We spoke with Gonçalo Vieira da Luz, professor at Nova SBE, and Rita Santos, who ensures the operational issues related to the implementation of the project Finanças para Todosto understand their secret to success and what are the next steps to be taken to ensure that it reaches as many Portuguese as possible.
Is there still a great lack of financial literacy in Portugal? (do you have data or studies that present concrete numbers on this subject?)
GVL: Yes, unfortunately, it is a certainty. We hope that this year it has decreased slightly with our project, but the truth is that the situation is critical and there are several studies that show this.
The most worrying study was published in 2020 (Lusardi and Klapper, 2020) and released by the European Central Bank. It consisted of a survey with five questions about basic concepts of finance that were asked to the populations of the various countries, and the Portuguese were the ones who answered with the lowest success rate. We are talking about concepts such as inflation, risk diversification or compound interest. Only 26% of the Portuguese who answered the survey managed to get at least three of the five questions right, compared to 66% in countries like Germany or the Netherlands.
If we want to study further the state of financial literacy in Portugal, we should also look at the results of the Financial Literacy Surveys done to the Portuguese population (conducted by the National Plan for Financial Education).
In their last survey (conducted in 2020), 60% of the participants said they don't have the habit of writing down their expenses and also 60% don't have a plan for their finances. This lack of habit and planning is not advisable and we have tried in the very first training sessions to alert to the importance of having a record and a plan for our personal finances.
Another important statistic, and this one relates to a stage when we can save money, is that although 65% of the participants say they can save it (which is a small percentage), almost 60% of the participants (i.e., more than 90% of those who say they can save) simply put their savings in a current account, which means that whenever the inflation rate is higher than the interest rates on deposits, as is currently blatantly the case, savings are losing value (or, in other words, purchasing power) as time goes by. That's why we also consider it so important to address issues such as investment and financial products, so that people realize that this is a possibility within the reach of virtually everyone and that it doesn't need to be a seven-headed monster.
How is the program helping to combat this lack of literacy?
GVL: If we have a big problem of lack of financial knowledge, the primary goal of Finanças para Todos is here to fill that gap, and for that we offer free financial literacy trainings. We form classes, either in a face-to-face or online format, and these people receive a set of five training sessions that cover various topics, such as saving and planning, investing, retirement, among others.
But knowledge for us is not a product in itself. On the topic of financial literacy we have to always keep in mind what the real end goal is: that people have access to tools that could make them have healthier financial behaviors and avoid dangerous financial behaviors, which we know many people can't do. We are talking about changing consumption patterns and thereby increasing savings: how to avoid fraud; how to overcome inertia to negotiate our contracts; etc. We really want our students to leave the class motivated to turn their finances around and start a healthier financial life - which is such an important pillar even in our physical and mental well-being
I would also like to add that, besides the training aspect, Finanças para Todos intends to spread reliable knowledge in the area of personal finance, through our website and social networks.
Has the program been in great demand?
RS: Fortunately yes! Or unfortunately, if you look at it from the point of view that ideally there would be few people needing the program. But it's good to be aware of the knowledge gaps and look for solutions to reinforce learning.
This year we have already trained about 250 people in the face-to-face format, at the Nova SBE campus. Due to high demand, we have formed three more online classes, each with about 100 participants.
Although we have seen an explosion in enrollment after appearing in a TV report, we want to keep our classes to a controlled size, because it is essential that there can be interaction between the trainers and the trainees.
How do the classes work? Is there sharing of questions and personal accounts from your participants? What feedback do your students give you?
RS: For us it is extremely important that there is room for people to ask questions and share their experiences, because with this proximity we achieve better levels of learning success. And it has worked very well: as we have five training sessions per class, from class to class people are starting to open up more and interaction is improving.
In the face-to-face classes a very good atmosphere is created, the participants themselves get to know and share with each other. Our staff is very young and empathetic, which also helps people feel at ease in the classroom, want to ask questions, and sometimes even talk about their problems and challenges.
For example, people have shared their experience with running their own business and the difficulties in organizing personal finances in a context of more volatile income, or people have told of known cases of over-indebtedness problems and how the situation has evolved.
Even in the online format, which is not so prone to this close contact anymore, we can make people feel comfortable to ask questions and share personal experiences. This is an area in which we also want to improve in the future, because in the online format contact and sharing are naturally more challenging.
What are the plans for the future? Will you continue to give these trainings?
GVL: The big goal is to reach everyone who comes to us! We are going to scale up the number of trainings, especially in online format, so we can reach more people and more parts of the country - we have many unanswered requests for registration.
Of course along the way we have to keep thinking about how to improve the program we already have, how we need to keep updating the contents and our approaches, but the model is set up and has been successful, so now we have to replicate it for as many people as possible, without losing the quality and proximity that characterize us!
Klapper, L. and Lusardi, A. (2019) "Financial literacy and financial resilience: Evidence from around the world," Financial Management, 49, pp. 589-614.