The “who” matters in delivering financial education

September 15, 2014

If we want to give young people a head start in building their financial future, we should equip them not just with access to bank accounts but with the knowledge to use them as well. We go back and forth on how best to deliver this knowledge – through formal classes? Games? Social media? TV or radio? – but often do not address who should deliver the financial education. From Women’s World Banking’s experience developing savings programs and financial education programs tailored to the needs of low-income youth around the world, we have been exploring who this “who” might be.

Junior financial counselor going through financial education curriculum (India) Financial education is not a new concept. In our “Banking on Youth” guide to developing innovative youth savings programs, we outlined the three essential pillars of a financial education program: format, content and delivery channels. Many resources exist for the format and content aspects of financial education programming (see “Banking on Youth” for instance) but under delivery channels, the extent of thinking about “who” is around whether institutions should deliver financial education themselves (Unified model) or if a partner (Linked model) or affiliated institution (Parallel model) should deliver it.

After deciding who is responsible for delivering financial education, the industry on the whole has stopped short of asking: what is the right profile of the individuals within the selected institution? Is their age, gender, level of education and community standing appropriate for the customer context and needs, as well as for the type of programming? There are however, some exceptions. The Population Council, for instance, started its “Safe and Smart Savings Products for Vulnerable Adolescent Girls” program in Kenya and Uganda in 2008 and published its evaluation of the program in 2013. By recruiting female mentors from the girls’ communities to deliver financial education and life skills in weekly group meetings, they have shown themselves a pioneer in thinking about these questions.

As Women’s World Banking continues to develop youth savings programs across our network, these questions have always been top of mind. We not only consider the profile of who delivers financial education but also the financial and operational implications for the institution, especially if a partnership has to be developed. Women’s World Banking believes in having a workforce that mirrors its market—how can you serve women well if your staff cannot relate to them? If it’s true for gender, why can’t it be true for age as well?

Mongolia and the Dominican Republic: University Students & Teachers

When we developed the Aspire and Mía youth savings programs together with our network members XacBank in Mongolia and Banco Adopem in the Dominican Republic, respectively, classroom-based financial education was a central component to the program. For XacBank, university students in the urban areas were trained to deliver the sessions, given their younger age, closeness to the community, and education level. However, given difficulties in ongoing monitoring and standard student turnover, the bank started training teachers to conduct the sessions instead, which was considered a more stable but still effective approach. Banco Adopem also trained teachers to deliver financial education in the schools, given their closeness and trust with the students. However, given limited project funds, teachers are no longer trained to deliver financial education and bank staff delivers it instead. These experiences highlight that even if a particular profile is identified as most effective (through qualitative research and impact on account uptake and usage), financial and operational issues must be addressed at the same time to adequately support the delivery model.

Ethiopia: Female mentors from the community

In Ethiopia, we worked with our network member PEACE MFI S.CO. to develop the “Lenege” (“For Tomorrow”) youth savings program. Given the high rates of early marriage in Ethiopia, we identified rural, married adolescent girls as a key customer segment for the program. However, given these girls’ vulnerability and relative isolation, we knew that having branch staff deliver  financial education, as was being done in semi-urban areas in schools, would not be an effective approach. Instead, we partnered with the Population Council’s “Meserete Hiwot” (“Base of Life” in Amharic) program, where groups of married adolescent girls were given financial education by trained adult, female mentors who are also members of the same community.  In the context of mentor-facilitated weekly group meetings, these adolescent girls had the opportunity to open a Lenege youth savings account to begin saving in a secure, confidential and accessible way. Even after the Population Council ended their program, PEACE MFI S.CO. continued to work with the mentors from their community for their support in reaching these married adolescent girls.

India: Jr. Financial Counselors

Early on in the development of the “Tejasvi” (means ‘bright like a star’ in Gujarati, a term commonly used to describe cleverness in a person) youth savings and financial education program, the bank made the decision to hire young women from the community to serve as junior financial counselors and conduct the financial education sessions themselves, as opposed to having the bank’s more experienced financial counselors conduct the sessions. In addition, the bank welcomed the opportunity to provide employment for the young women in their community and grow the staff.

For the pilot, SEWA Bank recruited young female candidates from the community, ranging from age 18-24, with a minimum of high school education. These young women were also already connected to the SEWA Bank community, with either family members or neighbors as clients or staff of SEWA Bank. These traits were important to SEWA Bank because they saw the roles of the junior financial counselors as role models to the girls they wanted to reach.

After the junior financial counselors were trained on the financial education curriculum, we tested their skills in front of groups of children of SEWA Bank staff. The choice of hiring younger women seemed to resonate with the children – they reported that they liked having a financial counselor that they saw as a big sister who could connect with them emotionally, someone who could share their personal experience and have it be relatable to them.

The pilot is now underway in two branches. One branch has a junior financial counselor, while the other has a more experienced female financial counselor who has been with SEWA Bank for several years. In a recent pilot monitoring trip, we found that mothers – who not only have to be a guardian on the account, but from our research are quite involved in girls’ finances and should thus be supportive of her savings – were more skeptical of the younger financial counselors, citing a lack of maturity and experience. Also, conversion rates from financial education to account opening have been lower for the branch with the junior financial counselor.  This branch is now going to try having a still young, but more experienced, financial counselor deliver the training, in order to address the concerns of the mother while still maintaining a young counselor profile. The impact on account acquisition has yet to be seen.

We will be returning to India in September to assess the pilot results and will be exploring in more detail these questions around the financial counselor profile—in addition to other operational, training, and financial implications of this delivery decision. We will try to better understand if mothers’ resistance to the youth savings program was mostly due to the age and maturity of the junior financial counselor or was also attributed to additional, unrelated factors.

As we test the dynamics around the “who” of the financial education delivery model for youth, we encourage the industry to do the same and to further contribute to the body of evidence and best practices.