Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 16, 2014

Can You Help Someone Become Financially Capable?

By David Reiss

Researchers at the World Bank have posted Can You Help Someone Become Financially Capable? A Meta-Analysis of the Literature.The abstract reads,

This paper presents a systematic and comprehensive meta-analysis of the literature on financial education interventions.  The analysis focuses on financial education studies designed to strengthen the financial knowledge and behaviors of consumers. The analysis identifies188 papers and articles that present impact results of interventions designed to increase consumers’ financial knowledge (financial literacy) or skills, attitudes, and behaviors (financial capability). These papers are diverse across a number of dimensions, including objectives of the  program intervention, expected outcomes, intensity and duration of the intervention, delivery channel used, and type of population targeted. However, there are a few key outcome indicators where a subset of papers are comparable, including those that address savings behavior, defaults on loans, and financial skills, such as record keeping. The results from the meta analysis indicate that financial literacy and capability interventions can have a positive impact in some areas (increasing savings and promoting financial skills such a record keeping) but not in others (credit default).

I hope that policy makers at the CFPB have reviewed this paper carefully. The Bureau has a financial education mission that must be built on solid research if it hopes to improve outcomes for consumers. A lot of the scholarly work in this area has questioned the efficacy of financial education, but the Bureau seems to be going full speed ahead with it. The Bureau should bore down into the literature to determine which types of interventions are effective before allocating funds indiscriminately to new initiatives.

I am particularly concerned about the last sentence of the abstract which indicates that interventions have failed to improve consumer behavior when it comes to credit default. That seems to be a big problem for any financial skills initiative. Further research should focus on alternative interventions that might be effective in reducing credit default by consumers. And funds should not be wasted in the interim on unproven initiatives in this area.

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