Philip Smith, journalist

Driven by a strong sense of ‘seva’, or service to the community, ACCA in India has launched an important campaign to boost the financial understanding of schoolchildren. The campaign recognises the vital importance of teaching financial literacy at an early age. With the increasing use of mobile apps and the growing micro-finance sector in the country, the campaign will equip children with the tools for understanding how money works.

Under the initiative, four free financial literacy modules will be made available to schools for use by schoolchildren over a period of two years. The modules incorporate learning and application activities, using exercises, games and class discussion as well as case studies in areas such as digital security and fraud.

‘This is a basic life skill that determines almost all aspects of our lives’

Anima Jain’s story

Anima Jain ACCA, senior accountant at Goalseek Shared Services, explains why she gave her time to developing the financial literacy programme. ‘When I started with my accountancy articleship, I had no knowledge about investments, money management or bank accounts. Thankfully I was living with my family and had their support so I never faced issues dealing with money or banking.

‘Some of my friends had moved out of their home town to study and lived away from home. I saw them struggling with finance and banking-related matters. In fact, even now so many of my friends from non-commerce backgrounds have no idea about income tax and the basic tax rules.

‘I feel these fundamentals are something that everyone should know. My experience has made me realise that these basic concepts need to be taught in schools so that individuals are aware about money management and taxation from an early age.’

Aimed at children aged 10 to 12, the course concludes by setting out some of the financial career options available to them in the future. So far, more than 150 schools have shown interest in signing up for the programme..

‘This isn’t just about giving back, it is about improving our community and our society, and allowing people to improve themselves, their family and their communities,’ says Sumathi Mohnani FCCA, a former senior executive at IBM and member of ACCA’s India members' committee.

Secure future

Mohnani believes that students need the skills to be prepared for the 21st century. ‘Financial literacy is a life skill – it will secure their future,’ she says.

Anand Verghese FCCA, associate director of business enablement at Standard Chartered Bank in India, agrees. He believes that financial literacy lies at the heart of financial inclusion. ‘Being financially literate not only helps build confidence around managing money matters but also gives a better chance of handling the inevitable ups and downs in each of our financial lives,’ he explains. ‘Despite its obvious importance, however, financial literacy is often an ignored aspect of education.’

The four modules feature colourful cartoon characters Fefy (Financial Education for You), a 16-year-old girl from a village near Bangalore, and Mani, a robot given to Fefy as a present by her uncle who works in Bangalore. In the course of the series, Mani shares its knowledge of finance with Fefy so that she can manage her money as she grows older.

Compelling need

There is clearly a need for such interventions. According to a survey carried out by StreetFins last year, seven out of 10 respondents in India were never taught financial literacy at school. This aligns with the findings of a survey by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, which found that only 24% of the Indian adult population is financially literate.

According to Mohnani, financial literacy goes beyond understanding money and how it is used – it can have a much wider impact. ‘Financial literacy can help you to make the right choices, and this can have an impact on resources. It allows you to be responsible for your actions and have positive influences, which creates a ripple or multiplier effect. Positive choices will have a positive impact.’

Indian federal and state governments have also lent their weight to the initiative. In Mohnani’s words, school principals are being actively urged ‘to jump on this’. The programme has been developed in alignment with the plans of central government and state governments, along with those of the Finance Ministry, the Ministry for Skill Development and the Ministry of Education.

Member involvement

A number of ACCA members have been involved in creating the programme, all of whom had their own reasons for donating their time and effort. Suman Murthy ACCA, a consultant at Deloitte, says: ‘I wanted to use my experience as a millennial finance professional to develop content for this programme to ensure that the next generation understands the power and security that comes with being financially independent.’

Nikhila Nair ACCA, a consultant and student counsellor, echoes this view, saying: ‘It is essential for kids to learn the basics of financial literacy at a young age, to shape their thinking and equip them to make better financial decisions, and to build the future leaders of tomorrow.’

Jeyam Kannan ACCA, owner of Meena Jewellery in Coimbatore, recognises the need for the programme. He says: ‘While the various syllabuses accessed by the majority of students throughout India give them literacy and logical reasoning skills to an extent, financial literacy is totally ignored in most of the curriculum up to secondary education.’

Speaking from her own experience, Deloitte’s Sathya Dhulipala ACCA says she often wondered why she was never taught the basics of money, investing and taxes in school. ‘After all,’ she says, ‘this is a basic life skill that determines almost every aspect of our lives. A vast majority of the people I have discussed this topic with share a similar view. It wasn’t until I had received my first few paycheques that I realised I had to figure out how taxes and savings and investments worked.

‘And I continue to learn about personal finance to this date.’