past event
Family Finances

Debt: When it Helps, When it Hurts, What it Could Do to Build Household Wealth

On Thursday, June 9, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program hosted a hybrid event on the role of household debt in building wealth. The event featured contributors to the book, “The Future of Building Wealth,” and showcased research and solutions aimed at mitigating burdensome and wealth-depleting debt while improving the use of wealth-building debt.

The event explored the role policymakers, philanthropists, and capital providers can play in improving access to capital as a tool for building long-term stability, including access to loans for higher education, starting a small business, or purchasing a home.


Don BaylorBlack man in a suit smiles against a blue backdrop, Managing Director, Lafayette Square

Don Baylor is the Managing Director of Services at Lafayette Square. Prior to joining Lafayette, Don served as a Senior Program Officer at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, where he oversaw the Foundation’s portfolio.

Previously, he held roles as Senior Associate with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC where he focused on expanding economic opportunity through JPMorgan Chase, Citi, McArthur and Gates Foundation projects across the US and as Director of OpportunityTexas at Every Texan (formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities) in Austin. Don was a founding member for RAISE Texas, Texas Match the Promise Foundation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board.

Prior to that, he served as legislative and political Director at New York ACORN where he organized campaigns and advanced state and local legislation to curb predatory lending, broaden financial inclusion and expand access to affordable housing in New York. Don began his career as a Senior Consultant at KPMG’s State and Local Government Practice, where he performed management and performance audits for school districts, state agencies, and municipal governments.

Originally from Texas, Don holds a B.A. from Georgetown University and M.A. from University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently serves as co-chair of the Asset Funders Network Board of Directors, serves on the boards of SaverLife and Equal Measure.

Black man in gray suit with pink tie smiles at the camera while standing on the stairsWole Coaxum, Founder & CEO Mobility Capital Finance Inc. (“MoCaFi”)

In 2014, as Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in protests following the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager, Wole Coaxum, an Oxford-educated African American financial executive, sat in his office at a Fortune 100 company and considered ways to close the economic gap.

Two years later, he launched Mobility Capital Finance, Inc., or MoCaFi, as a digital banking platform that would target the more than 50 million unbanked and underbanked people living in the country.

By 2020, the platform had enrolled more than 25,000 users, raised millions in seed rounds, and partnered with major multinational companies and several cities and municipalities.

Before starting MoCaFi in 2016, Wole served as Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase, where he held a series of leadership positions in Business Banking, Card Services, and Treasury & Securities Services. Before joining JPMorgan, Wole was a senior executive of Willis Towers Watson. He served as Chief Financial Officer & Chief Operating Officer of Willis North America and Chief Executive Officer of Willis Canada. He started his career at Citigroup, working in investment banking, asset management, insurance, and corporate functions. Wole has been recognized for his consistent track record of developing and implementing a broad array of high-impact and strategic initiatives which achieve measurable results.

Vishal Jain, Vice President of Financial Wellness Strategy an Development,  Prudential Financial

Vishal Jain is the Head of Financial Wellness Strategy and Development for Prudential. In this role, Vishal leads the definition of Prudential’s financial wellness strategy and the development of financial wellness capabilities to support Prudential’s businesses in the United States.
Prior to this role, Vishal was the Financial Wellness Officer for Prudential’s Workplace Solutions Group. He led the development and delivery of financial wellness solutions for the Workplace Solutions Group’s institutional clients and their participants.
Vishal also built and led the strategy, planning, and business intelligence functions for Prudential’s Group Insurance business. Vishal joined Group Insurance from Prudential’s Strategic Initiatives Group, where he helped lead Prudential’s cross-business thought leadership and strategic review efforts from 2008 to 2011. Earlier in his career, he was an engagement manager at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with retirement providers, asset managers, and insurers.

