Financial Literacy

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Why do we need financial literacy?
India is among the world’s most efficient financial markets in terms of technology, regulation and systems. It also has one of the highest savings rate in the world - our gross household savings rate, which averaged 19% of gross domestic product (GDP) between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, increased to about 23% in 2003-04 and has been growing ever since. While savings are more in India, where the savings are invested is a cause for concern. Investments by households have been more into either bank fixed deposits, risk-free government-backed securities and low-yielding instruments, or in non-financial assets. A majority of our households do not use modern financial markets. As per an RBI report, only 1.4% of household savings was invested in equity, mutual funds and debentures in 2003-04. Though this went up to about 4% in 2005-06, it is still very small. Unless the common person becomes a wiser investor and is protected from wrong doings, wealth creation for the investor and the economy will remain a distant dream. We need to convert a country of savers into a nation of investors.

Which one should you use?
Such questions and choices appear tough to even urban population not to talk of those in rural areas, where most of India’s population is. When it comes to financial solutions, investors tend to use thumb rules or seek advice from friends and relatives, which are often poor approximations compared to those that follow from a systematic process. If they get bad advice, their outcomes will be poor, and they will start to lose faith in the financial sector. A big improvement of financial knowledge of households is necessary so that they participate continuously in financial markets. Financial literacy plays a significant role in the efficient allocation of household savings and the ability of individuals to meet their financial goals. It also means the ability to seek sound financial advice. Financial literacy has assumed greater importance in recent years as financial markets have become increasingly complex and the common man finds it very difficult to make informed decisions. Financial literacy is considered an important adjunct for promoting financial inclusion and ultimately financial stability. Both developed and developing countries, therefore, are focusing on programmes for financial literacy/education. In India, the need for financial literacy is even greater considering the low levels of literacy and the large section of the population, which still remains out of the formal financial set-up. To understand financial planning, a person should be financially literate to understand the importance of preparing household budgets, cash-flow management and asset allocation to meet financial goals. Everyone saves money for future needs but the approach is to save surplus money without preparing household budgets, without prioritizing personal financial goals, without properly allocating investments in different asset classes and without understanding the real rate of return (after adjusting for inflation). Financial literacy has become an immensely popular component of financial reform across the world. As a response to the recent financial crisis, the United States government set up the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy in January 2008, charged with promoting programs that improve financial education at all levels of the economy and helping increase access to financial services. In the developing world, the Indonesian government declared 2008 “the year of financial education,” with a stated goal of improving access to and use of financial services by increasing financial literacy. Similarly, in India, the Reserve Bank of India launched an initiative in 2007 to establish Financial Literacy and Credit Counseling Centers throughout the country which would offer free financial education and counseling to urban and rural populations. The World Bank also hasn’t been...
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