The American College’s new president wants to see the school expand by breaking out of its insurance niche and focusing on financial services.
The school is moving to a new headquarters with a president who has big plans for its future. He foresees the school doubling its current enrollment of 18,000 through building on its current offerings and growing broader relationships with others in the financial services and educational worlds.
George Nichols began his tenure as The American College’s president and CEO on Nov. 1 after a 17-year career with New York Life. Nichols took the helm at the 92-year-old institution while it is in the midst of a move from its campus in Bryn Mawr, Pa., to office space in the nearby Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia. The move is expected to be completed in mid-May.
This change comes as The American College continues to deliver most of its programs online, no longer needing the 35-acre campus – a former country estate – that has been its home since 1961.
The campus was sold to the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in 2007, but the college continued to have its base of operations onsite at MDRT Foundation Hall, named in honor of the Million Dollar Round Table’s financial support of the facility.
As it leaves old-school, Main Line Philadelphia, the institution is taking on some new-school ways.
“We're never going to be a regular college or university,” Nichols told InsuranceNewsNet. “We're going to be a very nontraditional, niched college that's focused on offering accredited programs in the financial services space for financial advisors. But if we can deliver it the same way as some of the most innovative and creative colleges and universities out there today, then we can have a big impact.”
Nichols said he sees many opportunities for the college to grow through serving more professionals in the financial services space, and making sure the school’s designation programs are relevant and up to date.
“Our name is The American College of Financial Services. However, if you look at our business model, we probably are more The American College of Insurance,” he said. “A large portion of our business – more than 85% - is with the insurance industry.”
The college will continue to offer such well-known insurance industry designations as Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant that have been the bedrock of its curriculum. But Nichols said he wants to make sure the college’s newest designations are relevant to the 21st century financial services professional.
He said his first priority as president is to “build on that core business of insurance and expand it more in the financial services space.”
“Let’s look at our designations and determine which one of those would be as attractive to the broader financial services industry – beyond insurance – and let's rethink about how to position them in that space to where we can try to penetrate that broader market as we have in the insurance space.”
For example, he said, the college’s Retirement Income Certified Professional designation “makes sense in the broader financial services space because there are clients in that space who have retirement needs.”
Wealth management is another area that is growing in importance in the financial services field, Nichols said, making the college’s newest designation – Wealth Management Certified Professional – relevant.
“Then we thought about the clientele that financial professionals have who are probably thinking about their legacy, so our Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy designation makes sense,” he said.
“We also recognized that there’s a large number of people in the financial services space who have clients or loved ones with special needs, so we have our Chartered Special Needs Consultant designation.”
Nichols said he spent his first few months on the job evaluating those four designations, making sure they are up-to-date and relevant to what’s happening in the marketplace. The next steps, he said, are to develop marketing strategies that are aimed after the broader financial services industry, and deepen the understanding of what the college does.
“There is no one that I've found or seen, that has a comprehensive offering of professional designations in the financial services industry that could take a person along their lifelong learning journey than The American College,” he said. “But how do we do a better job of telling that story and helping people understand how we are the best partner, not for a specific designation, but for the whole comprehensive approach of the lifelong journey of learning that people can have?”
Under Nichols’ leadership, the college has hired its first provost to oversee the entire academic experience. A big part of his role will be to position the college in the e-learning space as the institution continues to serve the nontraditional student.
The college also has added a fundraising professional with experience working with foundations, Nichols said.
“We have done exceptionally well over the years in terms of our fundraising, but a lot of that is being driven in the life insurance space,” he said. “Now we have opportunities to go to foundations. There are opportunities for us to go to a broader network of potential donors.”
Another one of Nichols’ goals for the college is to be more effective at helping prepare financial advisors to take care of their clients. In addition, he said, he would like to see the college connect more with consumers. And he suggested the college could connect with more traditional higher-education institutions to enable their business students to obtain professional designations through the college.
“When I think about the future of The American College, I really do believe that our future is bigger and better than what it's ever been,” he said. “I could see our growth doubling in size if we're able to implement and do the things we say we want to do.”
Nichols’s 17 years at New York Life included serving as special assistant to the chairman supporting strategic initiatives related to international marketing and regulatory policy; senior vice president in the Agency Group, and head of New York Life Direct, the company’s Tampa-based direct sales unit. He joined the Office of Governmental Affairs in 2006, assumed its leadership in 2007, and was subsequently named to the company’s Executive Management Committee. In 2017,Nichols also developed an executive leadership institute for the top leaders of the company.
Before joining New York Life, Nichols was the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Insurance, where he regulated the state’s $10 billion insurance industry. Before that, he was the executive director of the Kentucky Health Policy Board, vice president of marketing for Athena of North America, executive director of product development of Southeastern Group, Inc. (dba Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kentucky), executive officer of Central State Hospital in Louisville, and executive assistant to the commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Mental Health/Mental Retardation Services.
He was Kentucky’s first African-American insurance commissioner (1995) and the first African-American president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (1999).
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.
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