I still remember when I was first taught to balance a budget as a child. There was a feeling of empowerment and a weight of responsibility which accompanied this very simple act — one that positively impacted and guided my financial behavior and decision making ever since.
This comes as no surprise, of course.
Research demonstrates that childhood financial experiences heavily influence adult financial well-being. The financial education of our daughters and sons represents the most effective path to instill and nurture sound financial behavior in future grownups. Furthermore, young people are good at spreading new habits to the rest of the population. The multiplier effects are clear. People with high levels of financial literacy tend to better save and manage credit, diversify investments, and prioritize retirement planning. They can make sound financial decisions. This leads to better economic well-being for themselves, their families, and their communities and societies as a whole.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the financial vulnerabilities of individuals and households across developed and developing countries. As we build back towards a more resilient future, it is critical to create an ecosystem that supports the financial resilience and financial health of today’s youth.
This means incorporating financial literacy as part of a broader strategy that promotes financial health.
We should ask: How can we best equip our youth with the tools to thrive in the future? To build capacity to manage day-to-day expenses, prepare for economic shocks, plan ahead, and feel secure about their finances? This requires a reorientation of our financial literacy programs from simply transferring concepts and knowledge, to cultivating healthy financial habits and decision making. Consistent, coordinated messaging that is delivered in a sustained manner is key.
Programs could be better designed based on data and evidence. It is important to consider young people’s financial literacy levels, behaviors, and situations — along with the available mechanisms for learning inside and outside the classroom. For instance, a five-year youth savings project in four emerging economies showed that tailored savings products that were accessible in school, included strategic parental involvement, and targeted SMS savings reminders helped 130,000 students accumulate almost $1 million US dollars in savings. The children’s values and knowledge related to savings and budgeting improved in the process, along with their attitudes toward banks.
Timing is crucial in delivering financial literacy messages - notably at moments of decision making such as at points-of-sale or points-of-use of financial services. A study followed new account holders who received monthly or semi-monthly SMS reminders about how savings can help them achieve goals. The results showed significant increased balances compared to those who did not receive the messages.
Digital technology can help widely and quickly disseminate tailored content to young audiences through their preferred channels. Social media and other digital platforms could also be used to better understand youth’s financial concerns, which can help craft and deliver more effective financial literacy messages. However, it is important to consider and address the reality that digital channels are not available to everyone.
Financial literacy messages are reinforced with access to financial services that are well-designed to the needs and capabilities of the young. For example, studies have shown while young people’s savings goals vary depending upon their life stage, they usually save for a specific purpose. Reflecting this reality, in Colombia accounts were programmed to enable youth to set savings goals. Nudges and incentives can also be built-in, reinforcing positive financial habits.
With increased and easier access to financial services, it is important that the youth understand the cost and benefits of products, their rights and obligations, and in turn make optimal financial choices.
Policy and regulatory environments should promote a system that informs, protects and addresses concerns promptly and adequately. This will foster the needed trust in the financial system, and the assurance that products and services consider customer voice and choice.
There is a role for everyone. Collaboration among the public and private sector is necessary to ensure that financial education does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it should be embedded in how curriculums are crafted, how financial products are designed and delivered, and how policies are formulated.
Finally, I am very pleased to note that the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion is highlighting the importance of financial capability in their agenda. In particular, this includes: the work to increase awareness by individuals and SMES of the risks and opportunities of digital finance; and, together with OECD, the report on digital financial literacy to support financial resilience. Financial education will always be an important component to ensure that financial inclusion leads to positive outcomes and impacts for development.
Congratulations to the Global Money Week for once again elevating the discussion on financial literacy and galvanizing global support. As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, the GPFI Honorary Patron, and the Honorary Chair of the Dutch Money Wise Platform, I look forward to continuing our work together. These efforts go far beyond this week, and will help our societies reap long-term gains from investing in the financial health of today’s younger generations.