Preparing African Youth: Developing Financial Literacy at a Young Age

It’s a cliche to say that children are our future. But of course, it’s true. The decisions made by children and adolescents influence the development of societies, and that effect will only strengthen as they become fully-fledged social and economic actors. If societies are to flourish, people must be prepared for success through youth financial literacy. When the National Financial Educators Council asked young adults in the United States what educational course would benefit their lives the most, the majority responded with “money management.” Any adult readily grasps the importance of financial literacy, but how well are we preparing today’s youth?

This question has heightened importance in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, microfinance has boomed. Coupled with the digitization of financial products, access to capital is easier than ever before. However, this has produced some ill-willed lenders—including telecoms—offering easy access to credit to the detriment of low-income clients’ financial wellbeing. This is leading to client over-indebtedness in many African countries. The client protection principles espoused by the Smart Campaign is one mechanism for countering this situation. Another solution to this problem, though, lies in developing greater financial literacy among microfinance clients, especially youth. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in the absence of financial education, individuals and households “are more prone to indebtedness and bankruptcy.”

More than 600 million people under the age of 25 live in Africa. This enormous youth population—and future workforce—must be prepared for the temptation of easy credit from unscrupulous lenders. Rudimentary aspects of finance and money-management must be imparted on African youth. Perhaps the best way to teach is through hands-on education, for example, by opening real savings accounts for young people. The earlier we can teach children to save, the stronger this habit will become. An OECD report, Improving Financial Literacy, stated, “Exposing and connecting children to financial service providers at an early age allows them to recognize the role that such institutions play in society.”

What’s more, we can strengthen the determination of young people to manage their money properly and well by explaining the connection between good financial management and long-term personal success. We know that opening a savings account at a young age not only has implications for financial literacy, but also for wealth creation: In the West, a $1 pension contribution by a 20-year-old is equivalent to a $20 pension contribution by a 50-year-old.

Microfinance institutions like FINCA have a role to play in safeguarding clients’ financial wellbeing and promoting financial literacy. Here are three ways this can be achieved:

1) Provide financial literacy education for adults and youth

Many of FINCA’s global microfinance subsidiaries offer financial literacy trainings. Topics include borrowing wisely, saving regularly, understanding product terms and conditions, managing personal finances and more. FINCA is also exploring ways to offer clients financial education through our expanding network of banking agents.

2) Explore SMS-enabled financial literacy courses

As digital financial services and mobile money accounts grow, financial service providers are increasingly interacting with clients through digital tools. The mechanisms for educating clients on financial products must also grow as these delivery channels multiply. SMS-based financial literacy courses would be a great compliment to these new financial products made possible by mobile phone technology.

3) Introduce goal-oriented mobile savings solutions

Goal-setting is critical to personal and professional success. To build the habit of saving, microfinance institutions should look to introduce goal-oriented, mobile-based savings products, either independently or in partnership with mobile network operators. FINCA’s subsidiary in Tanzania launched just such a product in partnership with Halotel. This product allows FINCA clients in Tanzania to save securely to a mobile wallet and set savings targets, like saving for a child’s education. This comes in addition to branch-based youth savings products offered by FINCA’ subsidiaries in Nigeria and Uganda.

Children are indeed our future, and we should give careful thought to developing the financial knowledge and habits of young people. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, this has large implications for the economic development of nations. But ideas mean nothing without execution. Across sub-Saharan Africa, FINCA is looking at ways to give customers the information they need to make good decisions for themselves. That’s why we are keenly focused on offering financial literacy programs and savings products benefitting the next generation.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.