Financial literacy is a core life skill for participating in modern society. But how many of us have been educated about money; the importance of budgeting and saving for a rainy day; how bank accounts and debt work and when it makes sense to save for a pension? Our brief research to date indicates a shockingly low level of financial literacy in the general population. And, it does not look like this will get better soon; regarding improving financial literacy, the Financial Services Authority stated in 2003 that “Never has the need been so great or so urgent”. And yet many children will go through school without an hour spent studying financial literacy. Furthermore, efforts to improve financial literacy at older ages are either non-existent or piecemeal at best.
The consequences of poor financial literacy are especially damaging for vulnerable people. Vulnerable groups of people are most at risk of making poor financial decisions throughout their lives, which has negative consequences for saving, home ownership, debt levels, retirement and financial inclusion. In this paper, we consider various mechanisms to protect such financial customers, whilst recognising that improving financial literacy is not a silver bullet to improve customer outcomes from financial products.
Financial literacy cannot be brought to a point where the public can understand many financial products without support and advice. But surely, awareness of basic financial literacy principles can be raised, including the most important: when to seek support and advice before undertaking important financial decisions. The paper suggests some key principles for financial literacy and will also consider methods and tools to allow the public to access much-needed support and advice.