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Mr. BhavaniPrasad Deshmukh from Fidelity Investments India Talk About Financial Literacy in the Country

Financial Literacy is essential for personal growth and development of an Individual. A financially aware individual is an asset to an economy as both, an investor, borrower, lender, or spender. In India, the majority of the population does not fall under this category. If the country is to reap benefits of the demographic dividend, it is essential that majority of its population is financially literate.
In an exclusive conversation with The CSR Journal, Mr BhavaniPrasad Deshmukh, Head of Regional Public Affairs & Community Relations, Fidelity Investments India, talks about the company’s efforts in imparting financial literacy in India. Following are the excerpts from the interaction.

1. Financial Literacy stats in India are abysmal with only 24% of the population being finically literate. What role can CSR play in improving these figures?

Social and financial inclusion go hand in hand, and both are seen as essential for the overall growth and development of any country. Global policymakers have been viewing financial inclusion as an integral component of economic and social growth for the past couple of decades. It has been viewed as critical in the fight against poverty in emerging nations like India. Financial inclusion can only be achieved through promoting robust financial literacy across all strata of a country’s population. It enables economic empowerment at the individual level and thereby contributes to greater social equality as well.
Major corporates and public sector companies, through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, have been focusing for a few decades now on the upliftment of underprivileged sections of society through education-focused programs. Education enables increased financial awareness and inclusion. Both financial and digital literacy are essential tools in addressing socioeconomic vulnerabilities and poverty.

2. Financial Literacy is a key component of women empowerment. How can India Inc. work towards that direction?

In India, the journey towards gender equality is a long one, due to the many societal variables involved. Gender equality in society is usually largely dependent on the increased financial inclusion of women. Hence, several corporates have been making concerted efforts towards the education of girl children, especially those from less-privileged backgrounds. An educated girl armed with financial awareness is better able to take the right saving and investment decisions for themselves and their families. It is necessary that focused efforts are made to help them gain knowledge on the value of money, good saving and investing habits, how to become self-employed, and more, at an early age. They should also be taught how to be safe while transacting digitally, to protect one’s earnings and savings.
Fidelity being a financial services company has been focused at an enterprise level on corporate social actions to enable financial literacy for women. At Fidelity Investments India, our corporate social responsibility (CSR) program has placed a large focus on the education of children from less-privileged backgrounds, especially financial literacy among girl children. India Inc. too has been increasingly working of late alongside the government towards empowering women through education and financial awareness. While these are all steps in the right direction, we need to continue to build on these efforts to ensure gender equality through financial inclusion.

3. What is an ideal age in your opinion for a person to start gaining financial literacy?

The earlier the better. Ideally, financial literacy education should be introduced in phases at school so that children start learning about money and how to manage it, at an early age. Apart from learning at school, I am sure children can get initiated into financial literacy learning much earlier at home through their parents and grandparents.

4. What role can youth of India play in improving the financial literacy scenario in India?

The youth of today are more digitally connected than ever before, which has also enabled them to be more conscious and concerned about the inequalities in society and the need to address them. They are more inclined today to ‘give back to society, not just money but also from their knowledge and learning, for the betterment of others. Young people who have good knowledge of the fundamentals of finance should come forward to share it with children from less-privileged backgrounds, thus contributing to promoting financial literacy among them. Today, this is taking place in good measure through volunteerism by India Inc.

5. Please shed some light on the Financial Literacy Program by Fidelity Investments India?

At Fidelity Investments India, while we work on many CSR projects, we have a good number of enthusiastic volunteers who regularly conduct financial literacy sessions at schools for children from less-privileged backgrounds as well as for youth who are undergoing skills training for various jobs, in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where we have our operations. Fidelity has curated content for different grades in schools, in multiple languages. These are delivered in the local languages by our volunteers, so that the learning is most efficient for children.

6. What are some of the challenges that the organisation faced during the execution of this program?

The last two years have been challenging because of the pandemic. While our financial literacy sessions for children at schools had taken a bit of a pause, we had continued with organizing job-skilling projects for youth virtually, as part of which they were also attending financial literacy sessions.
The pandemic has also introduced what is now being called a ‘learning gap’ in children from less-privileged backgrounds. What this means is that, for example, a child who is in Grade 4 has the knowledge that is probably on par with those in Grades 2 or 3. Experts say that there is a one-and-a-half-year learning gap currently for students in some of the higher grades. The schools that we support through our not-for-profit partners have been focusing intently of late on reducing this learning gap through bridge classes. This gap will probably result in delaying the renewal of our financial literacy sessions for children, until we are able to ensure that the children have sufficient fundamental knowledge to build upon.
The other challenge that we face constantly is the difference in the standards of education at different schools, although they all use the same state syllabus. Hence, before we conduct sessions, we must make sure that we understand the levels of knowledge of the target students and customize our content accordingly. Thus, we undergo a good deal of preparation before delivering each session.

7. How is this program helping the students and teachers make smart financial decisions in the future and achieve their personal and financial goals?

One thing that we make sure when we conduct financial literacy sessions at schools, is that the regular teachers are also present in the class. While it helps the volunteers connect better with children (often, teachers are able to prompt students to respond appropriately to the lessons we deliver, thus enabling us to establish a bond with them), it also helps the teachers understand fundamental concepts in the financial industry, which may not be available in the regular syllabus that these schools follow.
Our financial literacy sessions start by focusing on the fundamentals of money management, including the value of money, saving habits, how banks work, types of bank accounts, how to avail education loans through nationalized banks, options for self-employment, and more.
When we teach children these fundamental concepts at an early age, they are better equipped to plan for the future, especially when it comes to making financial decisions on aspects such as higher education, career, retirement, and more. It essentially puts them on a path towards fulfilling their dreams. Of course, nothing comes without a lot of dedicated effort.

8. How is the scalability of the program. Does the organisation plans for further expansion of it in the Indian market?

Fidelity, at a global level, is highly focused on financial literacy, especially among women and children from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Likewise, in India, we are focused on financial literacy among children from less-privileged backgrounds, especially the girl child. We are seeing an increased demand for these financial literacy programs from the schools that we support. This is prompting us to increase our volunteer base within each business unit. As we slowly emerge as a society from the pandemic, we are seeing an increased eagerness among our volunteers to make even more of a difference for society. We couldn’t ask for anything more.