Saturday, December 29, 2012


The Toronto-based Investor Education Fund (IEF) is taking the approach that it's never too early to start learning about finances. The IEF is kicking off this year's Financial Literacy Month with a youth summit in the Greater Toronto Area.

"What we're going to be doing is bringing in some of the most dynamic presenters on this topic," says Tom Hamza, president of the IEF. "People who understand the audience and people who are experts in doing this exact thing."

The Financial Literacy Youth Summit, which is scheduled to take place on Nov. 1 in Richmond Hill, Ont., will offer about 600 high-school students a crash course in finances. Presenters include Pat Foran, author and consumer advocate; and comedian James Cunningham, creator of Funny Money, an educational program geared toward students.

Reaching out to youth about finances, both at the summit and in schools across the country, is all part of the plan to raise the level of financial literacy in Canada over the long term.

"If we want to have an impact on the financial awareness of the Canadian population, we have to start as early as possible," Hamza says. "If we can reach [students] with really practical and memorable lessons, then that's going to be something that's going to pay off over their lifetime."

For this year's version of Financial Literacy Month, which was launched last year by the Financial Literacy Action Group (FLAG), a coalition of non-profit organizations, there are events scheduled across the country meant to educate students and adults alike.

Although FLAG members are still helping with co-ordinating many of the events, the Federal Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has taken on a larger role in the overall organization for Financial Literacy Month.

"We are playing a co-ordinating role," says Julie Hauser, a media relations officer with the FCAC in Ottawa. "We have the events calendar on our website and we've invited partners from across the country to submit their events to the calendar so that we can provide information on what's going on across Canada."

One of those events is Financial Planning Week, which takes place from Nov. 19 to 25 and will be hosted by the Toronto-based Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC). There will be several events across the country, hosted by certified financial planners and covering topics related to financial literacy and financial planning, says Tamara Smith, vice president, marketing and consumer affairs, with the FPSC in Toronto.

Canadians also can go online to learn more about how finances and financial planning work.

The IEF is launching numerous calculators throughout November on its website, (, Hamza says. Some calculators that already are on the website help with a variety of financial issues, such as budgeting and registered retirement savings plan contributions.

The IEF also plans to raise awareness through the promotion of its "eight financial truths," Hamza says, which are meant to make Canadians realize that while financial matters take some thought, they don't have to be intimidating. "We've put this together to help Canadians get an action plan to resolve some of the financial issues that are out there," he says, "and create some more effective long-term financial plans."

There is little doubt that Canadians need help in understanding personal finance issues. Many studies and surveys have highlighted this problem, including one recent survey from the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA). Of those who took the CSA survey, about 40% failed a test on general investment knowledge. (See story on page 12.)

Many of the financial problems faced by consumers today are highly complex, and are a challenge to understand, says Smith. High levels of student debt, the difficulties of being part of the "sandwich generation" and the boomers' growing switch from saving to de-accumulation are placing a strain on financial know-how.

"There are a lot of complex needs out there," says Smith. "And what [the CSA survey and others] tell us is that we are not literate enough to manage all of these challenges without a higher degree of literacy and without a lot of expert help."

Financial advisors and financial services firms are in a unique position to educate their clients on personal finances. Many financial planners involved in the FPSC encourage clients to bring their children to meetings, says Smith, and also will start working with that child on his or her planning needs as he or she enters post-secondary education. "If you can approach financial planning as a family," she says, "financial planners see a lot of benefit in that."

Although actively engaging with clients and their families in meetings is a start, it may take years before the level of financial literacy in Canada truly changes, Hamza says: "A solution is going to happen over decades. And that change can only be brought about by educating the public and leadership from the industry and government to raise awareness of financial issues affecting Canadian households."

© 2012 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.

By Fiona Collie
Investment Executive
Nov. 2012