s how I started. We as women have so much on our plate and we often don’t take the time to care for ourselves financially. But it's so important that we do because we live longer than men, we don’t get paid as much as men, and so many things are working against us.
The conversation about money is an intimate and personal conversation that many people are afraid or reluctant to have it. You can never tell when someone’s sick financially because you can disguise it so many ways. And I’ve met so many people, women in particular, who are sick financially. But it’s not a terminal illness. One of the things I’ve learned is that wealth is relative. No single dollar amount works for everyone, but being financially empowered and educated gives you options and options make life what it is.
In your experience working with “financially sick” women, is there a trend in their behaviors or habits you help remedy?
It can start off with a simple budget. I’ve worked with clients who don’t make a lot and clients who make a whole hell of a lot, and there’s really no difference if you don’t have a budget. If you make a lot of money, you’ll spend a lot of money if you don’t have a budget or cash management system. I love hearing stories about people who worked minimal wage jobs and when they passed away, so-and-so didn’t know they were a millionaire.
It’s all about legacy, whether leaving money to a school or for a good cause or to your family to make sure that they’re on the right track so that they don’t have to start all over for the next generation.
Do you have any tips or advice for balancing a designation training program with full-time employment?
Time management. No one gets an advantage, we all have 24 hours in a day, so we all start off on a level playing field. My mother always used to say when I was growing up that you make time for things that you want to do, and I find that is so true. So just being able to budget your time properly.
There are times when life gets in the way and you may have to study at four o'clock in the morning or twelve o'clock at night. If you can make the time, it’s definitely worth it.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Professor Wright, stop by her office at The College and say hello or consider enrolling in FA 204: Marketing Financial Services to Women, the course she’ll be back to teaching next semester.
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