‘Imagine you have a lot of mangoes on your farm and your neighbor has lots of tomatoes. You make a bargain and he says he will give you three tomatoes for every mango you give him. If you give him fourteen mangoes, how many tomatoes do you expect him to give back to you?’
This question, amongst others, has been asked in the 2009 and 2011 Kenya FinAccess surveys. If you got the answer to this question right (see end of the blog for the correct answer), congratulations! It may be an indication that you are financially literate. Or would you rather be financially capable? ‘Financial Literacy’ and ‘Financial Capability’ are two terms many have heard about and usually they are used interchangeably. However, in a recent World Bank publication, which tries to ‘Make Sense of Financial Capability Surveys around the World’, the authors (Perotti, Zottel, Iarossi, and Bolaji-Adio) reviewed key approaches to measure financial literacy and capability. In doing so, they identified Financial Literacy to be often associated with financial knowledge.
Does everyone need financial education? (Credit: Bill Ruhsam, Flickr)
I am not at all sure I could live on a few dollars a day. Why would I think that those who do need financial education? Yet in any meeting or conference on financial inclusion, someone will clamor for financially educating the poor and all will readily nod. Please allow me to side-step the substance of the issue, for I have no new empirical evidence to bring to the table either way. What I find curious is why the idea that poor people are lacking essential financial literacy skills is so prevalent among the non-poor. Let me propose five reasons.
1. The poor mis-spend
Who hasn’t wondered why it is you can find Coke bottles in the poorest communities in developing countries? Who hasn’t had a pang of doubt upon seeing reams of shiny bags of candy hanging from the shabbiest stalls in the remotest villages? And you’re thinking: my parents didn’t buy me this stuff! Well, it might be because your parents had plenty of other ways to reward you and each other. Think toys, ski trips, family outing to a restaurant, gifts, etc. Next to these things, splurging one day on some candy and a Coke seems downright meaningless. But for many it might be the easiest way to create magical family moments, to transcend a dreary daily routine. If it helps keep the family going and united, it might be a bargain. We musn’t pass judgment on how the poor spend their money, for we cannot imagine the job that they are ‘hiring’ those seemingly superfluous products to fulfill.
An increasing number of countries are developing national strategies for financial education and implementing programs to enhance people’s financial capability. At least 36 countries have already established or are in the process of designing a national strategy for financial education according to the OECD. Boosting people’s ability to take sound financial decisions has emerged as a new policy objective, both in developed and developing countries. The recent financial crisis has reinforced the view that being financially capable is important. However, let’s take a step back. What do we know about how capable people are in different countries across the world in managing their finances? Which knowledge and skills gaps exist that could be filled with financial capability enhancing programs? Which populations are the least financially knowledgeable and capable and would benefit the most from any interventions?
Imagine you need a car to commute long distances to your workplace or the closest supermarket, to visit your parents and to bring your child to school. Therefore, you want to spend the money you have been able to put aside on a large purchase: a new and reliable car. However, you do not know how to drive, nor how do you have even a basic understanding of any technical aspects of a car, not to mention any knowledge about how to maintain a car.
Also, imagine that everything you have heard so far about car dealers from your family, friends and neighbors is that they have a very bad attitude, do not act in your best interest and try to sell you overpriced vehicles with hidden fees and features you do not need. Given your lack of knowledge of how to choose and use a car and your lack of trust, would you still feel confident about approaching a car dealer? Most probably not.
This analogy also applies to one’s participation in financial markets. Especially in developing economies, where most globally unbanked people live. If you do not have knowledge of features and risks associated with financial products, do not know how to choose and use these products, lack any basic understanding of inflation, interest rates and compound interest, it is unlikely that you will participate in financial markets, or that you will benefit from them if you do. A lack of trust in financial service providers will do the same.
This post concludes our Closing the Gap: Financial Inclusion blog series, which shares the views of selected experts and practitioners on different financial inclusion topics.
The field of financial literacy and capability has many open questions in terms of priorities, what the most effective interventions are and even basic measurement data and evidence of impact. However, one aspect of this topic where there is growing consensus relates to the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships that leverage both public and private sector actors, as well as civil society.
As in any significant endeavor that attempts to change or reinforce consumer behaviors (encouraging savings, promoting prompt repayment of loans, taking steps to mitigate risk such as diversification of assets or buying insurance) communicating through multiple channels and partners can strengthen the effectiveness of the message. Figure 1 below shows the many types of stakeholders that may be involved in the development of financial literacy and capability programs and policies. These span the gamut from central banks and ministries of finance to commercial banks, microfinance institutions and other providers, schools, religious institutions and media firms.