Financial Literacy among Marginalised Women

Table of Contents

Executive summary and recommendations 

1.1 Background

The Australian Government's interest in financial literacy has grown as a result of the increasing complexity of financial products and services and concerns that many Australians do not have the necessary financial skills to make informed choices. Under its Election 2004 Policy, Super for All and Understanding Money, the Australian Government established the Financial Literacy Foundation to deliver its commitment to provide Australians with the opportunity to build their capacity to better manage their money.

There has been a scarcity of research into issues affecting particular groups, including marginalised women, in relation to financial literacy. Particularly as to how these groups access financial information, the barriers they encounter and the opportunities they have to improve their financial literacy. This research project has sought to identify these issues and to investigate the views of marginalised women.

A number of issues influence women's financial well-being, including that women in general spend less time in the paid workforce than men, are less likely to be paid overtime than men and are more likely to have interrupted career patterns due to caring responsibilities. Women's employment is also concentrated in lower-paying sectors and occupations. This has implications for women's financial management and security, as well as superannuation and retirement savings.

Women, and in particular marginalised women, have been identified as having relatively low levels of financial literacy (ANZ 2005). Target groups for this research included women who are carers, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women, Indigenous women, women with a disability, single mothers, women in rural and remote locations, and older women, including widows.

This research project has been staged in two parts. Stage 1 included a review of Australian and international literature pertaining to women's financial literacy (Appendix 1) and five Roundtable discussions with peak groups to identify issues for women from marginal groups in regard to financial literacy. The Roundtables also collected information to assist in the development of an interview methodology for Stage 2.

Stage 2 involved conducting 15 focus groups with 150 marginalised women from the target groups in urban, regional and remote areas.

1.2 Key research findings

1.2.1 Access to financial information

The marginalised women who participated in this research project have developed a range of strategies to budget and manage their finances. Their access to financial information on which to base financial decision-making has often been developed through a process of trial and error.

Financial counsellors including those at Centrelink were reported as providing helpful advice, although they were a scarce resource with long waiting lists. Paid financial advice had assisted some women with their investments, while others found the advice confusing and not relevant and reliable. Banks were not viewed favourably as a source of financial advice for the majority of marginalised women, who believed banks were only interested in selling their products.

The Internet is a useful source of financial information for some younger women with computer skills and easy access to a computer. Other groups of women found accessing financial information through the Internet to be a confusing and frustrating experience. Community organisations, including neighbourhood centres, migrant resource centres and family support services were reported as a helpful source of budgeting advice for some women, principally those women already in contact with such an organisation. Community organisations also act as a referral and information source for some women.

1.2.2 Barriers to accessing services and information

The common barriers to marginalised women improving their financial literacy fall into four broad categories: social and cultural, physical, educational and financial. Particular groups of marginalised women experienced these barriers to differing degrees.

Women who are carers reported major barriers in obtaining clear information on their entitlements from Centrelink. They cited the lack of personalised service, the complexity of the system of entitlements and the lack of transparency when seeking information. Isolation due to their caring responsibilities also affected their capacity to access information from others in the same situation.

Older women faced barriers such as having to take financial responsibility late in life when widowed; finding trusted sources of advice; and feeling overwhelmed by the range of products and services.

CALD women reported cultural attitudes to money as being a major barrier to being able to access and deal with Australian financial institutions and government income-support agencies. Lack of financial information in CALD women's first language and difficulties in accessing interpreter services are additional barriers for some women.

Barriers reported by women with disabilities include: lack of support and understanding of their situation from Centrelink; the cost and suitability of transport for women who cannot drive in order to access banks and computers in libraries; and the lack of financial information in Braille, on tape and pictograms (for women with a cognitive disability).

Rural women faced physical barriers to accessing financial information, including rural bank closures, lack of counselling and other support services in rural areas, and the time involved and cost of petrol to travel long distances.

Accessing accurate and relevant information from Centrelink had proved difficult for some single mothers. The barriers they cited include: not being told about Centrepay (a direct bill-paying service); being given inconsistent information; receiving letters from Centrelink containing unnecessarily complex language; and difficulties navigating the Centrelink web site.

The women in the Indigenous focus groups lived in very different circumstances from each other and the barriers they faced were influenced by factors such as geographic location (isolation, lack of services and public transport in remote areas, increasing costs of fuel); age (lack of financial role models when they were growing up); and employment status (lack of budgeting skills).

1.2.3 Life-stage financial literacy needs

Targeted life-stage financial advice is required by many women at transition points in their lives. These transitionary times include: leaving school; starting work and leaving home; having and raising a family; buying a home; separation and divorce; retirement and older age. Even though there is frequently little motivation to access information ahead of the time, female participants in this research thought it was important to make information available when it is needed.

1.2.4 Opportunities to help marginalised women improve their financial literacy

A sample of existing financial education programs and approaches was outlined in the literature review (Appendix 1). A number of these approaches were tested in the focus groups with the findings providing some clarity on the types of approaches favoured by marginalised women to increase their skills and knowledge on financial issues.

