Business | Your Money

Consumers' financial education is important for a country's stability

Visa aims to reach 20m people worldwide with its new money literacy tools

  • By Cleofe Maceda
  • Published: 00:00 May 8, 2010
  • Gulf News

For years, some concerned private and public sector groups have advocated for financial education, emphasising how improved understanding around finances can help ordinary consumers with so many decisions impacting their lives, from credit card use to mortgage to retirement planning.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, for instance, teams up each year with financial service providers to educate consumers on various topics, such as budgeting, basic banking, saving for college, getting a mortgage, among others. Many consumers have already used such educational activities free of charge.

"Each year, we have a programme called Money Smart Week, where the bank cooperates with hundreds of partners around the Chicago area to promote financial literacy and what we ask our partners to do is put on events, seminars, educational activities so the consumers can benefit by attending those classes and seminars," says Douglas Tillett, the bank's vice president for public affairs, in an interview with Gulf News at the Financial Literacy and Education Summit.

"We cover a host and diverse variety of topics, so if you're a consumer, you can literally shop from hundreds of seminars and events, so you can find the right programme for you. We've done this for nine years now and we feel it's a pretty good mix."

Different countries

Tillett says they would love to expand their efforts globally, though different countries address financial illiteracy in different ways. "We recognise it's a problem in every country. No matter where you are in the world, if you're worried about where your next meal is coming from, whether you have a shelter, it's going to be very disturbing and very distressing to live life that way.

"Let's face it, even if you understand how to build wealth, or even if you understand the need for personal savings, the products that the financial services industry throughout the world now offers are so complicated. They're so diverse. Many of them are so hard to understand, so we need to provide consumers the necessary information."

And there's a compelling reason for authorities to spearhead the financial literacy campaigns: consumers' financial well-being is tied to a country's economic stability.

"The reason we get involved, to be perfectly honest, is we also know financial stress is the single largest reason why families break up.

"So, you're in a situation where the economy is fragile, people are stressed out about their finances, unemployment is still very high and we thought it's time to take action and see if we could help empower individuals," says Duncan Niederauer, chief executive officer and director of New York Stock Exchange Euronext, at the literacy summit.

Euronext has just launched its literacy initiative, a piece of which is a website (nysemoneysense.com) which people can visit and learn how to think about what they earn, how much of those earnings should be saved or can be spent, what their borrowing power is or how they should think about borrowing.

Commitment

Visa, which has been developing financial literacy programmes for more than a decade, recently made a commitment to reach 20 million people worldwide with financial literacy information by May 1, 2013.

Jennifer Kuperman, Visa's head of global corporate social responsibility, announced at the summit that they have already reached 10 million people.

One of its latest initiatives is the educational video game called Financial Football, which has been translated into 10 different languages and distributed at no cost not only in the US, but in other countries too.

According to Roger Espinoza, a major league soccer player for the Kansas City Wizards, Visa's video game has been used one million times since its launch about seven months ago.

Curriculum

Michelle Greene, deputy assistant secretary for financial education and financial assets of the US Department of Treasury, says they are working hard to ensure that schools incorporate financial literacy into their curriculum.

"What we've seen in this crisis is that the financial well-being of individuals really affects their communities and that really affects national financial stability, so we see financial education as a critical component of ensuring our financial stability going forward," she told Gulf News.

"The bottom line is that you need to understand finances in a way that enables you to plan for your future, that enables you to save for your child's education, or to plan for your retirement or to plan for the unexpected emergencies that may come up.

"And if you have the knowledge and the information that you need to do that, you will be on sounder financial footing and you will be able to secure your financial future."

She says other countries can learn from their programmes in the US, in the same way that they have a lot to learn from what other countries are doing as well.

"It goes both ways. Certainly, there are many countries that are doing some fantastic work in this.

"We work with our international counterparts to both teach and learn from them, to share best practices and to really figure out what it is that works best," Greene says.

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