Financial education in Europe: progress made, but much still to do
As European Money Week raises awareness of financial literacy, we look at how individual countries are promoting financial education.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put many European citizens’ personal finances under severe strain, but it has also highlighted the importance of financial education for building resilience to economic turbulence.
Intrum’s 2020 European Consumer Payment Report found that 40% of European consumers are actively improving their financial literacy to prepare for economic uncertainty, while nearly half (47%) said financial security was now a priority.
A growing commitment to financial literacy
Encouragingly, European countries are responding to this clear need. In its November 2020 report, the European Banking Federation (EBF) found that 35 European countries were taking part in the European financial literacy movement, with around 125 separate initiatives across Europe for promoting financial education and boosting financial literacy. And countries are increasingly looking to public-private cooperation to spread the message as widely as possible.
It has become clear that a new international financial literacy movement has emerged, globally as well as in Europe and in Brussels. A wide range of players are active: academics, public policy-makers, NGOs, banks, insurance companies.Raymond Frenken, EBF’s Director of Communications.
National banking associations are organising or co-organising many European schemes. In most countries, that includes online resources and leaflets targeted at groups such as schoolteachers, schoolchildren or pensioners, but there are also some eye-catching initiatives.
The financial helpline set up in 2016 by the Norwegian Retirees Foundation (Pensjonistforbundet) recognises the increasing financial struggles for some in the oft-ignored older age group. The helpline has since been developed further in partnership with Lindorff Norway, part of the Intrum Group.
In Finland, the Talousguru prize is an annual competition to find the ‘Economics Guru’ from the country’s senior high school students, testing written and spoken economic and mathematical skills. The winner gets the chance to study at one of the country’s top eight universities. The competition, which has been running since 1997, was sparked by the country’s experience of recession in the early 1990s and by general concern for Finns’ overall financial literacy.
Germany and Austria
A joint initiative by Germany and Austria is equally imaginative. The annual ‘School Banker’ competition challenges secondary school students to run their own virtual bank as successfully as possible. The competition gives pupils insights into how businesses and banks work, while testing their teamwork, sense of initiative, analytical thinking and communication skills.
From the opposite direction, France’s ‘I invite a banker to my classroom’ is an ‘edutainment workshop’ that teaches nine-to-eleven-year-old students about budgeting, payments, savings and financial security.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Banking Association (NVB) and Codename Future have developed the Me & Money financial education curriculum for schoolteachers and their students. The lessons focus extensively on classroom discussion. Students can even vote on issues with their telephone or laptop.
In Southern Europe, historically subject to greater economic turbulence and individual debt, the Spanish Banking Association (AEB) is betting on the nation’s youth. In 2018-19, the ‘Your finances, your future’, programme saw 7,057 students from 138 educational centres learn from 587 volunteers employed by 19 banking entities belonging to the AEB.
Meanwhile, Italy’s ‘Savings Champions’ project focuses on both professional and amateur athletes. A joint venture by The Foundation for Financial Education and Savings, The Italian National Olympic Committee and UBI Banca, the initiative offers participants an easy-to-use online savings tool that helps improve their financial literacy.
The compulsory approach
While these initiatives are a sign of progress, more lasting change could come from a mandatory approach to financial education:
- According to the EBF, Albania, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Sweden all have compulsory financial education; either as dedicated courses or as parts of subjects such as Mathematics or Economics. Three of Germany’s 15 federal states also fall into this category.
- Many of these countries and others also have national financial literacy strategies.
Still sharp divides in knowledge
As the internet keeps maturing, it’s clear that online financial education resources will continue to develop. This bodes well for younger generations.
Yet some countries, including Belgium, Denmark and Greece, still do not have strategies for financial literacy, while Intrum’s ECPR 2020 found that four in ten Italian consumers and 36% of Greek and Spanish consumers say they lack financial literacy, compared with just 15% in Sweden.
So, while European Money Week shines a welcome light on financial education through events such as the European Money Quiz, Europe is still playing catch-up, after years of inattention to a subject that’s vital to our future.
Social media becoming important source of financial education among the young
European Money Week 2021: Intrum’s latest consumer survey shows that there’s a generational shift underway in how consumers attain their financial knowledge; one in five (20%) of 18-21 year olds say social media is their primary source of information.