Spring 2013 Bulletin

Financial Literacy and the Educated American

Every day, Americans make complicated financial decisions that will impact their future. Young adults must balance the rising expense of a college education with a projected increase in earning potential; prospective homeowners face a complex housing market in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis; and the decline in employer-managed pensions puts retirement choices directly in the hands of employees. But are our nation’s citizens equipped to make decisions that are informed and fiscally responsible?

At a recent Academy symposium on “Financial Literacy and the Educated American,” distinguished participants representing government agencies, academia, nonprofits, and the financial industry came together, united by a shared conviction that Americans need access to financial literacy education, as well as the support, tools, and consumer protections to safeguard their savings and investments. The day’s lively discussion explored crucial questions of when and how this education in financial literacy should take place and what it should include.

The three-panel session was chaired by Gerald Rosenfeld, Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman of U.S. Investment Banking at Lazard, Ltd.; and Clinical Professor of Business at New York University Stern School of Business. The planning committee included Leslie C. Berlowitz (American Academy), Annamaria Lusardi (The George Washington University School of Business), Alicia H. Munnell (Boston College), David B. Peterson (Onera Media, Inc.; Tegris Advisors), and Steven A. Sass (Boston College). Rosenfeld called on participants to consider how the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies could best collaborate to advance “principles which have to be almost universally accepted as a common good.”

Peter Tufano and Annamaria Lusardi Gerald Rosenfeld and John W. Rogers, Jr.
Symposium participant Peter Tufano (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford) with project advisor Annamaria Lusardi (The George Washington University School of Business) Project chair Gerald Rosenfeld (Lazard Ltd.; New York University) with keynote speaker John W. Rogers, Jr. (Ariel Investments, LLC)

The panel presentations focused on three broad topics:

  • Financial Education over the Life Cycle;
  • Financial Literacy Education, K-College; and
  • Retirement.

Nearly 50 percent of Americans lack emergency savings or “rainy day” funds; a majority of people in the United States have not planned for retirement; and 60 percent of recent survey respondents say they have never been offered any financial literacy education. The symposium participants agreed that all stakeholders would need to work in partnership to resolve these issues. “We are all in this together,” noted Phyllis Borzi, Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, who also emphasized the need to make personal financial advisors accountable. “If we really care about making sure that people are financially literate, education doesn’t do it all and workplace programs don’t do it all.”

Eugene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, discussed the potential for government agencies to capitalize on “teachable moments” that would improve citizens’ money management skills. “I want to leverage the work we do across the federal government,” he said, “and look for opportunities to strengthen financial literacy through interactions between the government and individuals.”

Other participants argued the merits of starting financial education at a young age. Keynote speaker John Rogers, Jr., Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Investment Officer of Ariel Investments and founder of the innovative Ariel Community Academy, advocated strongly for embedding financial literacy programs into the core curriculum of public schools. “In this complicated financial world,” he noted, “you really have to start kids early and have this education build over time, the way math and English and other important subjects do.” He pointed out that financial literacy is about more than personal success. “Having financially literate citizens in our country helps engage our democracy and our political leaders in a very constructive way to tackle the tough issues we face.”

“The language and tools of economics give our kids the ability to recognize and understand the nature of choice in their lives,” observed panelist Nan Morrison, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Economic Education. “It’s a language that should not be foreign to our children, if equal opportunity in our country is a continuing aspiration.”

As the symposium drew to a close, Academy President Leslie Berlowitz reminded participants that Abraham Lincoln once theorized that “how we teach children in one generation will be how well our Congress will perform in the next.” She explained that the Academy is dedicated to promoting the competencies Americans need in a democratic society, and recommended that participants take a step back and put the issue of financial literacy “in the context of the other literacies or knowledge that we would like all young citizens to have.”

The Academy is grateful to the Charles H. Revson Foundation and Academy Fellow Gerald Rosenfeld for their support of this work.

Lewis Mandell, Beth Kobliner, and Nan Morrison J. Michael Collins, Michael Staten, and Geraldine Walsh
Lewis Mandell (State University of New York at Buffalo), Beth Kobliner (author, Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties), and Nan Morrison (Council for Economic Education) J. Michael Collins (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Michael Staten (University of Arizona; Take Charge America Institute), and Geraldine Walsh (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority; FINRA Investor Education Foundation)

Financial Literacy and the Educated American Symposium Participants

Gerald Rosenfeld, Project Chair; Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman, U.S. Investment Banking, Lazard Ltd.; Clinical Professor of Business, New York University Stern School of Business

Leslie C. Berlowitz, President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration

J. Michael Collins, Faculty Director, Center for Financial Security, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Daniel Denecke, Associate Vice President, Best Practices and Programs, Council of Graduate Schools

Eugene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Matt Fellowes, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, HelloWallet

Jason J. Fichtner, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, George Mason University

Leonard M. “Lenny” Glynn, Director of Public Policy, Putnam Investments

Michelle Greene, Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Responsibility, NYSE Euronext; Executive Director, NYSE Euronext Foundation

Billy J. Hensley, Director of Education, National Endowment for Financial Education

Jeanne M. Hogarth, Vice President of Policy, Center for Financial Services Innovation

Jane P. Katz, Officer and Director of Economic Education, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Beth Kobliner, Author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties

David Laibson, Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Laura Levine, President and Chief Executive Officer, Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy

Annamaria Lusardi, Denit Trust Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Economics and Accountancy, The George Washington University School of Business; Director, Financial Literacy Center

Lewis Mandell, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the School of Management, State University of New York at Buffalo

Rick Miller, Founder, Sensible Financial Planning and Management, LLC

Nan J. Morrison, President and Chief Executive Officer, Council for Economic Education

Alicia H. Munnell, Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences, Carroll School of Management; Director, Center for Retirement Research, Boston College

David B. Peterson, Chief Executive Officer, Onera Media, Inc.; Senior Advisor, Tegris Advisors

John W. Rogers, Jr., Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Investment Officer, Ariel Investments, LLC

Mary C. Rosenkrans, Director of Financial Education, Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

Julie Sandorf, President, Charles H. Revson Foundation

Steven A. Sass, Associate Director, Financial Security Project, Center for Retirement Research, Boston College

Jean C. Setzfand, Vice President of Financial Security, AARP

Michael Staten, Take Charge America Endowed Chair, Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Arizona; Director, Take Charge America Institute

Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Finance, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Stephen P. Utkus, Principal and Director, Vanguard Center for Retirement Research

Dorothy Wallace, Professor of Mathematics, Dartmouth College

Geraldine M. Walsh, Senior Vice President of Investor Education, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority; President, FINRA Investor Education Foundation