How to Move the Needle on Financial Literacy in America

Each of us is faced with choices throughout our lives that have significant financial implications. How we navigate decisions such as which college to attend, whether or not to contribute to a 401(k), or the purchase of a home or new car, can impact our financial future.
SVP, Corporate Responsibility and President, Voya Foundation

Recently, I read a study from the National Foundation of Credit Counseling (NFCC) that, unfortunately, did not shock me. One of the findings was that 40 percent of adults gave themselves a grade of C, D, or F on their knowledge of personal finance. Having had conversations with many friends and family members about financial topics, particularly retirement, my belief was reinforced that the picture is bleak for many Americans in terms of being prepared.

There is a well-known saying that sums up my childhood experience with money– “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” My parents certainly lived by that adage. At an early age, I was introduced to the idea of having responsibilities in the house, getting an allowance, and saving for tomorrow.

My first job was as a cashier in a grocery store when I was 16. I was so excited to have a say in how many hours I worked and therefore how much I would earn. When I went off to college, I applied for a credit card, and was given the advice from my parents that if I didn’t have the money to pay for whatever I wanted to put on the card, I should not charge. Credit was for convenience and so you could establish credit history, but when the monthly bill arrived, the piper had to be paid – in full.

Joining a company focused on helping Americans get ready to retire better was such a natural fit for me. It is noble work, and I am fortunate that, through working for Voya, I get to be involved — through the Voya Foundation — in helping young people gain the skills to become more financially literate and resilient. Through strategic partnerships with Girls Inc. and Junior Achievement, we are arming students with the tools and the knowledge to take charge of their financial future. We are helping fill in the gaps for kids who might not have someone in their lives to teach them about finances.

What we are seeing is nothing short of amazing. Through our Girls Inc. partnership, we introduced girls ages 12-18 to the basics of saving, investing and financial planning.  After one of the sessions:

  • 80% of girls believed that women can be successful investors and that women can be as successful in investing as men. 
  • 90% of girls increased their interest in investing and 80% increased their self-confidence in investing.
  • 90% of girls stated that they wanted to attend college much more as a result of participating in the session.

In addition, 90 percent of participants surveyed in one of the sessions talked to their parents about the value of opening a savings account. 

While I know that significant change does not occur overnight, we are making progress. Whether at home, in a school, or through a program like Girls Inc. or Junior Achievement, teaching kids personal finance works.  Empowering youth with the skills and knowledge to make wise financial decisions will set them up for a brighter financial future.