Ashley Fox has spent most of her adult life surrounded by wealth. A graduate of Howard University’s highly regarded business program, Fox interned at three top-tier investment banks on Wall Street during her time in college. After graduation, she secured a position in asset management with one of the biggest banks in the world. Every day, she helped her clients make their money work for them. So, she never expected to find herself evicted from her New York apartment, drowning in debt, and sleeping on her parents’ couch. For Fox, it was like a nightmare come true, but that nightmare was a crucial step for her success.
Fox had been working on Wall Street for 4.5 years when she left her six-figure job to start her own business as an independent financial advisor in 2013. “It often bothered me that things I got exposed to [on Wall Street], no one else within my community knew. I knew my life had greater purpose, and I knew Wall Street was only going to take me so far. I knew that I was capable of being the client and I knew that everyone needed to know they could be too,” Fox explains.
Full of optimism and armed with the knowledge that comes with a finance degree and years of big bank experience, Fox started her business, Empify, an organization that helps clients develop the knowledge and skills to make smart money moves. Her aim was to create a financial resource that would be affordable and accessible to people beyond Wall Street. Her early clients were athletes looking to invest in small businesses. She later expanded to everyday people seeking advice on saving and investment.
But while she was building her business, Fox made a serious misstep of her own. “No one tells you that when running a business, money doesn’t come every two weeks like a job. When I first left my full-time job, I still traveled, shopped, and spent money like I worked on Wall Street. I always had money, so I spent it. Unfortunately, these habits caused me to lose everything,” Fox recalls.
Fox’s mistakes forced her to move back in with her parents while she tried to figure out where she went wrong. Her debt was growing, her savings were shrinking, and her confidence in her ability to run the business she had started was rocked. Doubts about her competence and skills creeped in and she questioned if she was truly in a position to offer financial education.
Fox’s turning point came when she stopped asking, “Why me?” and started thinking about how she could use her experiences to empower others. From seeking out a spiritual advisor and reading the books on the lists of the people who inspired her most, to speaking positive affirmations daily and writing letters to her future self, Fox began to shift her mindset and then to regain her financial footing.
The work Fox did to turn her situation around became the foundation for where she stands today. “This experience gave me the opportunity to empathize with people. Before losing everything, I never knew what it felt like to not have money…bad credit…be late on my bills,” Fox explains. “I never financially struggled in life, but because I have, I am now able to meet people where they are. I am able to empathize with the community I serve, and recognize their greatness despite the financial mistakes they have made. I can now teach what not to do because I did it.”
Through Empify, Fox now does exactly that. Much more than a source for financial knowledge, which Fox notes is easily accessible via Google, Empify EMPowers clients to believe they can have financial security, and helps them modIFY their mindset so they can put the advice Fox offers into practice. Empify provides both one-on-one financial advice and online investment classes for adults (which boasted over 1000 registered participants in 2017). But Fox has found that the most effective way of creating financial change and growth in her community is by teaching the next generation.
“Children haven’t made the mistakes we as adults have made, and children still believe that anything is possible. We can still mold our children, and groom them into [people who are] financially educated,” Fox says.
That’s why a significant part of the work Empify does is with thousands of students in over 50 schools across the states of Pennsylvania and New York. From tours of Wall Street to in-school workshops, Empify is ensuring elementary and high school students learn the fundamentals of personal finances. Empify currently has a contract with the School District of Philadelphia to work with 9th and 10th graders and is also running a full-year financial education program at Bronx school, Highbridge Green School, where grade 8 students are learning about money every week throughout the school year.
Knowing that financial education really begins at home, Fox encourages parents to be their children’s money mentors by examining their mistakes and teaching their children how to do better. She advises parents to take note of their financial errors, write down the lessons they learned from them, take note how they could have prevented those mistakes, and think about how someone could have taught them those lessons.
“By doing this exercise, you have created financial lessons for your children. Tell them. Help them. Show them. Start when they are young, and continue to embed these lessons, examples, and real-life experiences in their minds,” Fox advises.
Fox plans to continue to use her lessons and experiences to help children and adults alike through Empify. Along with their existing programs, Empify implemented a Parent Program for schools in December 2017 and will also be releasing a financial program for churches this month.
“It is my God-given duty to give everything I was given to as many people as I can,” Fox says.
Pauleanna Reid is the Co-Founder of New Girl on the Block, a mentorship platform for millennials. Follow her journey and continue the conversation on Twitter.
By Pauleanna Reid|Women@Forbes