At an international conference on financial literacy held in Washington, D.C. the Retirement Commissioner from New Zealand stood up and stated that New Zealand has the best website in the world to promote financial literacy and financial education. I liked her instantly; you need to have a lot of guts-as well as a good website-to make that statement in front of an international audience of academics and policymakers. I checked out that website, and it really is good! It is called Sorted: Your Independent Money Guide (http://www.sorted.org.nz/). Sorted is a term that New Zealanders use to mean having things figured out and being prepared. The website is very well organized and provides information related to financial decisions at every stage of life. One can find information about managing debt, mortgages, investments, and planning for retirement. There are a variety of calculators to help people figure out interest payments on credit cards, how wealth can grow with the power of interest compounding, how much to save for retirement, and much more. On the website one can also take a money personality test to help you work out your financial strengths and possible blind spots.
Citizens in every country could use one reliable, accurate source of information for guidance in managing their financial decisions. Sorted.org is that source for New Zealanders, but what really puts the website over the top is the fact that it is so engaging. The information is not provided in those sterile graphs and statistics that even people with advanced degrees understand only after a bit of head scratching. On Sorted.org, one can watch a movie about investment, saving, and retirement. One can also listen to stories and follow the journeys of Liz, Carl and Jess, Rochelle and Junior, and Raeanna and learn how they used the tools available on the website to help organize their finances. And it is not just about information and simplifying decisions, but also about implementation. The website describes the steps that one has to take, for example, to set goals and to create a budget. There are also tips on a variety of topics, including how to cope with today's financial climate. The information provided online is also available in booklets that can be downloaded or ordered for free from the Retirement Commission, which sponsors Sponsor.org.
According to a survey that was released last June, one-third of New Zealanders had either visited Sorted.org or read one of its booklets, and a quarter had done so within the past twelve months This is an extraordinary result. There are several reasons for this success. First, the Retirement Commission is an autonomous entity with the mission to educate and inform New Zealanders from age 5 to 105 about managing their personal finances to ensure adequate provision for retirement. Thus, the citizens of New Zealand know where to go to get a reliable source of information for retirement planning. We do not need many sources, we only need one! And both the website and the work of the Retirement Commission are well advertised in the media, so New Zealanders know about it. Most importantly, as the Retirement Commissioner remarked, it is a firt-rate website!
I visited the Retirement Commission last June to speak at their Financial Literacy Summit. I discovered that they designed a survey of financial knowledge in 2005, well before other countries were doing so. The development of a national strategy to strengthen New Zealanders' financial literacy was announced at the inaugural Financial Literacy Symposium in Wellington in December 2006 and launched in 2008. And if the 2009 survey is any indication, the strategy is working: 43 percent of New Zealanders are now scoring high on financial knowledge and women and low income households are among the groups with the biggest improvements since 2006, when data from the first survey was collected. At the conference last week, the Secretary for Education announced that financial education will become part of the curriculum in schools throughout New Zealand. Moreover, the advisory committee for the National Strategy for Financial Literacy (composed of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the Chair of the Securities Commission, the Chair of the Investment, Savings and Insurance Association, the Secretary for Education, the Associate Dean for Mâori and Pacific Development at the University of Auckland Business School, and the Retirement Commissioner) will now report to the Minister of Finance twice a year on progress in implementing the strategy.
As you may know, New Zealanders are also called Kiwis. The Kiwi is a flightless bird. As the story goes, Tane Mahuta, the lord of the forest, was surveying his ferny domain and became concerned that his children, the trees, were ill from being eaten by bugs. He called the birds together to ask if any might be prepared to eat the bugs, which would entail living on the dark, damp forest floor. The Kiwi put itself forward. As a reward, it became the best-known and most-loved bird of all.
It is good to have such a symbol in a country so hard at work on improving financial literacy. Can they improve financial literacy? The answer I heard at the conference was: Yes, we can!