Despite widespread awareness that the state of financial literacy in our country is dire, precious little has been done at the national level to strengthen Americans' understanding of fundamental money management concepts. We must — as an industry — focus our attention and our energy on tackling this critical issue on the local level.
Fortunately, industry associations and nonprofits are hard at work exploring ways to address this crisis in ways that do not require passage of new legislation, or the allocation of limited taxpayer dollars. As a national partner of the Jump$tart Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works to educate and prepare young people for life-long financial success, the Financial Services Institute Inc. is reaching out to our financial adviser members to help them get involved in efforts to teach fundamental money management concepts in districts around the country. In addition, we are working with lawmakers at both the federal and state level to connect them with advisers in their districts who can serve as resources and contribute expertise to legislators' efforts to tackle this problem.
In our work with Jump$tart, we have seen that one major reason for the persistence of financial illiteracy comes down to a lack of coordination and connection. Students, working adults and retirees often do not know where to turn for financial education, many advisers do not know how to get involved and legislators do not know who in their local communities can help them address this challenge effectively.
In light of this, we would urge advisers to bear in mind the following three common-sense steps to help overcome the coordination barrier and strengthen financial literacy efforts in their communities:
1. Let your industry association know about your existing financial education efforts
Many advisers already are involved in financial literacy initiatives. We encourage you to reach out to the FSI or other industry organizations to let them know which activities you are engaged in. This information can enable us to facilitate connections that will help you broaden your reach and build important relationships in your community.
In the case of the FSI, we regularly conduct in-district meetings between our adviser members and their representatives in Congress. Including members who are engaged in financial literacy activities in these meetings helps us demonstrate our industry's commitment to strengthening local communities, introduces lawmakers to expert resources who can help them address this problem and enables advisers to establish relationships with their members of Congress. We also have frequent opportunities to discuss our members' efforts directly with lawmakers in Washington D.C. at events such as Jump$tart's recent Financial Literacy Day on Capitol Hill.
2. If you are not sure how to get started, ask your industry association
Industry associations can also be helpful for advisers who would like to get involved on this crucial issue but are not sure how. Part of the FSI's role as a national partner of the Jump$tart Coalition, for example, is to facilitate connections between local Jump$tart chapters and advisers based on the advisers' interests and expertise. (Of course, if you know the financial literacy organizations that are active in your area, you can always reach out to them directly, as well.)
The FSI and other industry associations will be more than happy to connect you with opportunities to get involved, whether by teaching classes on financial concepts to local high school students, serving on local financial education task forces or speaking panels, and many other activities.
3. Make time to participate in events and other opportunities, and don't hesitate to take part when you have a chance
Financial literacy groups and lawmakers frequently host events at colleges and elsewhere to draw attention to the financial literacy issue. Earlier this month, the FSI worked with Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., and our members to support a financial literacy event at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that focused on helping students plan ahead for the financial choices they will encounter after graduating. And we also worked with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to host financial literacy presentations with our member advisers at a local high school and middle school in the Cleveland area.
We know advisers' time is very valuable and it can be difficult for them to take time out of their day to attend a panel discussion or work a booth at a campus event. By being responsive to opportunities like these, however, advisers can make themselves part of the solution to a crucial problem and put themselves in position to develop powerful relationships with local legislators.
While we are still in the early stages of addressing the challenge of financial literacy in America, we will continue to work with members of our industry, nonprofits and legislators to leverage the tremendous expertise and civic commitment of advisers nationally to tackle this problem. There is no need to wait for new legislation or sweeping new programs — all of us can contribute to this effort today.
Dale E. Brown is president and chief executive of the Financial Services Institute Inc.