Dian Cohen Discusses Financial Literacy with CFUW

Says nearly half of population can’t balance cheque book

By Sylvia Bullard                                                                     Sylvia.recordlink@yahoo.ca

CFUW Quebec Provincial Council Fall Meeting was held at the North Hatley Golf Club on Saturday, October 23, 2010.  Dian Cohen, who is a noted political economist, journalist, and broadcaster, was the featured guest speaker. Ms. Cohen has had a long career as an economics commentator on television and radio, first with the CBC and then with CTV. Additionally she is also a recipient of the Order of Canada and other awards for economic communications excellence. She is a recognized commentator on economic change and globalization and their implications for personal financial, business and community strategies.Financial Literacy in Canada” was the subject of her tremendously, thought – provoking speech on Saturday.

Having recognized for some time that interest in financial literacy has been growing in Canada,  members of  the Provincial Council who were also in attendance had suggested this subject to be featured for the fall meeting with CFUW.  The ability to make informed financial decisions is essential for basic functioning in Canadian society, as in all countries with complex financial systems. These decisions range from simple daily spending and budgeting, to choices of insurance, banking or investment products, to saving for major life events like retirement and education or purchases like a home. These individual and household decisions and behaviours have profound impacts on the financial security, well-being of individuals and families. In the 2009 budget, the Minister of Finance announced his intention to establish a national task force dedicated to the issue of financial literacy. Appointed in June 2009, the Task Force on Financial Literacy provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Finance on a national strategy to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.

Ms. Cohen explained that, surprisingly this Task Force found that even though we as a group of Canadians are more educated than we have ever been, in general 48 percent of us cannot balance a cheque book, fill out an order form, or figure out what the interest rate is — for example when buying a car — and this illiteracy percentage is much higher for older than younger people. “The government has mounted programs to improve our financial literacy. Yet, with all of this education, why is financial literacy still a problem? The fact is, it’s a global problem. Some of us have not mastered the art of making budgets. We live in a consumer society; all of our surroundings encourage us to buy now and work it out later. Many do not think about retirement or the consequences of what we are doing now”, she said.

After having emphasized the thought that we must do something about financial literacy she turned the meeting over to a member of the University Women’s Club of Montreal (UWC), Judith Kashul, who explained that UWC of Montreal felt that people really needed to start talking about this.  “However, we wondered how we would we get people to start talking, how could we advocate for this?” she said.  A member in their group suggested starting conversations through case study around financial literacy, focusing on women’s groups.  Judith explained, “We have to start with small bites by starting out with small groups then fanning them out across the county. We applied for a grant to develop and publish a series of case studies to be used with women’s groups across Canada focusing on women in the 45 plus age group.”  She then asked all in the audience to participate in a case study and then evaluate the session, and give their feedback on how it may work in other settings. The particular case study that was featured certainly did serve to make one aware of important financial issues that a woman might face in the event of becoming newly widowed.

At the end of the session, questions were handed out to each participant to help them reflect on the relevance of the activity to their own financial situation.  The deep appreciation for the event that was felt by one and all in attendance was very evident as the meeting adjourned.

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