Champions of Financial Inclusion

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Financial Literacy required to stimulate demand for financial inclusion

Being in the social sector, one becomes aware of the disadvantages poor face for accessing financial services. Many a times they are not even aware of the various benefit schemes introduced by Govt. A major reason for this existing scenario is information gap. In these terms, financial literacy assumes paramount importance.

Financial literacy is a prerequisite for effective financial inclusion, which will ensure that financial services reach the un(der) banked sections of the society, leading to consumer protection through self-regulation. By making people aware of the exsiting products and services and the ways and means to utilise them to their advantage, financial literacy helps in stimulating the demand side of financial markets.

In recent years, as the financial markets have become increasingly complex with the risk shifting from governments/corporations to individuals, managing risks require individuals to be able to access information that enabled comparison of the various available choices. Both developed and developing countries, therefore, are focusing on programmes for financial literacy/education. In India, the need for financial literacy is even greater considering the low levels of literacy and financial capabilities, and the large section of the financially excluded population.

For this purpose, Govts and financial institutions across the world are involved in developing and implementing programs on these lines. Recently, the Reserve Bank of Fiji launched the Green Ribbon Campaign as a partnership between the public and private sectors and non- government agencies to promote financial literacy. OECD has been quite active in this direction having implemented its Project on Financial Education, and established the International Network on Financial Education and the International Gateway for Financial Education (the first international clearinghouse on financial education).

In India, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), with the assistance of Organization of Economic Development (OECD) has issued a concept paper, promoted a financial literacy website, and set up credit counseling centers to provide advice on personal finance. RBI’s ‘Project Financial Literacy’ aims at disseminating information about the central bank and basic banking concepts through various media like films, games, cartoons and comic books, and essay writing competitions, specifically target school and college-going students. Various corporate banking organizations have also promoted financial literacy drive, mostly as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.

However, there is still a lot to be done. India is a diverse country with different regional profiles in terms of language and culture, accessibility and reach. There is a wide divergence in literacy levels across and within the States. Penetration levels of the formal financial sector, especially between rural and urban areas are quite wide. This diversity makes a standard pan-India program redundant.

The need of the hour is to design and implement programs specific to the target audience and involving use of suitable media; bring out publications in vernacular and simple language and ensure distribution of the material to the people in both urban and rural areas. Also appoint instuctors/counsellors from local areas who have the requiste qualifications as well as the trust of the people. One possible solution is the training of Business Correspondents to pass on the financial information to the customers. At the same time, monitoring and evaluation systems need to be build up so that the programs effectively reach the intended.