We’ve just finished the inaugural three-day Building Financially Capable Communities Conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Days One and Two focused on research. In short, there are some remarkable people at impressive institutions investigating financial capability. We are lucky to have them.

The final day of the Conference was where the rubber hits the road. We covered how we use what we know to help people get their finances sorted.

Being a practitioner myself, this was the day I’d been waiting for eagerly. I was keen to hear what others were doing and ideas for improving my own approach. I was not disappointed.

And now a warning: with academic research, I am a passenger. I pretty much have to take the word of the researcher, and I’m happy to do so in most cases. As a practitioner, I have more experience to draw on. This means I’ve put Day Three’s content through a much more critical review than Days One and Two. What follows are my opinions, and they are not the only ones on these topics. I welcome (respectful) debate if you have an alternative view.

Here’s what I took away:

Don’t just hope your program works. Design and assess it.

Robert Drake of international consultancy SmartSteps took us through program logic. That’s a methodology for designing programs and assessing their impact. The systematic engineer in me delighted in the straightforward and powerful process. If you develop educational programs, it’s well worth a look. I was glad to have had the opportunity to hear from Robert.

Example program logic diagram from Robert Drake

…was quietly relieved to already have one of these for Maker Kids Club!

New Zealanders really, really believe in collaboration…

…and it scares the crap out of me.

To put this into context: two representatives from the Ministry of Social Development and one representative from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment talked to the group. They outlined their collaborative approach to create a Safer Credit and Financial Inclusion strategy.

It warmed the cockles of my heart to see photos of rooms full of stakeholders nutting out the problems. I’d also heard from one of the reps on Day One, about how they’re trying to make it easier to navigate dispute resolution. There are 56 ways to do it at the moment – overwhelming. I applaud their intent, and I love the way they framed what they’re doing with this quote:

“How can people make good choices when all they have are bad options?” Hear, hear.

But: among the people in the room for those brainstorming sessions were lenders. Those businesses make money from selling people debt.

To me, this is like asking McDonald’s to get involved in the government’s work to reduce obesity. You wouldn’t do it. Having heard from the RBNZ Governor the day prior, and speaking to lots of fellow conference goers,  this seems to be a New Zealand thing, not a government thing.

Still, best of luck to them. I hope they make it work.

Financial Mentors Deserve a Pay Rise!

The financial mentors and other service providers sitting under FinCap (The National Building Financial Capability Trust) are national heroes. The inaugural Chief Executive Tim Barnett spoke about ten areas they focus on, and what they’ve learned in the last 2.5 years since they began.

Ten elements covered by FinCap

These people do amazing work, so I was saddened to hear they’re ‘just like Australia’s financial counsellors, but paid less’. We need to show we value this work.

And bless Tim’s heart. When question time came, he fielded my query on including lenders in the above discussions. He didn’t take offence or fob me off. Thank you, Tim. You rock.

There are great people doing brilliant work to lift others up

I was delighted to hear about the Maori Women’s Development Inc group from Teresa Tepania-Ashton MNZM and Linda Clay. This group supports women who haven’t been able to secure money from traditional finance options. They help them launch and run their own businesses. This includes developing robust business plans, getting coaching and affordable loans. Their clients have started all sorts of businesses. Food, hospitality, Manuka honey, fitness, trucks, retail, fashion, jewellery… you name it, they’ve done it. Phenomenal!

Impressive also was Dr Lillian Koh Noi Keng’s presentation on why she started the FinTech Academy in Singapore. If ‘Queen Lillian’ can inject as much enthusiasm in her lessons as she did her presentation, she’s off to a good start!

Cyma Parbhu presented on Spring, a promising start-up that uses incentives to teach people about personal finance. Can’t wait to see what they get up to.

Mariameno Kapa-Kingi shared a story on poverty in paradise. Some Maori people live in picturesque locations but are stuck in substandard housing. It tugged at the heartstrings of everyone in the room. It also put me in mind of similar situations at home in Australia. The solutions Mariameno and her team are implementing restore dignity and safety to these people.

And of course it was my pleasure to present on Maker Kids Club. I explained how I don’t worry about the kids who’ve been through my program. I know they’ve got the skills to create value and get paid for it. They also understand money, and know how to save. I invited all attendees to take my free teacher training if they wanted. You can register here.

As usual, I’m left with burning questions. Chief among them is…

What are we trying to achieve?

Financial mentor Adrienne Gallie challenged us to think about whether we want a commodity economy or a gift economy. Quoting from Lewis Hyde’s book, she drew a picture of a society where poverty was having nothing to give. A beautiful aspiration, and perhaps one we’re ready for?

When I think about financial capability practice, I reckon we’re trying to do three things:

  1. Get people out of trouble. Those with bad debt, not enough cash to support their basic needs, that kind of thing. Support services like those at FinCap are essential. They’re empowering these groups to turn around whatever’s gone wrong.
  2. Prevent others getting into trouble. Through education and support, we’re trying to stop people before catastrophe strikes. Before they sign that bad debt contract, or get stuck on a downward spiral of dependence, or locked into an abusive relationship. Prevention is better than cure!
  3. Help people thrive. Beyond not being stuck in bad debt, or struggling to survive: we want people to have enough money to do what makes them happy, so they can be productive members of society and their families.

Every person attending the Building Financially Capable Communities Conference plays a role in at least one of those activities. It could be working out what’s causing an issue through research. Perhaps it’s how we can best educate people to avoid something problematic. It might be giving them the tools and support to lift themselves up.

But we’re all working towards the same goal. We all face the same kinds of problems. We are unified in our commitment.

I’m proud to be part of the financial capability iwi. We look forward to welcoming more amazing members to our ‘family’ next year.

If you want to make sure you know when the 2020 Conference is on and where, best to get in touch with Dr Pushpa Wood ONZM. It was her team that pulled the Conference together, and she was very much leading from the front. Thanks Pushpa and team, you’re all awesome!

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