Signe-Mary McKernan, Vice President, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population; CoDirector, Wealth and Financial Well-Being Initiative, Urban Institute

Signe-Mary McKernan is vice president of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population and codirector of the Wealth and Financial Well-Being initiative at the Urban Institute. She is a national wealth-building and financial well-being expert with two decades of experience researching access to assets and credit and the impact of safety net programs. She coedited the book Asset Building and Low-Income Families, coauthored a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Poverty, and advised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in setting up its research unit. Before joining the Urban Institute in 1999, she was lead economist on credit issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She has been a visiting and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She has testified before Congress and been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, and Time. She has a PhD in economics from Brown University.

Indian man with beard and wearing a button up and sweater smiles at the camera with an orange backgroundSid Pailla, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Sunny Day Fund 

Sid Pailla is the Founder & CEO of Sunny Day Fund® (SDF), which partners with employers to make saving for emergencies and immediate financial goals easy, accessible, and rewarding. Sid is on a broader mission to normalize emergency savings as a benefit for hardworking Americans, three quarters of whom lack the basic three months of savings on hand. Sid and the Sunny Day Fund team are pursuing this mission driven by their own personal experiences with financial hardships, and their work has been amplified by the Financial Solutions Lab at the Financial Health Network, Global Good Fund, Techstars, MassChallenge and more. 

Prior to Sunny Day Fund, Sid was as a Technology Strategy Executive with Accenture, where he worked with C-suite clients on M&A and product innovation, and was recognized as an Innovator of the Year. 

Before that, Sid advanced research on building inclusive technology driven by behavioral economics principles – and applied that research to water and telecommunication systems in India and South Africa. As part of this work, Sid founded HiComm, which expanded fee-free, SMS-based international group messaging to 14M South Africans. HiComm was the primary case study for Sid’s PhD in Systems Engineering at the University of Virginia, where he also received an MBA, and MS and BS in Systems Engineering. 

Sid serves on the Board of WorkLife Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to serving lower-income workers through resource navigation. 

At home, Sid enjoys “improving” recipes, playing tennis, and adventuring with his wife and dog.

Ida Rademacher, Vice President and Executive Director, Aspen Institute Financial Security Program

Ida Rademacher is a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Aspen Financial Security Program. Since joining the Institute in 2015, Ida has combined her expertise in economic inclusion research and policy with her reputation as a collaborative and creative thinker to expand FSP’s efforts to bring to the national forefront a solutions-focused discussion of how America can actually improve economic growth by addressing growing levels of wealth inequality and household financial insecurity. Her efforts have resulted in the creation of several new cutting-edge initiatives, including the Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC), the Reconnecting Work and Wealth Initiative, and the Aspen Leadership Forum on Retirement Savings. Through these projects Ida, her team, and others are building a cross-disciplinary community of leaders and change agents who, together, are deeply probing critical financial challenges facing U.S. households and shaping market and policy innovations that can improve the financial security and financial well-being of all Americans. 

Throughout her career, Ida has developed a reputation for shaping applied research projects and cross-disciplinary teams capable of using complex data to fuel new insights and fresh thinking about how to build economic inclusion. She remains relatively obsessed with understanding the ways that policy and market conditions and other contextual factors shape human behavior and decision-making. As Chief Program Officer at Prosperity Now (formerly CFED), she created the multi-institutional team responsible for leading the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Financial Well-Being Metrics Project, and also led the creation of Upside Down, a program examining ways the U.S. income tax code generates disparate wealth building opportunities and contributes to growing levels of wealth inequality. Earlier in her career she led research and evaluation projects at the Aspen Economic Opportunities Program and the Center for Behavioral and Evaluation Research at the Academy for Educational Development. 

Ida has testified on numerous occasions before Congress and contributes regularly to news and commentary on consumer financial issues in outlets including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Politico and public radio’s Marketplace. She currently serves on several advisory boards and is a Director on the Boards of two of the nation’s leading nonprofit financial technology organizations, The Financial Clinic and EARN.  

A resident of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and an avid horseback rider, Ida is the first generation in her family to attend college. She pursued postgraduate studies in economic anthropology at the University of Melbourne, Australia; holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Maryland; and a Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology and economics from James Madison University.

