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Q&A with Jane Rooney: An update on Canada’s financial literacy strategy and our country’s international standing

With debt levels rising and savings rates dropping, there’s never been a greater need for monetary savvy, says Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader

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Jane Rooney,  Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader“We know that building financial knowledge can really help people feel more in control of their money,” says Jane Rooney (Photo by CPA Canada)

As Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader, Jane Rooney plays a key role in strengthening Canadians’ financial well-being. Since her appointment in 2014, she has been engaging and collaborating with stakeholder groups from the public, private and non-profit sectors to build momentum around the National Strategy for Financial Literacy.

In an interview with CPA Canada, she offered insights about our national financial literacy strategy and her steering committee’s priorities.

CPA CANADA: How long has the National Strategy for Financial Literacy been in place and how do you raise awareness across Canada?
JR:
Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) released the strategy, which is called Count Me in, Canada, in the summer of 2015. It has three goals: to help people manage money and debt wisely; to help them plan and save for their financial future; and to help protect them from fraud and financial abuse.

We have had amazing success in implementing the national strategy, and the National Steering Committee plays a key role in that regard. (CPA Canada’s president and CEO, Joy Thomas, sits on the committee.) Together, the 15 members have undertaken 186 initiatives just this year alone. These include everything from new programs to new websites to conferences and events. For example, CPA Canada has developed new programs related to financial literacy in the workplace and Indigenous Peoples.

In addition, we have a number of working groups and are connected with 17 financial literacy networks across Canada. These networks represent more than 570 organizations, many of which deal with Canadians directly. It’s through all of these channels that we are broadening our reach across Canada.

CPA CANADA: November is Financial Literacy Month. What is the theme this year? 
JR:
For us, Financial Literacy Month is an important awareness-raising opportunity. This year, the theme is Invest in your financial well-being—and I think that ties in nicely with CPA Canada’s theme for its Mastering Money Conference, Education to Action.

We picked “Invest in your financial well-being” as this year’s theme because there has never been a greater need for financial literacy. Interest rates are rising and people have very high debt levels, coupled with low savings rates. According to a recent survey from the Canadian Payroll Association, 40 per cent of Canadians say they are overwhelmed by their debt and 46 per cent are bringing that stress into the workplace. We know that building financial knowledge can really help people feel more in control of their money. 

CPA CANADA: What are the key priorities for the steering committee?
JR:
Right now, financial literacy in the workplace and financial literacy for Indigenous Peoples are our priorities. 

The workplace is a key delivery channel for an adult population. It’s quite similar to the school system. If we can reach a large number of people with the same information at the same time, it’s very helpful. Also, the statistics mentioned earlier show that financial stress is affecting Canadians’ work lives, so they are absent more often. But if employers bring financial literacy into the workplace, productivity should go up and absenteeism should go down. It’s an opportunity for a win-win situation.

Currently, we are running workshops across different employers. For example, CPA Canada is partnering with FCAC and delivering some of its workshops to government employees.

Our other priority is financial literacy for Indigenous Peoples. Research shows Indigenous Peoples are not doing as well as other groups in terms of making ends meet, planning for their financial future and putting savings away for retirement. The population is growing very rapidly: half of Indigenous Peoples are very young. We have a working group in place (Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s director of corporate citizenship, is a member) and right now, we’re identifying what programs and resources already exist and are trying to enhance or improve them. For example, CPA Canada is piloting a program in Northern Canada.   

CPA CANADA: Where does Canada stand internationally in terms of financial literacy?
JR:
We’re fortunate to have some recent statistics. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fielded a study of adult financial literacy in 26 countries, and Canada placed third. When the results were narrowed down to the G20, we came in second. We also took part in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This survey is fielded at the 15-year-old level in 15 countries. The survey includes a financial literacy component, and we tied with Belgium for second place. 

The results showed that Canadian kids are doing well for three reasons: 

1. They’re talking about money at home: the kids that talked about money once or twice a week scored the best. 

2. Kids are learning by doing because they are earning money or receiving it as a gift. Also, 78 per cent of 15-year-olds have bank accounts. 

3. They are taught in the school system. All jurisdictions are teaching financial literacy in some fashion.   

In terms of other international work, I represent Canada in the OECD’s International Network on Financial Education (INFE), which now has 120 participants. Generally, Canada is seen as a leader in financial literacy. That is partly because of our national strategy, which is considered inclusive, and because we have a National Steering Committee and 17 networks connected with FCAC. We learn and share best practices at the international level. 

CPA CANADA: Is there anything else you would like to share?
JR:
I just wanted to say how impressed I am with CPA Canada and its financial literacy volunteer program. You have more than 6,000 trained volunteers delivering financial literacy programs across Canada. This offers a wonderful opportunity for us to work with a great partner but also for Canadians to get great information from an unbiased source. So, I wanted to say thank you. 

BE PART OF CPA CANADA’S EVENTS 

The annual Mastering Money Conference takes place in Vancouver on November 22 and 23, 2018, where thought leaders and industry experts will bring their unique perspectives to this year’s theme, Education to Action.