Financial literacy is a just and noble cause. Who wouldn’t want to support any effort that places an emphasis on education especially one related to money?
However, a debate continues about the effectiveness of financial literacy efforts. One side argues that financial literacy simply doesn’t work while others believe something is better than nothing.
Something is better than nothing. But, something has to change too.
The debate over financial literacy isn’t about differing money principles. But rather the debate is about the impact financial literacy has to effectively change behavior.
In my financial wellness roadmap, I indicate the journey starts with financial literacy. The area where we begin by uncovering our relationship with money and learning about money fundamentals. It’s also the stage where we recognize our susceptibility to marketing ads that influence our financial decision making.
Financial Education is Important
Financial education efforts have focused on two areas – the financial literacy classes that are taught before decisions are made and financial counseling only after a consumer faces hardships.
I do believe financial literacy classes are needed to help build a foundation. But the information learned is often forgotten by the time financial decisions are made.
This is the current state of financial literacy efforts:
- Focused attention on financial knowledge taught too early before actual financial decisions are made. For example, teaching High School students about mortgages and 401(k)s as opposed to transactional banking products which they’ll have access to sooner than a retirement account.
- Focused attention on financial counseling offered by non-profit companies mostly funded by financial institutions. The knowledge and guidance are often only accessible after the person is in financial distress. For example, creditors do not educate consumers on proper credit before or after credit approval and will only send customers to educational resources after extreme delinquency.
Helaine Olen at Slate wrote that “One recent study published in the journal Management Science found that studying financial literacy has a “negligible” impact on future behavior and that within 20 months almost everyone who has taken a financial literacy class has forgotten what they learned.”
So what impacts your financial decision making?
The marketing engine that understands emotions, feelings and habits play a major role in purchasing.
A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study found that for every dollar spent on consumer financial education about $25 are spent on financial marketing.
In fact, many of the financial literacy efforts are funded by the very financial services that create complicated products and charge outlandish interest and fees.
Just-in-Time Financial Products is Key to Financial Literacy Success
Traditional financial education methods improve knowledge but do little to effectively change purchasing behaviors. These efforts do not take into account the methods many people use in decision-making today–search engines and social interactions.
The biggest problem I’ve seen in financial literacy efforts is the inability to address just-in-time financial products when a consumer needs to make a financial decision.
Financial literacy wants you to be knowledgeable about financial concepts but skips over the knowledge you need to make better choices about the products.
For example, we can educate people on how payday loans are costly but we don’t offer specific alternatives that meet their just-in-time needs.
That’s where Google has become the default go-to place for consumers to find solutions just-in-time.
Search Results Impact on Financial Capability
To become financially well, consumers need better access to products and services when needed.
Consumers are making decisions using “just-in-time” financial information through Google search results. And these results are affected by SEO tactics.
What you see most often are advertorials or blog posts that educate with a goal to share an affiliate product.
There’s nothing wrong with companies sharing effective and useful products and earn income to keep their operations going. In fact, that’s a source of revenue for phroogal too.
I’ve accepted the fact that people are seeking product or service solutions, not just financial information.
Whether we agree with it or not, people are not actively engaging with financial content because it’s fascinating. They do so to learn how products or services can help them achieve their goals.
Google results are increasingly based on search intent which relates to users wanting solutions such as just-in-time financial products, not just informational articles.
Financial literacy classes and counseling sessions are important facets of financial education efforts. But the truth of the matter is that people seek answers to their financial questions when it’s needed and often only relating to a purchase or responding to financial distress.
People want solutions, not just information. Search results reflect the intent of people who seek out the financial information online. They are given financial products as a solution.
To support financial literacy efforts and improve financial capability, we need to address access to financial products in a just-in-time manner. And help consumers find the “just-right” products as well.
How do I see the future of financial capability? An improvement in the ways consumers access just-in-time financial products that is an alternative to the search engine optimized results. It’s why I’ve made it part of my mission to build a financial marketplace.