Standing in front of about 350 student-athletes from the University of Alabama, Eric Smith wanted to talk frankly.
Thanks to new NCAA legislation, athletes at the Division I level now receive annual cost-of-attendance stipends that help with extra expenses that athletic scholarships don’t cover. The job of Smith, the Financial Literacy Coach, is to partner with Regions Bank to teach the athletes how to spend their money wisely through saving and good-sense money management.
Smith’s appearance in Tuscaloosa is part of Regions Bank’s ongoing work with Southeastern Conference schools to teach student-athletes how to succeed in school and beyond through financial education.
“This is a natural partnership for Regions because of our long-term relationships with these schools and our role as the official bank of the Southeastern Conference,” said Paul Hodges, head of Corporate Sponsorships for Regions Bank. “Our financial education offers better understanding of today’s economic realities, not only for student-athletes but for our customers, our communities and even our own associates.”
Regions-led financial education kicked off at the University of Mississippi in time for the fall semester with a Reality Fair, a fun and fast-paced introduction to life economics.
Freshman students entering a room were given a card with a monthly salary. The next step: Navigate life’s expected and unexpected turns.
Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Regions Bank has been the official bank of the SEC for more than 20 years. As a major sponsor, Regions offers financial education to academic institutions at no cost.
The first step at the University of Alabama also led student-athletes through a Reality Fair, with Regions bankers helping students work on balancing expenses from their actual cost-of-attendance stipends with stations for housing, utilities, auto, cell phone and groceries. The exercise gave the students a glimpse into real-word expenses.
“This was a first,” said Jessie Gardner, director of Student-Athlete Enhancement at the University of Alabama. “Financial education is something we wanted to put more emphasis on, so we brought in Regions to do a presentation with our freshmen. The way they did this was engaging and interactive. Let’s be honest, there’s only so much active engagement with a Power Point.
“As a result, this was so much more effective.”
At Alabama, the Reality Fair was just the first of four components.
Regions has plans to teach about how cost-of-attendance changes impact students. Other components include money management, an off-campus housing workshop and advanced-level budgeting to prepare for life after college.
“I think it’s different and unique,” Gardner said. “The majority of the class was made up of freshmen, and they haven’t taken a lot of financial courses. So this was basic budgeting, which they need to learn.
“This course is part of our partnership with Regions, and since it began we’ve been impressed with Regions with what they had available to do and what they put on the table this year. Financial education really is a higher-needs issue.”
Regions also delivered Smith, the Financial Literacy Coach, at Mississippi State, the University of Missouri and Vanderbilt. The financial education program at Mississippi State included 100 members of the football team. At the University of Missouri, three consecutive sessions with student-athletes were completed. In all, 329 members of Missouri athletics teams participated. His presentation at Vanderbilt continued a financial education partnership with Regions that began in 2014.
Smith’s up-tempo presentation covered topics including budgeting, saving money, mutual funds and compound interest. In the weeks ahead, Smith is scheduled for presentations at five other schools, including universities that are part of Regions’ partnership with HBCUs such as Tennessee State University in Nashville.
“Learning to manage money,” said Missouri’s Kim Bishop, Associate Athletic Director in charge of Student Athlete Development, “has become vital to student-athletes as soon as they arrive on campus because of new NCAA rules that award cost-of-attendance stipends.
“My biggest takeaway from the event was that it confirmed for me that student-athletes need consistent financial literacy education,” Bishop added. “They are so focused on their academics and sport that they often overlook the basics of budgeting, saving and the impact this has on their future.”
Smith’s rapport has also made a positive impact.
“Eric Smith has a very unique way of relating to the student-athletes and connecting with them immediately. His program is creative, but basic enough for the student-athletes to understand. He talks on their level and in terms that they can relate to,” Bishop added.
Jelicia Mallory, Corporate Sponsorships at Regions, was tasked with finding a financial education solution specifically aimed at student-athletes. She said combining Regions’ institutional knowledge and existing education initiatives with Smith provides outreach opportunities designed to help student-athletes learn the essentials of money management and how to make sound financial decisions.
“At Regions, we feel that it is our responsibility to promote financial literacy in the communities we serve, so we plan to continue building on this key initiative.” Mallory said. “The money-management skills these student-athletes are learning will benefit them not only while they’re in college, but also for years to come, whether they enter professional sports, the business community or wherever their careers may take them.”