Closing the Knowledge Gap: Q&A With Financial Literacy Leader Jane Rooney

new Financial Literacy Leader Jane Rooney

The Federal Government wants Canadians to brush up on their financial literacy skills and they’ve appointed a new leader to head up the learning initiative.

Jane Rooney, previous director of financial literacy and consumer education at Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, has been named as the nation’s first Financial Literacy Leader. Her appointment was announced last Tuesday, April 15, by Federal Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson, and comes at the recommendation of a 2011 report and task force.

Rooney’s new role will be to coordinate and unite various financial resources and organizations across Canada, both from the public and private sectors, and make them more accessible to Canadians. She’ll be spearheading new feedback initiatives, activities and programs to aid the highest priority groups which include seniors, aboriginals, immigrants, low-income and young Canadians.

So what can consumers expect as a result of her new role? Money Wise connected with Ms. Rooney on her plans for rolling out a national strategy and the first steps to be taken at the community level.

The Top 3 Areas of Need

Rooney’s first action is to address the greatest financial literacy gaps identified by the Financial Capabilities Survey.

The survey highlighted the following areas as most pressing:

Planning ahead: Canadians need assistance planning for both their short- and long-term futures, from kids saving for post secondary education, to seniors entering retirement debt-free. “Planning ahead is the spectrum of planning for adulthood, right through to your senior years,” says Rooney. “There are more seniors entering their later years with debt. We’re trying to get to people early on so they can plan ahead to meet their needs when they are in their senior years.”

Staying informed about financial products and services: We know first-hand that being aware of your financial product options presents huge savings potential, but lack of transparency and understanding continues to be a barrier for Canadian consumers. “This was an area in the survey that showed a lot of people have trouble,” says Rooney. “As we know, financial products and services are becoming more complex.”

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Lack of money: Rooney says budgeting knowledge and money management skills are vital to financial success at every life stage, and will be a focus when developing the national strategy.

Seniors To Be First Focus

Rooney says her first mandate as Financial Literacy Leader will be to connect with seniors and address their unique challenges. To do so, she will be rolling out a consultation process by the end of May. “We will be developing a paper and embedding questions in it. We would like to invite the public to respond and help us mould a financial strategy for seniors,” she says.

Household Debt Levels Still Top Concern

Despite emerging from the Great Recession comparatively unscathed, Canada’s high levels of household debt remain an issue, especially as the cost of borrowing remains at record lows. “Household debt is at record levels. Part of the national strategy is helping people plan ahead, and part of planning ahead is paying down debt, managing your money wisely,” Rooney states. “Canadians haven’t been saving as much as they could be. We want to help people understand their options with savings.”

A New Resource Database

Want to improve your financial skill set, but not sure where to turn? Rooney is addressing this resource gap by beefing up the FCAC’s online database. Organizations can populate the database with content, and link to their best resources via a filtered system based on need and region.

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