Help spread the word about financial literacy

Research shows many Canadians don’t understand numbers and business. Here’s how CPAs can help.

As accountants we understand numbers, dollars and business. Sadly, most Canadians don’t. In 2012 the CICA commissioned Harris/Decima to conduct a study of financial literacy in Canada to assist in understanding how it could help Canadians increase their financial knowledge and skills in order to make informed and appropriate financial decisions. The key findings were somewhat disturbing.

More than 43% of those surveyed admitted to carrying over credit card balances. (This was up significantly from 2010 when only 34% admitted to doing so.) Furthermore, 48% agreed that a significant rise in interest rates would make it a challenge for them to keep up with their mortgage and debt payments.

The survey also asked Canadians what money skills they would be most interested in attaining. To address the study’s findings, CPA Canada decided to take action.

The result was the formation of the Financial Decisions Matter program. Its goal is to deliver unbiased, objective financial literacy education and information to Canadians via the member network of CPA volunteers.

The initiative is the brainchild of Cairine Wilson, CPA Canada’s vice-president of corporate citizenship. “The accounting profession has the opportunity to become a fundamental driver of the financial health of Canadians and, in turn, the broader economy by taking action to help solve a high-profile social problem with economic and financial roots,” Wilson says. The key to the program is the delivery of information to consumers in a user-friendly way.

There are four key components to the program:

• Community Connect member volunteer program: the core program for the national network of CPA member volunteers to deliver in-person financial education sessions in their communities.

• CPA Canada publications: including three books, A Parent’s Guide to Raising Money-Smart Kids, A Canadian’s Guide to Money-Smart Living and most recently, Protecting You and Your Money: A Guide to Avoiding Identity Theft and Fraud. A book on retirement planning is currently in the works.

• Consumer website: a user-friendly, interactive website is under constant development with the aim of becoming the go-to resource for people looking for objective answers to their financial questions.

• Thought leadership research: current research yielding unbiased information, including a benchmark Canadian finance study on Canadians’ financial knowledge and habits conducted every two years as well as roughly 10 short surveys a year on timely topics such as holiday spending and children’s allowances.

The Community Connect program is where you can immediately get involved. There are currently five programs for different audiences.

Core adult program: Eight sessions, including are you a good financial role model?, how to teach your kids about money, identity theft protection, effective tax strategies, 10 healthy habits of financial management, savings strategies, planning for your retirement and estate planning.

New Canadian program: Two sessions that cover the basics of banking, managing credit and building wealth.

Small business owner program: Eight sessions, including how to read a balance sheet, managing cash flow, how to get financing.

Elementary and high school kids: Seven interactive workshops for elementary students, including bartering, needs versus wants, savings and bank accounts, budgeting and expenses, earning income and goal setting. Four workshops for high schoolers, including budgeting and saving, good debt versus bad debt.

Post-secondary students: One session covering credit and debt.

It’s easy to sign up. Go to to fill out the volunteer registration form to register for the Community Connect program. Once you are registered, you will be able to access the materials through My Account, the online personalized account for members.

The linchpin of many of the sessions is a PowerPoint presentation about 45 minutes long with speaker notes, various worksheets and tips on presenting. The school workshops operate similarly, relying on step-by-step lesson plans. Detailed facilitator guides accompany the program and various case studies, charts and worksheets are available for participants to use and complete during the sessions.

There is also a training PowerPoint presentation available that outlines volunteer roles and responsibilities and effective presentation skills to guide you. Additionally, volunteers are encouraged to attend an in-person training session or register for a training webinar. There are also news releases and marketing flyers for you to use to promote your event.

If you want to give back, it would be difficult to think of something more worthwhile. Financial literacy comes easy to you but not to thousands of Canadians.