Financial education for Gen Z deserves a closer look

Seek First to Understand

Financial education for Gen Z deserves a closer look

Marilyn L. Pinto. Rebel Educator & Founder, KFI GLOBAL 

It’s in our nature to look for quick fixes, instant gratification and magic bullets. We hastily throw half-baked solutions at convoluted, insidious problems and are quick to fly the ‘mission accomplished’ banner high and proud. It makes us feel smart and decisive; it makes us look powerful and savior-like; it also makes for great social media news bytes – short and superficial – just like our attention span is primed to be nowadays. Take a closer look and you will see that many times such hurried and cursory actions, without a thorough well-examined study, only serve to exacerbate the existing problem.

Take the issue of the lack of personal finance knowledge in Gen Z today. An issue as convoluted and insidious as any, because of the huge toll it takes on their future and that of the economy. According to the National Financial Educators Council, in the US alone the cost of financial illiteracy was calculated at US$415 billion in 2020.

This particular problem didn’t garner much attention previously, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic meltdown thrust it into the spotlight worldwide. A slew of solutions followed: money tracking and budgeting apps, parent-controlled debit cards, online resources, self-help books, mandatory lectures and financial education programs – the list goes on. All touting to expeditiously, effortlessly and – for a small fee – rid society of this menace forever and save the future generation from the perils of bad money choices.

Too good to be true

If it seems almost too good to be true, it is. Many of these organizations failed to study and understand the battlefield properly before rushing to market lofty claims and promises. They didn’t pay attention to the needs and motivations of the Gen Zers they were purporting to help; they just swooped down and lectured them on responsible behavior.

They ignored molding the mindset of these youngsters, while jumping straight into budgeting formulae. They assumed that what worked for adults would automatically work for youngsters forgetting that these aren’t mini-adults – their brains are wired in completely different ways.

They oversimplified and dumbed down the content, not understanding that nuance and complexity is interesting and engaging, not to mention a more realistic representation of the issues at hand. They believed that personal finance could be summarized in a few quick tips, not recognizing that doing so undermined the very learning they were hoping to impart.

They fell prey to the myth that youngsters need to be entertained with short punchy videos, notwithstanding the fact that it is only deep and profound engagement that elicits true behavior change. They completely overlooked the way the content was taught to these Gen Zers, grossly undervaluing the use of a tried-and-tested methodology to ensure that the content was delivered in the most effective way.

They delivered a ‘McProgramme’, identical irrespective of who it was being delivered to, not realizing how crucially important it is to customize and personalize the content and learning experience to the learner. They, like much of the education system, focused on telling the youngsters what to think, instead of showing them how to think.

Time for true change

All this didn’t dampen the profits or valuation of these organizations, it just failed to solve the underlying problem. It laid out the equivalent of an attractive band-aid over a deep gash, and hoped for the best.

We cannot afford to delude ourselves into complacency. Gen Z deserve better. We shouldn’t be so quick to mortgage their future for a fleeting feeling of self-satisfaction. We need to stop with the quick fixes. We owe it to them to think deeper about the problem, to understand the prevailing issues better and to plan our offensive with more forethought and a heck of a lot more consideration. We have to resolve to deal with not just the symptoms but more importantly with the deep-rooted problem. For it is only by deeply understanding a formidable problem that we can ever hope to properly overcome it.

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