Family Finances

Investing in Continuing Education

June 1, 2017  • Romy Parzick

Romy Parzick is an executive at the Austin-based NetSpend, a leading provider of reloadable prepaid cards and other financial services. Her career has focused on financial inclusion. In 2015, Parzick was selected for the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program’s First Movers Fellowship Program, which was established in 2009 as the leading global network and professional-development program for corporate social “intrapreneurs”—accomplished innovators working inside companies. For her Fellowship project, Parzick built and launched the NetSpend Foundation, whose mission is to provide NetSpend customers equal access to education, skill-building, and resources that can increase their earning power and improve the quality of their lives.

NetSpend provides a powerful alternative banking solution for people who don’t want or can’t get a traditional bank account. Our company was built on the idea that people are left out of the financial mainstream—and they deserve responsible alternatives.

A small investment into a new certification can lead to a powerful life change.

Accessing funding for education later in life can be a challenge, especially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. For those on a traditional education path, funding mechanisms like scholarships, grants, and federal loans are available. But take a nontraditional path, and as a low- or moderate-income person, you are likely looking at higher-cost funding sources with less favorable repayment terms to help finance your education. All too often, that means you don’t finish what you started, because you reach a point when you just can’t afford it—and now you don’t have that new degree or certification, but you do have a sizable amount of debt.

So I worked to establish the NetSpend Foundation, and our first program is a scholarship fund for our customers. Through this program, we’ve learned that the relatively small investment into a new certification for one of our customers can lead to a powerful life change.

With the First Movers Fellowship Program, I found the peer coaching and support I needed to persevere.

Imagine changing someone’s life for only $1,000 to $4,000. Take Staci, a 32-year-old single mother of three with an annual income under $45,000. She has worked in retail as a senior certified pharmacy technician for eight years at an hourly rate, but her income is only enough to pay rent and utilities.

Staci doesn’t qualify for government assistance because she makes $112 over the limit for help. But that $112 dollars doesn’t cover health care or groceries or allow her to do nice things for her children. The NetSpend Foundation scholarship gave her the funds she needed to gain additional pharmaceutical-technician certifications, thereby giving her access to higher rungs on the pay ladder.

With the First Movers Fellowship Program, I found the peer coaching and support I needed to persevere as I negotiated the complexities of building allies, getting approvals, and finding funding for a new initiative during a year when the internal budget was very tight.

In year one, we gave out 15 scholarships, thereby proving the concept. The scholarships excited our leadership and external partners with the possibilities and allowed our employees to engage in meaningful ways. Bringing scholarship winners to meet the NetSpend team was the highlight of 2016. We’ve already raised two and a half times our initial seed money and have solidified our executives’ commitment to this program.

Financial institutions can be a force for good in the lives of their customers. And, doing good by your customers leads to powerful business outcomes. Our best sources of new customers are our existing happy customers. Our cardholders tell their friends, families, and neighbors about us. They can and will be advocates for us, if we are advocates for them. We believe the NetSpend Foundation is the start of a new, exciting journey to support loyal customers in life-changing ways.