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Is April Financial (Literacy, Empowerment, Capability) Month?

April is …wait… Is it Financial Literacy Month…? Or is it Financial Empowerment Month…? Or is it Financial Capability Month?

This month, we wanted to acknowledge that April has been identified as a month to raise awareness around financial literacy. However, I have a strong resistance to that term. 

“Financial literacy” has become a buzzword that people use to oversimplify a bigger issue and, as it is currently set up and delivered, I don’t believe that it is a solution to the problems facing our individual citizens in our country. Increasing awareness is, nonetheless, important, so for this article, I wanted to explore the inadequacies of financial literacy in order to pinpoint problems and offer meaningful solutions. Self-serving, I know.

As I sat down to pen this piece, I couldn’t help but notice the slew of organizations rebranding April. It’s not just “Financial Literacy Month” anymore; we’ve got contenders like “Financial Empowerment” and “Financial Capability”. For now, “Financial Literacy Month” seems to be the leading term (google it – it’s a real thing). But seeing these other titles, I immediately felt a familiar and frequent frustration as it relates to our industry. And there I recognized one of our problems.

Pivot with me for a moment.

The Financial Health Institute is situated within an industry that we have termed the “Financial Training and Support Industry.” There’s a lot of organizations in this industry, all of whom have their own ideas of how to best help the people they serve. To give you some perspective, there are 13 Federal “Safety Net” programs managed by 8 federal agencies, the Federal Reserve, banks, credit unions, insurance companies (FDIC), the IRS, public/private schools, the nonprofit community, faith-based communities, philanthropies, and volunteers. So yeah. A LOT. 

And most of them ultimately develop their own language, concepts, program materials, messaging, and marketing. Fundamentally, most of them are looking for successes on their terms, through their own metrics, to build and maintain their programs, to protect and grow

their empires – and all of them are looking for their funding. As a result, and as a field, there’s a lack of clarity in our collective messaging – each organization and coalition is trying to define the problems and solutions with their own jargon. 

Let me be clear, we haven’t been any different at FHI. Our focus as an organization has been driven by the term “Financial Health”. We believe that a person’s financial life is a part of their overall health and we believe it is essential to see it through this lens! Like everyone else, we feel like our terms, the language and concepts we use, are as important, or maybe even more important, in the overarching conversation. We’ve been utilizing our language for over 12 years and have not really been willing to adopt the language of the other organizations within our field. Note my earlier comment about my resistance to the term “financial literacy” – evidently, I am a part of the problem!

So there you have it. I’m not sure if others share my frustration over the lack of clarity in the messaging we have within the industry, but it’s clear that there’s widespread confusion in the community about how all of these organizations fit together. This confusion isn’t just a headache for folks seeking financial literacy; it also risks fragmenting efforts and complicating scaling up successful programs. As much as I wish there were a simple fix, I don’t think there’s a realistic solution in bridging these divides. But I do believe that we could achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency if we were all at least on similar pages. 

Fundamentally, the primary mission of the “Financial Training and Support Industry” is to help people have better lives through financial (literacy, empowerment, capability). I believe that’s the underlying theme despite the myriad approaches and closely guarded sandboxes. And as it turns out, April is the month where we have somehow come to collectively acknowledge our need to raise awareness around it. So, whatever we decide to call it for now, let’s take our chance in April to raise that awareness! 

(And in case you missed it… January was Financial Wellness Month).

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