Joanna Smith-Ramani, Managing Director, Aspen Institute Financial Security Program

Joanna Smith-Ramani is Managing Director of the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, a leading national voice on Americans’ financial health. She is responsible for conceptualizing, planning, and overseeing the program’s research, convenings, and programs, aimed at furthering FSP’s mission to illuminate and solve the most critical financial challenges facing American households and to make financial security for all a top national priority.

Joanna has more than 15 years of experience across community, personal finance, and asset development. She joined Aspen FSP as the Director of its Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC), where she built the program from the ground up and conceptualized and launched EPIC’s first two issues — income volatility and household debt — which FSP studies from causes to broader impact to market and policy solutions. Prior to joining FSP, Joanna served as Senior Innovation Director at Commonwealth, leading the unit that designs, tests, and evaluates promising financial service innovations. While at Commonwealth, Joanna developed innovations to improve savings and financial capability, including prize-linked savings, tax time savings, gamification, emergency savings, and youth savings. Additionally, Joanna led several federal grants, developed and sustained national coalitions, and built a network of industry partners.

Joanna has led national and state legislative campaigns resulting in the passage of a federal law and more than 10 state laws expanding savings innovation across the nation. She is a trusted expert on financial security and inclusion, having  been quoted in numerous national and local media outlets such as the New York Times, National Public Radio, and Fox Cable News. Joanna holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University. She serves on the Board of the CASH Campaign of Maryland, A Wider Circle, and the Lilabean Foundation, and was selected to the 2017-2018 class of Leadership Montgomery.

Frederick F. Wherry, Director, Debt and Dignity Network

Frederick “Fred” Wherry is currently the Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, the Director of the Debt Collection Lab (, and the Founding Director of the Dignity + Debt Network (a partnership between Princeton and the Social Science Research Council: He is also the Co-PI of the Higher Education Race

and the Economy (HERE) Lab, based at the University of California at Merced. Professor Wherry is the author or editor of nine books, including Credit Where It’s Due: Rethinking Financial Citizenship (with Kristin Seefeldt and Anthony Alvarez), The Oxford Handbook of Consumption (with Ian Woodward), Money Talks (with Nina Bandelj and Viviana Zelizer), and Measuring Culture (with John Mohr, Chris

Bail, and others). He has served in advisory roles at the Boston Federal Reserve, the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program, and the Mission Asset Fund, and was elected as the president-elect of the Eastern Sociological Society and was the

2018 president of the Social Science History Association. He is currently on the board of directors for the Change Machine and on the Executive Committee of the Princeton Alumni Council. He serves on the advisory board for the Race in the Marketplace (RIM) Network. At Stanford University Press, he co-edits the book series Culture and Economic Life. He was an undergraduate student and a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He then earned his Master’s in public affairs at the School of Public and International Affairs and completed his doctorate in sociology at Princeton University in 2004. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, he served as a faculty member at Michigan, Columbia, and Yale, before returning to Princeton.

Bryan Young, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Home Lending Pal

Bryan Young is the CEO and Co-Founder of Home Lending Pal. A mortgage marketplace that uses an AI-powered home mortgage assistant and blockchain to help underserved communities find homes that fit their budget.

Bryan continues to build strategic partnerships with data providers to join the HLP ecosystem to provide potential first-time homebuyers. The platform’s goal is to gamify the process while providing personalized insight into the likelihood of approval, expected time to close, best loan, and lenders the borrower is qualified to work with before validating and anonymizing the borrower’s data.

He has led global digital transformation strategies and tactical execution for the 2012 DNC and President Barack Obama, Microsoft, Panasonic, Xerox, Zillow, Century Link, and others across B2B and B2C sectors.

Related Readings

The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program’s future of wealth initiative is supported by Prudential Financial.

Event information
Thu Jun 9, 2022
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
33 Liberty St,
New York, NY