In this interview, José María Roldán, Chairman of the Spanish Banking Association (AEB), emphasizes the need to make sure that “no one is left out of the digitization process and the opportunities it creates”. Just a few hours before the opening of the third edition of the EduFin Summit - which will be held at Ciudad BBVA, the bank’s corporate headquarters in Madrid, on July 11 and 12 - the AEB Chairman weighs in on the financial sector’s approach to user confidentiality matters: “It is something that is ingrained in our DNA. And this is something that is not that clear in the case of many tech operators, whose main source of income is selling data,” he says.
Q. What role do banks play in financial education matters?
A. Financial education builds on three basic pillars: the family, which is where all education starts, and also plays a key role in attitudes towards money and good savings and spending habits. "The second pillar are public administrations, particularly education authorities, without whose leadership it is very hard to disseminate this type of knowledge among the entire population; and the third pillar is the financial sector." Banks are very interested in interacting with well-trained and informed customers who can understand the fundamentals of financial products and services. This prevents misunderstandings, issues and litigation, and contributes to building stronger relationships, creating long-term bonds of trust.
Spanish institutions have understood this, and that is why they are committed to promoting financial education activities, benefitting almost a million and a half individuals. They also contribute to drive financial literacy by embedding education processes in their banking applications and by making their products more simple and understandable. This way, they attempt to close the huge financial education gaps of a population where one out of every four people’s spend more than they make. This is why all players involved need to act coordinately: Government, local and regional administrations, regulators, supervisors and, of course, the financial sector, without forgetting the personal responsibility that lies within us when it comes to educating ourselves and becoming responsible consumers.
Q. What role does digital transformation play in helping people make better financial decisions?
A. We believe that technology can be very helpful at the time of building a solid relationship, a trusting relationship between banks and customers. Technology helps render faster, more accessible, simpler, more transparent and also, it must be said, cheaper financial services. 24/7 services on your smartphone, at the tip of your fingers. Something unimaginable just a few years ago. However, we all need to understand the vulnerabilities that can emerge through the use of digital channels, in the financial sector and in any other area of activity. On the one hand, this transactional immediacy can lead some people to act out of impulse, without thinking twice about a specific transaction; on the other, we have the confidentiality question." This is an issue about which we are not, relatively speaking, too concerned, because we understand that one of the traditional strengths of the banking industry has been its ability to custody and keep customer data and transactions confidential. It is something that is ingrained in our DNA. And this is something that is not that clear in the case of many tech operators, whose main source of income is selling data.
The confidentiality of the data is ingrained in our DNA
Q. What role can financial education play in this financial digitalization scenario? How does it influence decision making?
A. Financial education is essential to mitigate the risks that I’ve mentioned; i.e transactional immediacy and availability (you can transact anytime, anywhere) and security and confidentiality in the use of personal information. Financial education is key to ensuring that digital channels are used responsibly, but prior to that, or concurrently, we need to ensure that no one is left out of digitization process and the opportunities it creates.
This risk threatens the elderly more than anyone, especially those that live in rural areas. That is why AEB launched Expertclick, a program aimed to teach seniors in rural areas across Spain how to use new technologies. We’ve just released its second edition.
Q. Should financial education be taught at schools?
A. In many European countries, financial education is included in school curriculum in one way or another. Spain is also considering including financial education as an optional subject from the fourth year of the Compulsory Secondary Education cycle, either as a standalone subject or a cross-cutting topic embedded in other subjects. I am not an education expert and I can’t say what's the best way to this, although, with if there’s something we’ve learned through our 'Tus Finanzas, Tu Futuro (Your Finances, Your Future)' program, is that the extracurricular format yields some pretty good results.
Q. AEB’s 'Tus Finanzas, Tu Futuro' financial education program was launched five years ago to help educate students and build their economic and financial skills. How would you rate the outcome of the program?
A. When we launched the program five years ago, some AEB member banks had already been working for some time in raising financial literacy levels in our society, which, unfortunately, are not very high. What 'Tus finanzas, tu futuro' has done is to increase the visibility of these banks’ joint efforts and educate 36,000 young people, teaching them how to manage their money responsibly and make better financial decisions in the future. We are very grateful to the more than 2,600 bank employees from 18 institutions who have volunteered to visit schools across schools across Spain and help 13 to 15 year old students become more financially responsible. Without them, this program would not be possible. The best part is that 95% of students and 99% of volunteers enroll again in the program to repeat the experience and that shows us that the program is fulfilling its goals and encourages us to keep at it for many years to come.
Q. About the EduFin Summit, you will be part of a round table that will focus on the topic of trust. What do you think is the importance and impact of this type of event?
A. They are tremendously important, because they help us keep the debate on track and focused on how to approach financial education, which is a really complex issue. Financial illiteracy is a problem that affects all age groups of society, and which involves a broad range of players, such as, obviously, public administrations, but also many stakeholders of civil society, including the banking sector, which has a particular interest in this, as I have already said before.
Raising financial literacy levels among the population is not easy
P. One of the topics that you will be discussing at the EduFin Summit is how to get users to trust financial services through technology more, to make better decisions. Would you mind sharing some of your insights on this topic with us?
R. There are three ideas that I want to point out with my speech at the EduFin Summit. The first one is that financial education must be identified as an area of priority by all stakeholders interested in it and, of course, by the financial industry. For our industry, it is the most relevant means to build seamless and trusting bonds with our clients. Financial education helps customers to engage face-to-face with their bank, and the bank, in turn, also benefits from this deeper knowledge, as it allows it to provide a better, clearer, and more transparent service, significantly reducing the chances of misunderstandings, and thus mitigating the risk of being the target of legal actions against it.
The second idea I want to emphasize is that raising financial literacy levels among the population is not easy and takes time. It therefore requires a medium and long-term commitment from the institutions and people involved in it. Since we launched “Tus Finanzas, Tu Futuro” five years ago, we have always emphasized that it was not part of a broader brand image campaign or a passing interest, but that our commitment to educating young people in this field was profound and that we are in it for the long run.
For that same reason, we believe that this kind of initiatives should not be the result of specific leaderships at a specific point in time, because if the leader disappears, the project evaporates. Financial education must be part of the organization as a whole, each department and area must be aware of its relevance and embed it into its long-term strategy.
Third, I think it is very important to choose well which projects we want to develop and the partners we want to work with, given that our resources are limited. In the case of “Tus Finanzas, Tu Futuro”, we have taken the extra-curricular activity path, and partnered with Junior Achievement and I think we’ve made the right choice on both.