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Last week I asked a colleague familiar with the financial industry a simple question: What’s the difference between financial literacy and financial education? Her first reaction was, “Oh, that’s pretty clear…” Then after a few seconds of thought, she conceded that the distinction wasn’t so clear.

She’s not alone. The difference between the two is somewhat murky, though simple. Financial literacy is the level of understanding about basic financial concepts an individual has accumulated. Financial Education is intervention intended to boost the level of financial literacy.

The New Rule of Engagement

At the June meeting of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC), a joint committee comprised of representatives from 19 government departments, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez stated, “The onus has shifted to consumers to make critical decisions for retirement security. Education has not kept up.”

He went on to cite a global survey of financial literacy in which the US ranks 14th behind Singapore and the Czech Republic. Even worse, a survey by George Washington University found that only 14% of Americans passed the test for basic financial literacy covering fundamental topics such as inflation, compound interest, and financial diversification. More than 70% passed the same test in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden…more than 60% in Canada.

Among people with self-directed plans, about half report not feeling very confident in their ability to make good investment decisions. Fewer than half of women report that they are mostly or very confident that they will make the right investment choices. Lew concluded, “This lack of confidence points to the need for both good financial education and sound investment advice.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor (DOL) is working on new rules to govern the unfair practices of many financial advisers in double-dipping fees and commissions. When you combine the pervasive, chronic financial ignorance in the US with the absence of standards and ethics for financial advisers, consumers lose.

Department of the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew addressed new DOL Conflict of Interest Rules directed at fiduciaries (financial advisers) calling them, “an important step towards ensuring…Americans who are increasingly responsible for their own retirement planning can get that advice and trust it, knowing it’s in their best interest.” The new Rule emphasizes the importance of education to help Americans manage their investments and plan for their futures.

Transforming Selling to Buying

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Edutainment can improve engagement in financial education.

Life and retirement brands have a great opportunity to gain consumer trust through educational intervention. If the focus is first placed on growing relationships though educating prospects, financial brands can postpone triggering fiduciary responsibilities until the prospect is ready to buy.  Smart life and retirement companies are becoming increasingly innovative with financial education that leads to elevated financial literacy. Sales results can be elevated by first intervening with consumer financial education at the critical point of category interest (AIDA model), helping consumers make informed buying decisions, rather than just being sold.

GroPartners Consulting Financial Marketing provides financial clients with expertise and guidance in producing highly engaging financial education programs. Our experience and scope includes interactive videos, life-stage targeted “edutainment” series, and web and digital tools and assets designed to elevate financial literacy.


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from Amazon.com.