- Financial literacy is the understanding of basic personal finance concepts such as budgeting, risk management, investments, trade-off between risk and returns, good and bad credit etc.
- Personal finance know-how will become extremely critical for every individual in the near future, as there is less dependence on extended family and community, and more reliance on own abilities, financial institutions and the state for financial well-being.
- While there have been initiatives by the government and entrepreneurs to address financial literacy, one major area that’s still lagging behind is the incorporation of personal finance education in schools and colleges.
The need for financial education has never been greater. With the pandemic affecting lives and livelihoods of innumerable families, many have found themselves scrambling to get their finances together in times of distress. Is the Indian population equipped with the right knowledge and skills to hold their finances together, come what may? Unfortunately, a country of 1.3 billion, that boasts a GDP of USD 3 trillion, has a concerningly low financial literacy rate of only 27%. This means that less than one-third of our population is knowledgeable enough to even plan their finances, let alone be prepared for such unprecedented times of financial uncertainties.
What does Financial Literacy mean
To understand financial literacy better, we should first separate it from the concept of financial inclusion. While having an official bank account represents participation of an individual in the financial system, it doesn’t say much about the person’s ability to manage the cash in that account. Financial literacy is the understanding of basic personal finance concepts such as budgeting, risk management, investments, trade-off between risk and returns, good and bad credit etc. Only when an individual has this awareness, will they be able to use it for their upliftment, and in turn raise the overall standard of living in India.
Why is it important
There are a number of trends that are making personal finance know-how increasingly crucial for every individual. The society is moving towards nuclear structure from the extended families and communities that were once the norm, driving a greater need for self-reliance in every aspect of life, including finances. At the same time, there is an empowering shift away from the ‘sole breadwinner’ concept with women stepping out of the shadow of being secondary income-earners. What this means is individuals increasingly have the power, but also the responsibility, of making financial decisions for themselves and their families. Financial literacy is thereby no longer a skill for the ceremonial head or the breadwinner of the family, but one that every individual must be well-versed in.
On a macro level, financial literacy is also extremely important to fully utilise our collective potential as a country. This requires more people to actively participate in capital markets, borrow from lending institutions as well as avail other financial services. For the economy to run like an efficient, well-oiled machine, there needs to be a high volume of funds flowing through the official financial services networks. Not only will it make transactions more transparent and secure, it will also lead to overall economic growth.
Where we stand
Currently, India is lagging behind many other developing nations in terms of financial literacy. The All India Financial Inclusion and Financial Literacy Survey in 2019 reports that less than 1/4th of the rural population and 1/3rd of the urban population meets the minimum target score of financial literacy. The lack of infrastructure in the area of financial education has been a major causal factor behind this.
This has led to many families, especially in rural areas, still remaining highly dependent on informal credit and savings instruments, such as borrowing from unlicensed money-lenders and stashing away cash instead of holding a bank balance. This prevents them from effective financial planning and leaves them vulnerable to financial exploitation. At the same time, since they are not part of official channels, they are not reached through any educational initiatives by financial institutions, propagating a vicious cycle. The result is that financial literacy remains elusive for the majority of the population.
Where do we go from here
There are a number of challenges to attaining a 100% financial literacy rate, but there is also hope. The latest developments in financial technology have made it possible for the remote population of India to make financial transactions on their phone, thanks to mobile and internet penetration in the last few years. This is the first step towards financial inclusion, further paving the way to financial literacy.
RBI has come up with its own initiative – National Strategy on Financial Education (2020-2025) to tackle this issue head on. TV commercials, social media content and other awareness campaigns educating the public on investments, insurance, banking, taxes, provident fund schemes etc. are no longer rare sightings. You would be familiar with the famous tagline “mutual funds sahi hai” from a popular campaign by the AMFI. Such campaigns go a long way in educating the public.
There has also been a surge in start-ups in the fintech domain as well as social entrepreneurship focusing on financial literacy and financial inclusion that have further spurred the growth rate of the financially literate population. The main target audience for these companies are the digitally savvy millennials, who will eventually be taking the reins of this country by holding key positions in government as well as private institutions in years to come.
While these are promising initiatives, one major area that’s still lagging behind is the incorporation of personal finance education in schools and colleges. That is a much needed paradigm shift when it comes to tackling this issue. So far, such content is curated for only those who wish to pursue a career in finance, while the rest struggle through life to get their basics right. We need to prepare the younger generation with the knowledge of how they should manage their money right from the first penny they earn, even before they go out to join the workforce. It will make a world of difference to how the young population go about making the most out of their salary, and hence help them achieve their desired standard of living in a much shorter duration.
Financial literacy will play an instrumental role in enhancing India’s competitiveness in the race of emerging economies. Closer to home, it will be critical to shield us, our families and our communities from the impact of unprecedented events in life. However, to build a financially aware and empowered country is a herculean task, one that can only be realised through continuous and concerted efforts over time not just by the government and financial institutions, but by all of us. At Cashvisory, we are on a mission to empower every individual to make financially savvy decisions, regardless of their knowledge and background. We’re doing our bit, are you ready to join us?