George Nichols III is the 10th President and Chief Executive Officer in The American College of Financial Services’ storied history. He continues to take motivation from founder Solomon Huebner’s pioneering vision in 1927, while empowering The College to usher in the next century of educational excellence. Before joining The College, Nichols served as Executive Vice President, Governmental Affairs for New York Life Insurance Company. The College and Ed Slott and Company recently came together to develop Ed Slott and Company’s IRA Success program – which is now enrolling students! You can read more of Nichols’ perspectives and announcements of College initiatives at www.theamericancollege.edu/president.
1. When you talk about The College’s noble mission, you put extra emphasis on “to benefit society.” Can you describe what that means to you?
The College’s value is in providing applied financial knowledge and education to financial and nonprofit professionals, those on the frontlines and in the c-suite responsible for helping people create, build, maintain, and pass on wealth. That has been our noble cause for 93 years – and through education to one in five financial professionals, we’ve had a tremendous impact on the financial stability of families, businesses, and communities. Every program we develop, every scholarship we award, every research paper we write and distribute is about advancing society’s relationship with wealth through best-in-class education. Right there in that mission we talk about a financial professional’s sacred bond with a client built on applied knowledge, a commitment to lifelong learning, and an adherence to ethical standards. That’s what benefitting society means to us.
2. As you know, the financial services profession is changing rapidly with friction in the firm business model, challenges from low-cost mutual funds and point-and-click brokerage accounts, and competition from robo-advisors. How do you envision The College’s role in helping the average financial professional avoid any pitfalls and seize any opportunities?
The College offers a robust set of educational programs, from foundational financial planning and wealth management, to specialized knowledge on retirement income, philanthropy, and special needs. Yet, as the platform of knowledge has expanded to include digital entrants, just-in-time learning has become paramount.
We’re in the process of modularizing our programs into bite-sized, innovative learning experiences. So, if a professional just needs a refresher on required minimum distributions – they can learn a slice of it or a broad understanding in an hour instead of going through an entire program.
Our IRA Success program with Ed Slott and Company is our first foray into non-College credit, CE-eligible programs. You can finish the program in 12 hours, but you can also just take a course on IRA trusts or on the latest IRA tax laws. It’s a good example of an additional layer in our offerings – in the near-future, the student will be in complete control of the knowledge they need and where, when, and how they want to consume it.
3. You mention the IRA Success program, and it adds to a College strength: retirement distribution planning education. The Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) program is one of the largest at The College, and now you add this IRA Success program into the mix. How do you envision the tie between the programs?
Adding Ed Slott to our faculty as Professor of Practice really expands our expertise in retirement. The RICP® program provides the knowledge on helping clients generate sustainable retirement income, and starting in late 2021, Ed will be the IRA expert in that program. The two programs complement each other – RICP® on retirement income planning and IRA Success on retirement distribution and tax planning. Both are huge knowledge gaps in the profession – and these areas of expertise are in tremendous demand with Baby Boomers retiring at high numbers.
4. What else are you excited about at The College in 2021?
Aside from modularizing our content and delivering exciting CE programs like IRA Success, I’m passionate about The College’s Centers of Excellence. We hired new Executive Directors for our Women’s Center and Ethics Center in 2020, and we’re already seeing their growth.
In late 2020, we launched The American College Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality to help bring about sustainable, generational change in underserved communities. Our first initiative Four Steps Forward will aim to impact Black women, financial professionals, aspiring and high potential leaders, and Black communities across America. We now have an Executive Director, Karim Hill, an exciting partnership with the Society for Financial Education & Professional Development to launch a financial literacy program to educate underserved communities, and a web presence that really exemplifies The Center’s mission. I’m really excited to see how all of our Centers flourish in 2021.
These Centers represent the intersection of academics and the financial services industry. Through education, research, scholarships, and practice enhancement, the Centers reflect The College’s longstanding commitment to the advancement of professionalism and innovation in financial services and, by extension, the increased financial security of all Americans.
5. You’ve been in financial services for nearly three decades. What’s one inflection point you’re keeping a close eye on in the New Year?
If I could, I’ll share two. First – interest rates and their impact on the profession, the companies (especially life insurance companies), and on the economic recovery. We know the market and the economy have been pretty disconnected during the COVID-19 crisis, and most experts believe rates will remain low at least into 2022. This impacts the profession and income-seeking investors, which makes developing a sound, sustainable retirement income plan even more important.
And the second is how the profession leans into technology and embraces robo-advisors, artificial intelligence, and data analytics as complements or amplifiers of their business instead of competition or a regulatory risk. I think how FINRA and the SEC handle technology, and then how individual firms implement it, will go a long way to fleshing out the professional advisor’s value in the years ahead.
I’m a big believer in the “personal touch” – and I think advisors more and more need to lean into holistic planning, and perhaps utilize portfolio-building robo-advisors. Technology is a tool – and if it maximizes efficiencies, then advisors have more time to specialize in planning around retirement distribution tax planning for example.
I’ll be keeping my eye on that balance in 2021 and beyond.