Since 2004, April has officially been recognized as Financial Literacy Month, with the blessing of the U.S. Senate. However, its origins go back even further. This effort originally started as a single day to help educate youth before expanding to a full 30 days and reaching more Americans who have questions and needs.
Financial illiteracy has plagued our nation for way too long. Money is one of the leading causes of stress. And as we all know, we don’t just limit our stress to our at home “off hours.” This is something that we carry with us throughout the day, thus impacting our lives on a regular basis. I can’t help but wonder if we’d be able to alleviate at least some of this stress if our nation was better informed about money at a younger age.
Grandma’s Life-Long Lesson
My relationship with money started at a very young age. My first real experience with it was when my grandmother took me to open my first checking account in the 8th grade. She had worked for Standard Bank for over 30 years, working herself up to a vice president position.
As soon as I graduated grammar school, she took me up to our local branch and had me sit down with a personal banker to open the account. Having my own account gave me the ability to deposit and withdraw money (with my mother’s permission, of course). It taught me responsibility, it taught me about how interest is earned, and it taught me how to keep good records and a close eye on account activity. At the time, I was more excited about the $25 a month my grandmother planned to put in my account each month, but now I can appreciate the value in the whole process.
A Critical Class
Not everyone grew up with a grandmother who worked in a bank and felt strongly about financial literacy, but that doesn’t mean there are not available options for your client’s children and grandchildren to become more educated about finances. In high school, I took an economics elective, which I thought would be a good way to expand my interest in money.
The information Coach Rod taught us in that one semester was extremely valuable to everyday living. He taught us how to balance a checkbook (I had a leg up on this thanks to Grandma), how to prepare Form 1040EZ (I did my own taxes through college because of this.) and many other valuable skills and tools. Coach Rod did the best he could with the limited time he had. The problem that I see at this point in my life is that this class was an elective.
In my opinion, a financial literacy class should be mandatory for every student, no matter what track they’re on in school. Whether they’re preparing for college, trade school or direct entry into the workforce, would taking a semester to learn the basics on money management really derail those tracks? I don’t really see how it could.
Make a Difference
The nation is starting to listen. Some great people out there are stressing the basics of financial literacy. Dr. Craig Lemoine at the University of Illinois is doing wonderful things in this department. He has created an Intro to Personal Finance class that has seen its enrollment grow from 50 in 2017 to over 650 today. That is 2% of the entire undergrad population at the University of Illinois, which is an incredible feat if you ask me.
I believe it’s our duty as advisors to help eradicate this illiteracy endemic. Our purpose should be to educate and inform the public. This can take many forms. You need to find what works best for you. Perhaps you are most comfortable writing. If that’s the case, start with a newsletter or blog for your current clients and prospects. Maybe you, like me, are part of that rare breed that enjoys speaking to groups.
There are endless opportunities to share your knowledge in a public forum. Social media is a great place to start. These platforms can accomodate anything from 280 characters to full length videos. Embrace what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to be try different avenues and become uncomfortable.
The key to providing this information is to be genuine in your mission. Providing clear, concise and accurate information in a non-threatening manner will go a long way. The public has been trained to sense when they are about to be sold. They don’t need another “timeshare” pitch to force them into an advisory relationship. They are looking for knowledge to help educate them on one of the biggest decisions they will make in their lifetime: when to retire.
This is not to say that “marketing” through education could not be a viable avenue to acquire new clients, but let them come to you naturally. If you are sincere with your motives in providing pure education the public will recognize that and will naturally gravitate towards you. It may be more of a long game, but being consistent will prove to bear fruit.
There are many organizations that present educational material to the public with no selling at all. The Society for Financial Awareness (SOFA) is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to spread financial literacy across the community. Their presentations are purely educational and do not discuss any particular products or engage in sales pitches. SOFA is invited to workplaces, houses of worship and other community locations to provide financial education in a very friendly and non-intimating manner.
Professional organizations including the Financial Planning Association and AARP are always hosting pro bono financial planning activities. This is a great way to give back to the community and provide just a little bit of knowledge to help someone make a more informed decision.
Everyone Needs Financial Literacy
Our nation is starting to hit a tipping point. Baby boomers are in the midst of the “great retirement.” With 10,000 people turning 65 each day until 2030, the need has never been greater to provide financial literacy. Remember, this isn’t just for those approaching retirement or for those still in school. The entire community needs this.
We as a whole are vastly underprepared when it comes to our personal finances. It is our obligation as a nation to help the next generation become better prepared for whatever our economy throws in our direction. Increasing financial literacy in our communities can only help and create a vastly more certain outcome.
Greg. Kurinec, CFP, MFRC (Master Registered Financial Consultant) is an advisor with Bentron Financial Group in Downers Grove, Ill. He works exclusively with people at or near retirement and has been providing educational workshops for over 15 years. Greg is a volunteer with The Society for Financial Awareness (SOFA). You can learn more about SOFA here.