Banking Department Launches Financial Literacy Initiative
By Vincent Funelas
In an effort to enhance financial literacy, as well as educate New Jerseyans about being financially responsible, the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) launched the New Jersey Financial Literacy Awareness Network (NJFLAN) this summer. DOBI has taken a leadership role in addressing the financial literacy crisis that plagues many states by revolutionizing how financial education materials are distributed to the public and creating a model program that could be implemented in any state across the country. This initiative will increase access to materials that will help teach all consumers how to manage their finances and make better financial decisions.
New Jersey is home to many organizations that offer educational materials, credit counseling and financial solutions, but many consumers still do not know how to balance a checkbook and have little insight into the basic principles involved with earning, spending, saving and investing. Two years ago, DOBI conducted a survey of all banking institutions throughout New Jersey to determine the level of financial education being provided to consumers. DOBI learned that hundreds of programs existed, but were not reaching the communities that needed it the most – low- and moderate-income areas.
THE BIRTH OF NJFLAN
Recognizing the importance of improving consumer financial literacy, DOBI was motivated to build a system where consumers would have access to all possible resource materials from any organization offering them. Thus NJFLAN was born. The network coordinates the existing public and private organizations that provide financial educational and resource materials in order to increase consumer access to these programs. This information is designed for all age groups.
“We’re offering anyone at any age the tools they need to manage and understand their finances, make sound financial decisions and be financially responsible,” Banking and Insurance Commissioner Holly C. Bakke said. “While there are many financial education initiatives in existence, there is little coordination between them. NJFLAN will fill this important need.”
NJFLAN members include public and private organizations consisting of community groups, schools, financial institutions and corporations. NJFLAN will distribute financial education materials and track the progress of individuals who participate in financial education programs offered by these organizations. Those who join the network will have the ability to provide New Jersey consumers with a personalized assessment report indicating areas that may need improvement and a list of educational materials and workshops that may be helpful.
FINANCIAL LITERACY FOR ALL
“NJFLAN is part of the Department’s comprehensive financial responsibility campaign developed to better prepare consumers for the expanding role of credit in their daily lives,” said Banking Director H. Robert Tillman, who is spearheading this effort. “What we like about this program is that educational and resource materials are written for all age levels and go a long way in helping to stimulate interest in learning about financial affairs and how to manage money without sinking into debt.”
DOBI unveiled the NJFLAN initiative in June at the South Amboy Middle/High School.
NJFLAN learning centers include display kiosks containing easy-to-read financial education materials in both English and Spanish. These physical libraries, which display a variety of financial education materials available in New Jersey, are located on the premises of each organization or placed where a sponsor designates. Each sponsor can designate up to five areas within the county of their choice as host locations for these learning centers.
Since the launch, Banking Director Tillman has visited several community-based workshops and conferences throughout the state generating interest in the participation or sponsorship of the network. Within six months of its unveiling, more than 250 organizations have expressed interest in joining the network. Participation in this program will increase consumer exposure to much-needed financial education materials and programs.
More recently, Tillman joined Union Center National Bank officials in announcing the latest NJFLAN learning center location. The learning center was placed at the bank’s satellite branch at Union High School. Union Center National Bank will also designate Union Township’s Municipal Building, Library and Senior Center as other NJFLAN learning center host sites.
Other NJFLAN sponsors include Independence Community Bank, NovaDebt, PNC Bank, Capital Lending Corp. and Garden State Mortgage. The New Jersey Credit Union League, New Jersey Bankers Association, New Jersey League of Community Bankers, New Jersey Coalition of Auto Retailers, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education also support the network.
As the network continues to grow, consumers will benefit from easy access to a wide variety of books, brochures, games, software, magazines and videos. These items may be borrowed or purchased. Consumers with access to the Internet may also take advantage of NJFLAN’s online learning center. This online tool is added to the Web site of each NJFLAN member. Through this online version, consumers have access to online personal financial calculators to help in such areas as money management, entrepreneurship and banking. The online library will also act as the central ordering system to replenish, track and manage the circulation of materials for its on-site learning center counterpart.
To ensure the success of the network, NJFLAN is structured through three steering committees: Oversight and Implementation, Survey and Assessment, and Outreach and Communications. Each committee is charged with responsibilities to make sure NJFLAN’s mission, to increase the distribution of education materials, is fulfilled.
Oversight and Implementation: This committee is responsible for monitoring the progress of the overall program and the work of the committees. It will make decisions concerning the direction of the program. The members of this committee include representatives from state government (particularly banking or financial services regulators), financial institutions, financial education organizations and community groups.
Survey and Assessment: This committee is responsible for the development of the assessment and survey questions to be used in the consumer personal assessment process. This committee will review questions, collaborate with representatives from educational institutions and help decide the categories and types of financial-related questions for use in the process. The members of this committee include representatives from state government (particularly education agencies), educators and financial service counseling organizations.
Outreach and Communication: This committee is responsible for expanding the awareness of the program as broadly as possible. This committee will recommend ways to increase the number of organizations participating in the network and the number of sponsors. The committee will also help develop relationships that will provide opportunities to participate in events, conferences and other functions designed to maximize exposure for the network. The members of this committee include representatives from state government, financial institutions, any business entity offering consumer goods or services, foundations and community groups.
NJFLAN is part of the major, comprehensive financial literacy campaign DOBI launched this summer. Since then, DOBI has developed training programs that will help community leaders and groups teach their members the skills necessary to improve their financial standing and responsibility. DOBI also unveiled the Consumer Credit Bill of Rights, which made New Jersey the first state to provide consumers with additional protections with respect to the use of their credit information.
More information on the network may be found at NJFLAN’s Web site, www.NJFLAN.com, or by calling (800) 630-0531.
Vincent Funelas is public information officer for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.