Business Strategy | Financial Planning

Financial literacy: Save us from ourselves

How often do we have to get whacked upside the head by an issue before we start paying attention to it?

Beats me. Tom Hood and I have been preaching the social media gospel to CPAs for years now, and many still aren't paying attention.

I know this much, though: When I hear the same message three times from three separate media outlets in less than 24 hours, I sit up and take notice.

That's what happened recently in the financial literacy arena. In quick succession, my wife heard three separate reports on the latest trend in workplace benefits -- employers who provide their workers with access to financial advice.

"A Society for Human Resource Management survey shows a quarter of companies now provide one-on-one financial counseling, and more than half offer one-on-one investment advice -- up from about a third four years ago," David Greene reports for NPR's Planey Money.

A similar report turned up on NPR's Marketplace shortly after, followed by a few scathing reviews of McDonald's effort to provide employees with an online budget guide. Apparently, the guide (a) didn't factor in basic necessities like food, heat, gas and clothing, and (b) assumes workers will be working two jobs to make ends meet.

The McDonald's report notwithstanding, this trend needs to spread, and fast.

Need proof? Look at the stats:

  • Nearly half of American workers have saved less than $10,000 for retirment. One in three have saved less than $1,000.
  • The median 401(k) balance is less than $20,000.
  • Twenty-one percent of workers covered by 401(k) plans choose not to participate.
  • A typical worker should have about $363,000 on hand by the time he or she retires. According to the Fed, a typical household approaching retirement had retirement balances of only one-third that amount in 2010.
  • Almost 90 percent of Americans fear they won't be able to maintain a "comfortable" lifestyle in retirement.
  • Half of Americans haven't saved anything for retirement.
  • Perhaps most frightening: At a time when retirement savings are at their lowest, medical advances mean we're living longer than ever.

Look, I'm all for personal freedom and making our own choices, but my god -- at some point, someone has to step in and save us from ourselves. If we're not going to take care of our future financial needs, maybe someone needs to give us a nudge in the right direction.

  • Maybe we need to make basic financial literacy a requirement for high school and college graduation.
  • If our workers don't have that knowledge, maybe we, as employers, need to make sure they get it on the job.
  • Maybe we need to start looking at this as a social imperative, as something we do simply because it's good for everyone -- our citizens, our organizations, our economy, our society.

If we're going to thrive going forward, our rate of learning has to be greater than the rate of change.

That learning has to include basic financial literacy.


Bill Sheridan