Canadian consumers need to bolster financial literacy

Canadian consumers need to bolster financial literacy Financial literacy surveys indicate many consumers lack a sufficient understanding of the financial products and services available to them and, as a result, are challenged in making the financial dec

Financial literacy surveys indicate many consumers lack a sufficient understanding of the financial products and services available to them and, as a result, are challenged in making the financial decisions that best suit their needs. Unfortunately, Canada is not exempt from this trend.

Consumer protection is ensured by three core aspects. First, a strong regulatory system allows us to ensure the rights and interests of financial consumers are respected. Second, consumer education ensures financial consumers understand their own rights and responsibilities as well as financial products and services. Last, financial literacy is about helping Canadians build the skills and confidence they need to better manage their money and financial affairs.

This increasingly complex financial world has led the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada to develop an array of publications, innovative resources and tools for consumers and build a financial literacy program to help youth and all Canadians acquire the knowledge and skills to transact with the financial sector and manage their finances more effectively.

Financial literacy is a life skill that must be learned early. I like to say that becoming more financially literate is basically like learning to read and write. It is much better, if not crucial, to learn it in school rather than in the real world when mistakes become costly.

In September 2008, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada launched a web-based tool to help youth acquire greater financial know-how. The City: A Financial Life Skills Resource is a bilingual program developed in partnership with the British Columbia Securities Commission and designed to complement all of Canada’s provincial and territorial curricula.

Moreover, a new course called Financial Basics was piloted in Toronto in collaboration with the Ontario Investor Education Fund, George Brown College and journalist Ellen Roseman. An independent assessment recommended the course be expanded across Canada and the commission is now developing a complete program for youth and adults alike.

Of course, boosting financial literacy and supporting and championing financial education is no small task. We know a spirit of collaboration is fundamental to achieving concrete results. Our many strategic partnerships are therefore crucial to making these creative initiatives come to life.

Ottawa’s commitment to the issue of financial literacy is indisputable. It has supported the commission’s financial literacy program since 2007 by allocating funds as continuous support for the agency’s activities and initiatives. Also, in 2009, the government announced the appointment of the task force on financial literacy, a national group mandated to provide recommendations on a country-wide strategy to increase the level of financial literacy in Canada.

The task force on financial literacy will be conducting public consultations across the country from April 6 to May 13. I encourage all of you to share your views and opinions on the subject of financial education by taking part in these consultations.

Let’s all take the opportunity to actively participate in the Canadian marketplace. (See related column on page 23)

Ursula Menke, commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Ottawa