David Provost And Gary Torgow Of Talmer Bank & Trust Are Dedicated To Curing Financial Illiteracy In America’s Youth

It is an oft repeated cliché that “children are the future,” but what does that mean in this second decade of the 21st century?

Apart from obviously catering to their material needs and welfare, the buzzword when referring to “the future” is education. But we always tend to think about the traditional basics of the “three R’s,” reading, writing and arithmetic – of which, strangely, only one subject actually begins with the letter “R.”

OK, so that comment is a little facetious and does not embrace the wider elements of education in a plethora of other subjects. However, all those subjects follow the classical academic framework and do not usually address the problem of what could be termed “financial education.”

Only now is an awareness developing that students also need to learn about financial subjects, such as money management and savings.

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The paucity of teaching in those subjects was exposed last month, when the results of an international survey were published. These showed that the U.S. scored eight points below the international average for financial literacy and finished in ninth place (out of 18) below Latvia! The survey was reported by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which surveyed 29,000 students in 18 countries and economies.

Unsurprisingly, Shanghai, China’s financial hub, was found to be the leader in financial literacy with a score of 603. What is surprising is that the Flemish community of Belgium was second at 541, and Estonia rounded off the top three at 529. The United States scored 492, behind Australia, New Zealand, The Czech Republic, and Poland.

Perhaps, we can take some comfort from the fact that the Russian Federation was behind the U.S. by one place, and America was also ahead of countries like Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, and Columbia!

The test took two hours with questions ranging from simply being able to recognize an invoice and its function to complex scenarios such as reviewing and choosing the better of two loan proposals. According to the report, only 10 percent of students were able to tackle the hardest financial literacy tasks.

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According to Kaitlyn Krasselt, writing in USA TODAY, Michael Davidson, head of schools for OECD, said that Shanghai’s strong performance can be attributed to an education system that focuses on intervention mechanisms to keep students from falling behind. He added that, unlike the United States, social background and performance in financial literacy are not correlated in Shanghai — in other words, financial status has little to no impact on literacy.

The U.S. has 70 percent of its students enrolled in schools with financial education programs, yet it falls far behind Shanghai in financial literacy among students. The United States has the strongest correlation between social background and financial literacy; the practical result of which is that students from advantaged backgrounds score higher in the assessment.

David Provost, CEO, and Gary Torgow, Chairman, of Talmer Bank & Trust are dedicated to remedying this problem. They arranged for their Talmer Bank and Trust to partner with local schools in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio to celebrate the “Teach Children to Save” campaign last April. Their strategy was to offer savings education for children in 41 schools and 89 classrooms, reading to 4,235 students.

The bankers read and explored a lesson on saving and spending money and taught children how to save towards a financial goal.

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We asked Gary Torgow why he and his colleague, David Provost, decided to become involved. He explained that the program underscores the importance of financial literacy for young people.

“As the world becomes more and more complicated and clearly more global, it is vital that the youth of our country have the ability to understand the intricacies of the financial world and its effects on their future. Simple knowledge of financial markets and their impact on the global economy will assist the next generation in succeeding economically both for themselves and the businesses that they are involved in.”

The national program of “Teach Children to Save” organizes banker volunteers to help young people develop a lifelong savings habit. Since the program started in 1997, some 146,600 bankers have taught savings skills to 6.4 million students. Next year, “Teach Children to Save Day” will take place on Friday, April 24.

David Provost and Gary Torgow already have the date blocked off.