Financial education alone is not enough. Starting this National Financial Literacy Month, we need to do better.

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Today, Americans carry $2 trillion in consumer debt and 78% of us live paycheck to paycheck. It’s a deeply stressful situation for individuals, families, employers, and communities nationwide. And then once a year, we are reminded by well-meaning purveyors of National Financial Literacy Month that we are probably insufficiently educated about our personal finances:

● Women have lower financial literacy rates than men and tend to have fewer savings as well. These issues are exacerbated for the many women who are single mothers and/or sole breadwinners, and who manage their finances alone. (CNBC)
● If Americans were financially literate, they would be able to take responsibility for their own financial security (since the government no longer does so). With the rapid decline of pensions, for instance, workers need to be educated on the importance of regular savings. (Forbes)

I wish it were that simple. There is no doubt that most Americans are struggling with serious financial stress, but financial literacy alone will not solve the problem. To attain financial independence and security, Americans need tools and support they can actually use.

To design financial wellness solutions that empower people to make a real difference in their own lives, we need to keep the following principles in mind:

1. Education alone is not enough. ‘Education’ and financial literacy alone simply do not inspire or empower behavioral change. Reducing financial stress is doable, but we need to be willing to take a different approach.
2. Personalization is key. People will engage with a solution when it feels like it’s about them and their situation specifically. Instead of making an education program the focus, tailor financial advice to the individual needs of the individual. Bring general principles home by addressing employees’ specific circumstances.
3. Privacy matters. Money is a sensitive and emotional subject that is difficult to discuss—especially in a group setting. The right solution respects the need for privacy and empowers participants to explore financial questions without fear of judgment.
4. Take a comprehensive approach. Only a solution that looks at someone’s full financial picture ensures that that person’s most important issues are identified and addressed.
5. Apply behavior change theory to financial wellness. There is a big difference between knowing what to do, understanding how to get it done, and then actually doing it. That’s why when it comes to complex, emotionally-driven issues such as money, teaching “financial literacy” is not enough. We also need to draw on established principles of behavior change science such as: social cognitive theory, positive psychology, stages of change, and gamification.
6. Use technology to lower barriers to action and change. We can now design solutions that meet individuals where they are and offer them the actionable advice they need, in the moment they need it. Aim to create solutions that are mobile, right-sized, and self-paced.
7. Don’t neglect the human connection. As technology transforms the financial services landscape by expanding our ability to provide great personalized advice, and do it more consistently while also adhering to best practices, nothing changes the importance of a human adviser who can create a relationship, connection, and trust to empower behavioral change.

The time has come to provide financial solutions that do more than educate – that rather empower true change. Let’s make 2018 the year real solutions are finally available to all.

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