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For those in a milestone period of their lives
November, 09th 2006

The first two most recent posts on www.icai.org are about IFAC (International Federation of Accountants). And only the third is about something closer home: "ICAI Thanks Finance Ministry for extending the last date for e-filing of Income-tax returns."

As a theme, it appears that `financial literacy' has not yet merited the attention of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), though the homepage begins with the motto, `that person who is awake in those that asleep... '

In contrast, on www.aicpa.org, the site of the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), the very second item in `what's new' reads, "Americans 25-34 Face Uncertain Future Due to Poor Financial Habits". The report rues that the number of people in this demographic maintaining an interest-bearing account or other savings instrument is declining, "from 65 per cent in 1985 to 55 per cent in 2004".

More worryingly, the study `conducted by Dr. Christopher Thornberg and Dr Jon Haveman, economists with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles, on behalf of Feed the Pig (www.FeedthePig.org)' has revealed that the ownership of `the most accessible of these instruments, a simple savings account with a bank' has fallen `from 61 per cent to 47 per cent between 1985 and 2004'. A footnote informs that `Feed the Pig' is a trademark of the AICPA, `the national, professional association of CPAs, with approximately 330,000 members'.

Feed the Pig is `a national multi-media public-service announcement campaign sponsored by the AICPA and the Ad Council', informs an October 25-dated press release. "The Ad Council (www.adcouncil.org) is a private, non-profit organisation that marshals volunteer talent from the advertising and communications industries, the facilities of the media, and the resources of the business and non-profit communities to deliver critical messages to the American public."

Fine, what's this campaign about? It uses `Benjamin Bankes, a smartly dressed, adult-sized pig' to evoke `memories of the piggy bank' and thus deliver `a strong message about the importance and benefits of saving'. Jimmy Williamson, Chair of the AICPA Board of Directors, is worried that for the first time since the Great Depression, Americans are spending more than they earn.

And Carl George, Chairman of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, emphasises that adults in the 25-34 age group are in a milestone period of their lives. "People in this demographic are getting married, having children, developing careers and buying homes. The financial decisions they make now will have a long-term impact," says George.

In the US, the population in the 25-34 age group is about 4 crore, according to the Census Bureau. In India, it is about four times that, or 16 crore, as per 2001 Census data on www.censusindia.net. Median age for India is 24.9, and the population in the 15-64 age group is 64 per cent, or 70 crore, as per 2006 estimates on www.indexmundi.com.

While any specific initiatives from the ICAI seem to be absent, it is heartening that the AICPA has been working at `360 Degrees of Financial Literacy' (www.360financialliteracy.org). "There are many simple ways you can save money: make a budget and stick to it, bring your lunch from home, pay off your credit card in full and on time each month to avoid late fees and interest charges," begins the site. It offers tips for the different life-stages, including childhood, college, career, marriage, parenthood, home ownership, entrepreneurship, life crisis, and retirement.

One of the stages is when you get squeezed in the middle to join the `sandwich generation'. What's that? "At a time when your career is reaching a peak and you are looking ahead to your own retirement, you may find yourself in the position of having to help your children with college expenses while at the same time looking after the needs of your aging parents," explains the AICPA. A whole page of guidance is given and it wraps with the most important advice, as follows: "Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and relaxation every evening, and stay involved with your friends and interests."

The `Feed the Pig' site sources a lot of content from the `360' site. One such is `Three keys to financial success', and the keys are: "always spend less than you earn, avoid splurging, and invest the rest." And there are tools like `Personal Cash Flow Worksheet' and `Lunch Savings Calculator'.

Another major programme is JA or Junior Achievement (www.ja.org). "We are a growing number of volunteers, educators, parents, and contributors who reach out to 7 million students each year, in grades K-12," says the `about us' on the site. Tying up with Capital One, JA did a survey, only to find that 94 per cent of 8th graders have never had a personal finance class, though `48 per cent would like to learn more about managing money'.

So, a `Finance Park' has been unveiled as a remedy. The park is "a mobile, interactive classroom two 53-foot semi-trucks that feature 2,000 square feet of training space and can host up to 60 students at a time where students are given real-life financial situations and taught how to make important decisions on money matters and establish a personal budget."

It is comforting that the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has begun to speak about financial literacy. Wish the ICAI thought of an easier CPT (Common Proficiency Test), which may be called the FLY (Financial Literacy for the Young), aimed at the 16 crore population in `a milestone period of their lives'.

D. Murali

 
 
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