The topic of financial literacy seems to be a never ending discussion about what needs to be done, how to do it and who is responsible for getting it done.
Aside from the fact that there are adult individuals who lack a basic understanding of simple financial transactions, what is more frightening is that an even greater number of our young people, the adults of tomorrow, also lack the knowledge of how to handle their finances.
This problem of educating people about ways to save, how to balance a checkbook, the difference between debit and credit cards, getting a car loan, applying for a student loan and the myriad of other financial decisions one needs to make in a lifetime, is not a new one. It is a problem that has not been limited to a specific generation but has actually been passed down from one to another.
Some may argue that this is a problem that needs to be addressed in the schools. Recently in one state they enacted a law requiring students pass a civics test before graduating from high school. I believe that is an excellent idea. Everyone should have the basic knowledge of the history of our country as well as the state in which they live. They should know about the different forms of government, how people are elected to office and the importance of voting. It’s sad when many people do not know the name of the Vice President.
So if students must learn civics, why not also require them to be instructed on basic financial tools prior to graduation? There are so many ways financial education can be taught. A one day class for graduating seniors or ten hours set aside during a school year with each hour devoted to a different financial subject. The instructor could be a teacher or an individual drawn from the financial community. Knowing how to save and borrow is perhaps even more important than knowing who is the Vice President.
Financial institutions also need to be involved. The role of educating customers does not end at telling them what products are available. It must extend to finding out what is best for each customer, explaining how each product works and advising them what best suits their needs.
Such an effort will of course cost time and money on the part of financial institutions. Staff will need to be trained not only in product offering but also how to explain to the customer what the product is, what it does and how customers can benefit from using it.
Financial institutions for years have scheduledseminars, institutional classes and learning events for their customers only to have attendance so low that they stopped holding them. In spite of that setback, financial institutions must take the lead to create the opportunities that will result in a better educated population.
One suggestion has been when the customer asks for a product, be it a simple account or a complicated loan, the financial institution provide the required education of that product at the point of sale. Again, the time and money factor comes into play but no one can argue the benefits gained by having an educated customer. That little extra time to fully explain, ask questions and give good direction will result in goodwill, understanding and trust as well as repeat business.
Providing written or on-line material about products and services may help in some way but no one can argue the success of person to person instruction. While an institution may provide such material, real success will only be achieved by going above and beyond the written word.
So where does the responsibility lie for financial education? Is it with government or the private sector? To be fair, let’s say the responsibility lies with both sectors. But if we wait for government to act, it may not get done any time soon if ever. That leaves it up to the financial institutions. By taking the lead in this effort, they and their customers will benefit from what they do resulting in a better educated population.
There are many ways to go about achieving financial literacy success. It’s a challenge but one that all financial institutions must accept and work towards. Working with their national and state trade associations, financial institutions should consider the following:
- Contact your Governor and state legislators and encourage them to require financial education in the class room and that it is made a prerequisite to graduation.
- Contact the schools in the communities you serve and offer to send your staff to discuss and educate them about financial services.
- Make certain all your officers, directors and employees are aware of all products offered and are able to talk about the value they provide to the customer.
- Develop a program within your financial institution which would require your staff to educate the customer about the specific service they are requesting.
- On your web site encourage customers to come in at their convenience to learn how your products can help them.
Education is the key to financial literacy. Everyone accepting responsibility to do all they can towards that education is the solution.
The more everyone knows, the better their lives will be.