Q&A with NEFE’s New CEO, Billy J. Hensley, Ph.D.

Billy HensleyNEFE is proud to welcome Billy Hensley as president and CEO, effective in July. Hensley currently serves as senior director of education, where he oversees grants and research activities as well as managing several of NEFE’s consumer education programs, collegiate initiatives, e-learning and web strategy.

Prior to joining NEFE in 2010, Hensley received a doctorate in educational studies from the University of Cincinnati and a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Union College. He has worked in educational philanthropy and higher education administration in Colorado, Ohio and his home state of Kentucky, with a focus on financial education, college access and teacher professional development.

What are NEFE’s current strengths?
NEFE influences multiple aspects of financial education, through not only providing high-quality programs and materials, but also funding research and keeping the topic of financial literacy at the forefront of the public’s awareness. NEFE would never be able to have such reach were it not for our wonderfully talented and hardworking staff. Every day the people who work at NEFE come to the office with a sincere desire to be the best they can be for the people they serve.

What are NEFE’s challenges?
The issues associated with financial illiteracy are far-reaching and have many consequences. While NEFE does have an endowment, our resources are not unlimited — especially considering the scope of the problem. In my time at NEFE, we have had to deny funding requests for excellent ideas in order to support the projects that provide the greatest reach and impact. We want to do it all, but sometimes we have to make difficult decisions in the pursuit of our mission to inspire empowered financial decision making for all Americans.

What is NEFE’s role in the immediate future of Americans’ financial capability?
NEFE will always listen to our partners and consumers. It is our goal to be responsive and proactive on all aspects of our work to best serve the needs of our field. We will continue to do what we do well: education, research and awareness. In addition, we will articulate bold goals for our programs, for our vision and for the financial literacy of the country. We will not shy away from saying how our community can improve and we will be clear in the role NEFE will play in that strategy. NEFE will embrace the idea that the future is not a fixed point — the social and economic realities in which people learn and make financial decisions will continuously evolve. We will respond nimbly to these demands with adaptive programming, pioneering research and strategic impact.

What would you like Digest readers to know about you?
I grew up in central Appalachia, in eastern Kentucky. My background taught me to meet people where they are, rather than trying to shape them into who I want them to be. Too often society ignores poor communities. I learned as a kid that everyone deserves respect, and money has nothing to do with that. Some of the poorest people I knew growing up were the best at managing a dollar. Coming from a region that is often ignored, I make it my focus to learn as much as I can from people from all economic backgrounds.

I love telling stories. I guess it is part of my Appalachian heritage. Few things are more fun than telling a great story that makes people laugh and think. At NEFE, we spend a lot of time listening to the needs and challenges of everyday Americans because they are the ones we are trying to serve. I’d like Digest readers to know that this will continue to be a strong focus in NEFE’s future.

Coke or Pepsi?
I like them both equally – but I prefer coffee!