financial-literacy-education

Making time for clients’ financial education is a core part of your job. Even if you’re stretched for time and have multiple accounts, skipping this step is a mistake.

If you do, then a client’s ability to manage income and expenses and to save properly for the future—because he lacks knowledge or is falsely confident in his financial skills—can be compromised.

Inadequate financial literacy can lead to a lack of financial confidence and preparedness. StatsCan’s latest Canadian Financial Capability Survey (CFCS) found only 7.1% of adults surveyed considered themselves “very knowledgeable”; on average, people answered only 8.7 knowledge questions out of 14 correctly. And, even though two-thirds of non-retirees said they were saving, more than half (60%) weren’t sure how much money they needed for retirement.

Conversely, misplaced confidence is also a risk. In a 2015 survey of Canadian adults that was coordinated by the OECD’s International Network for Financial Education, 85% rated their knowledge as average or above, but only 61% answered at least five of seven knowledge questions correctly. One-third had expenses that exceeded income, and half were underprepared for loss of a primary income source.

Of course, educating investors and championing financial literacy isn’t solely up to you. FCAC’s financial literacy leader, Jane Rooney, and her staff have been working with the provinces and territories to integrate financial literacy into elementary and high school curricula, since schools are under provincial control and there’s no standardized, national approach, Rooney said during a late-May interview with AE. For example, Quebec has introduced a mandatory personal finance course.

Still, for today’s investors and as Rooney told us, “The advisor is critical. People want to learn from professionals.” After all, “We’re all individuals and information has to be tailored to our own situations. Who’s better placed to help someone than their own advisor?”

Since Canadians’ financial literacy must be improved, she said to make sure you’re supporting clients by addressing these four “foundational pieces”: budgeting and setting up emergency savings; paying down debt; planning and saving; and preparing for retirement.

This may not sound too hard, given these tasks are already part of your job. And when it comes to tailoring investment solutions, both existing KYC best practices and incoming regulations encourage you to know as much about clients’ lives, financial knowledge levels, needs and finances as possible, versus just objective financial details.

However, it’s tough to figure out how and when to assist individual clients who are struggling, especially when it comes to pinpointing their knowledge gaps. Further, many of today’s client documents and processes require clients to self-assess their experience and knowledge levels. Misplaced confidence could lead to mischaracterizing a client as knowledgeable and secure.

One way to supplement client answers is with other financial knowledge tests. FCAC’s financial literacy quiz includes 30 detailed queries covering people’s financial habits and knowledge. It also compares results to those of average Canadians. Having clients take this and other behavioural finance tests, and helping them dissect the results, could open up deeper conversations about clients’ strengths, insecurities and fears.

After assessing their knowledge, encourage clients to regularly ask about unfamiliar concepts, and to voice their questions and doubts. If they don’t want to appear unknowledgeable or think you’re too busy, they may hold back.

Also be prepared to help clients who are knowledgeable and justifiably confident, and who want to know more about investing and markets. Current financial literacy-focused programs and resources cover the basics but won’t be enough for high-level investors. Offer to discuss more complex topics that are relevant to them, or try setting up sessions between these clients and experts you rely on (portfolio managers or accountants, for example.)

If you take these steps, your efforts will be rewarded. An informed investor is a more comfortable and confident one, who’s better positioned to weather ups and downs. For stronger, longer-term relationships, where clients respect and trust you more, bolster and tailor the financial education portion of your holistic planning package.

Katie Keir is Content Editor of Advisor's Edge. Email her at Katie.Keir@tc.tc.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge

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