According to World Bank figures, 64% of Colombians plan for less than a month or have no financial plans, 58% have problems meeting their expenses and a mere 41% of those under the age of 60 have taken steps to ensure their ability to cover their expenses as they age. What are financial institutions doing to deal with this problem?
The aim of financial education is to help people gain a better understanding of economic concepts, understand the risks inherent in financial products and services, and be able to develop the necessary skills and confidence to make good decisions. Or, at least, that is the definition given by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which specifically promotes projects to improve economic and social wellbeing in its 35 member countries and which Colombia is ready to join.
Thus, as part of its financial inclusion activities and as an initiative to teach people how the financial world, capital markets and stock exchanges work, in 2008 Colombian Stock Exchange (Bolsa de Valores de Colombia), (or BVC, the Colombian Securities Exchange) formed an education area with the sole task of informing people and teaching anyone who is interested what the stock exchange means, what can be done there, and how they can invest their capital.
“Here, we don’t receive any money: that’s one of the first things we teach,” said Adriana Cárdenas, the director of this area that started out as an initiative to promote investment in the stock market. “All institutions with links to financial consumers are required by law to set up financial education programs. And although this requirement doesn’t apply specifically to the BVC, because it doesn’t come into contact with final clients, it does apply to our stockbroking companies. The BVC is perhaps the entity that is most interested in ensuring better financial education, because it appreciates that if the final client doesn’t understand what the different products are and how they’re used, it’ll be hard to generate larger investments,” she explained.
According to Ms. Cárdenas, the idea arose as a strategy for the entity to generate investor growth. “What interests us is having investors who know what they’re doing and being able to grow on the markets and to develop the capitals market in the country,” she added.
Financial education has three components, namely saving, credit and investment, but the BVC’s education program focuses on the latter. “We start from propaedeutic education (by levels). This means we understand that there are people who know nothing, not even financial mathematics, so we assist them as they learn from zero to much higher levels,” said Ms. Cárdenas, who teaches classes such as capitals markets, fixed income and variable income.
The advantage of this teaching-by-levels method is its practicality. “We’re interested in students putting what they’ve learned into practice when they finish and that they don’t think it’s just theory, but rather a way to realize that they can bring knowledge to real life and apply it in their everyday activities. Our language is simple,” she said.
The other cornerstone of the learning program is that teachers are market people, the very stockbrokers who understand perfectly how everything works on a daily basis. “That’s the philosophy behind how we create our programs, regardless of whether the level is low, advanced or professional,” she added.
When the program started, it was exclusively face-to-face. To implement it, the BVC established a number of “BVC Points,” which are sites at universities or chambers of commerce throughout the country. “Nowadays we are present in 18 cities, with 35 BVC Points where people can go to, find information and study,” Cárdenas stated.
“But as time passed, it became evident that we needed to have an online presence. It wasn’t just a matter of trends in education, as people today prefer online platforms and therefore that area of education was hitting exponential growth. Rather, it was that if I had someone in a remote part of Colombia, like Vichada or Chocó, who wanted to learn about the BVC, they wouldn’t be able to do so because there’s no BVC Point anywhere near them,” she explained.
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Thus, about two years ago the BVC began teaching online classes via their own platform. “We did something very simple, mainly starting by training investors or shareholders in issuing companies. But last year we drew up a strategic vision of what the BVC wants to do online, and we decided to choose partners who would help us take that step,” she added.
By the time they were developing that vision, Blackboard come on the scene. “We really wanted to have a tool that we could grow with in the future, one that would be far-reaching”, Cárdenas said. “And this year we set about making that vision come true. Hence our alliance with Blackboard”.
Once the Stock Exchange had implemented Blackboard Open LMS, it carried out a pilot market training program engaging around two thousand people, ranging from bank personnel to trust companies and stockbroking staff.
However, why is the Stock Exchange interested in spreading this financial knowledge? The director of the education area sharply replied:
“it’s because we believe that the more people know, the more they are going to take advantage of the opportunities that exist within the capitals market. In other words, we’re creating growth and inclusion opportunities for society”.
Learning Levels to Become an Investor
The BVC has segmented its training programs on the basis of student needs.
- The first program is aimed at people who want to work in this sector. Generally, they are students who are graduating in Economics, Finance or Accounting and who are interested in engaging activities in this sector. Each program has a baseline, one for further study and one for specialists.
- The second need is learning to invest. “Those interested in this program may be companies or private individuals who ‘want to learn how to make money’, and subjects range from financial mathematics to foreign exchange circulation,” she explained.
- Another program is aimed at people who are already working in the sector but want to improve. “Courses are much more advanced and specific. For example, you can be taught TES (domestic public debt securities) arbitration with futures (a highly specific subject), which is designed for people who work on the fixed income market,” she said.
- The BVC also offers a personal finance course called ‘Plan your future with the BVC. Participants are taught how to draw up a budget, generate practical, directed savings, and understand matters relating to financial mathematics. “It’s basic knowledge if you want to keep your accounts in an orderly fashion,” Cárdenas explained. “Then, afterwards, we look at specific issues like how to invest, what the different entities are, how much they charge, what people really need to know, what their investment profile is and, depending on that, what they have to know and what not,” she added.
The BVC has boosted its financial education program with a series of initiatives aimed to show people that understanding this world and learning how to navigate it it’s all but difficult. For this purpose, the following initiatives have been put in place.
According to Cárdenas, “This is the flagship initiative because it allows us to award prizes to those who make decisions in an investment simulator. Although the competitor’s goal is to win a prize, the BVC’s is to educate”.
This competition was originally available in universities only, but now it has expanded to schools and the general public. Last year, there were 13,000 participants, bur this year’s target is to reach 16,000.
This is not part of the competition, but a training platform. Anyone can use this simulator for training.
This is the BVC’s information system. Unlike the simulator or the Millionaire Stock Exchange students cannot buy or sell shares, however it provides them with an excellent source of information and learning. “On e-BVC you can just see the prices and have access to stock exchange information at any time,” explained Cárdenas. “It’s an information and help tool.”
The BVC’s financial education program has forged alliances with other international entities, such as the University of Illinois, the London School of Business and the Mexican Securities School. Education management recognizes that a better financial education leads to better economic development, and that this in turn creates a sense of greater wellbeing in people.
Plans for next year focus on implementing Blackboard Collaborate software and fully harnessing the power of the tools offered by Blackboard Open LMS.
Adriana Cárdenas, Education Area Director, Colombian Stock Exchange
Carlos F. Vargas