Five Ways Financial Institutions Can Authentically Support Financial Education

January 05, 2022

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Every day, our team receives about half a dozen notifications alerting us to news about financial education programs created by financial institutions and other companies. We’re always curious why these corporations assume they’re experts at education. What if financial institutions leveraged their time, talent, money, and resources in ways that supported education instead of marketing their products and programs to students? Here are five ideas they could engage with instead to truly have an impact on the financial futures of students.

Create Better Products

The market is currently flooded with financial products that are incredibly complex. The best way financial institutions can help people is to create products such as credit cards, loans, insurance policies, and fintech apps that are more transparent and designed to work for customers—not just to profit from them. If these organizations want to best support individuals, they need to fix the fine print designed to trick consumers.

Financial institutions also need to find ways to support individuals in gaining access to financial services such as checking and savings accounts. This means altering the requirements of traditional banks to make banking more accessible for those who have been forced to seek alternative financial services.

Fund Research

Financial education research is incredibly underfunded compared to other content areas like math and science. Financial institutions should be devoting the same serious attention to fundamental research as they do to outsmarting their customers. Financial education needs further understanding of how young people develop financial knowledge, attitudes, and decision-making skills. There needs to be research on how best to support financial educators and how to couple school-based financial education with other financial supports. Finally, the space needs a better grasp on how to change human behavior and how financial education relates to other behavioral change programs. Supporting this research is a key way financial institutions can contribute to the field.

Advocate for State Mandates

Where you live should not determine whether you have access to financial education. Can you imagine a circumstance in which information in high demand would be given to some and withheld from others? This, unfortunately, is the reality of the financial education landscape in the United States today. When financial education is mandated as a high school course, however, all students receive access and must take the required course to graduate. Passing state legislation to mandate financial education in schools leads to positive student outcomes. Studies show students’ credit scores increase, they carry less debt, and they take out less in student loans, among other benefits. To really support students, companies could lobby for a mandate for a single semester of high school financial education in states where they operate.

Fund Development and Access

Educators should be given the tools they need to teach their students. Instead, the burden is placed on them to cobble together their own financial education resources. Fortunately, researchers and curriculum developers know the important financial education content that needs to be taught and how to convey this information to teachers and students. Financial institutions can play an important role by providing access to these independent, objective, unbranded materials by funding their development as well as funding schools’ participation in high-quality, research-based programs.

Support Teachers

In a subject area like financial education, in which meaningful learning can only take place when students’ personal contexts are interwoven throughout the program, dedicated educators play a vital role. Educators who know and care about their learners can facilitate the formation of the critical connections between personal characteristics, varied economic environments, and financial information that make financial education relevant. As with any other subject matter, teachers need a strong foundation in the content. Financial institutions should consider ways to support teacher professional development by funding opportunities that build teachers’ content knowledge and confidence in financial education.

Next Steps

​​How can financial institutions leverage their strengths and resources to support financial education and improve people’s lives? The answer is not crowding the K–12 space with more materials. Creating better financial products, funding research, advocating for state mandates, funding development and access, and supporting teachers are opportunities for financial companies to improve their offerings and achieve their philanthropic goals. We encourage financial institutions to think outside the box and determine how they can support financial education in effective and useful ways.

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