One-off workshops and seminars were seen as a good start to improving financial understanding on particular topics that can be covered in a day or half-day. The benefits of longer courses include the development of financial skills and knowledge over an extended period. Courses that include financial skills development as part of a broader program of living skills or home management were also seen as useful by some women. Longer courses appealed to women with the time and capacity to attend and who liked learning with peers.

Print-based information (booklets, brochures and fact sheets) is also useful, particularly in conjunction with face-to-face information provision.

1.3 Summary and recommendations

The focus of this research project has been on the core questions of how marginalised women access financial information, the barriers they encounter in attempting to do so, and the opportunities that exist to improve their financial literacy.

Women require financial literacy to ensure their own and often their families' economic security. Falling marriage rates, rising divorce rates, and the earlier death of men mean women are more likely to have to rely on their own financial literacy skills for managing their money. Many marginalised women are vulnerable to slight shifts in their financial circumstances and the benefits of increased access to paid employment realised by some women have not been able to be achieved by many marginalised women.

Focus group findings reinforced the Roundtable discussions with peak women's and welfare groups, recognising that poverty has multiple impacts on women's capacity to access long-term financial planning information. Many women in this research, plan financially for their immediate needs and have developed money management strategies that have only the smallest of buffers for emergencies. This research project has provided new understanding on the information access barriers and how they may be overcome to assist marginalised women to become more financially literate.

1.3.1 Recommendations

Marginalised women, through their peak groups, need to know about the existing services available to assist people on low incomes. Women who wish to learn more about financial management are interested in a range of ways to do so. These include workshops and seminars as well as longer financial education courses. The women stipulated a number of requirements for the format of workshops and courses that generally reflect good practice, adult-education approaches.

A number of peak groups that participated in this research project have indicated an interest in assisting their members to become more financially literate. This may involve running budgeting skills or household management workshops, providing information on financial services available or sponsoring one-off seminars on topics of interest.

It is proposed these peak groups and other interested social welfare organisations meet with the Australian Government to discuss the findings from this research project and how the financial literacy needs of their membership can best be met.

These discussions should include options for developing pilot programs with interested groups and/or the development of a series of modules which can be adapted to the differing needs of particular groups of marginalised women.

Recommendation 1: that information is provided to each of the organisations involved in this research, which outlines and provides contact details for the range of financial counselling and other financial industry services provided by the Australian and state and territory governments.

Recommendation 2: that financial education programs for marginalised women use approaches that reflect good practice, adult-education formats. These include those that have an interactive format, allowing time for questions and to test understanding; are delivered by a trusted independent source; are held in easily accessible venues; and are designed in consultation with the target audience.

Recommendation 3: that financial education programs are developed in a range of formats to suit the needs of different groups of marginalised women. These include half and one-day workshops as well as longer courses that exclusively focus on financial issues or provide financial skills development as part of a broader living skills or home management program. Print-based information (brochures, booklets etc.) and Internet sites are useful adjuncts to face-to-face information provision for some marginalised women.

Recommendation 4: that peak women's and social welfare groups who work with marginalised women be involved in progressing these research findings and options for development of reliable targeted programs for marginalised women.

Recommendation 5: that discussions between the peak groups and the Australian Government include options for

  • 1) the development of pilot financial education programs for interested groups of marginalised women and
  • 2) for a series of financial education modules that can be adapted for use by the peak groups according to their needs and interests.

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Introduction 

This report outlines the findings of a research project to investigate financial literacy among marginalised women. The research was commissioned by the Australian Government Office for Women (OfW) in the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA). RPR Consulting was contracted to undertake this work.

Issues that were identified in the brief for the project as influencing women's financial well-being and literacy include:

  • Women in general spend less time in the paid workforce than men, are more likely than men to work part-time, are less likely to be paid overtime than men and are more likely to have interrupted career patterns due to caring responsibilities. Women's employment is also concentrated in lower paying sectors and occupations. This has implications for women's financial management and security, as well as superannuation and retirement savings.

  • Women have very different financial information needs from men and are more likely to require financial intervention or targeted life-stage financial advice when facing relationship transitions such as separation, divorce or death of a partner, or when taking maternity leave or career breaks to raise children.

Target groups for the research included women who are carers, CALD women, Indigenous women, women with a disability, single mothers, women in rural and remote locations, and older women, including widows.

2.1 Policy context for the project

One of the eight priorities of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission's (ASICs) 2001 Consumer Education Strategy was 'financial literacy and financial exclusion'. Key elements of the Australian Government's 2004 Policy, Super for All and Understanding Money, are:

  • an Australia-wide information and awareness-raising campaign to be launched in 2006;
  • a web site for financial literacy information and education resources;
  • financial literacy programs in schools and workplaces, as well as in vocational and higher education; and
  • research and benchmarking of financial literacy levels.

At the same time, Women's Ministers, through the Commonwealth, States, Territories and New Zealand Minister's Conference on the Status of Women (MINCO) committed their governments to work towards improving women's financial literacy and understanding of superannuation and retirement incomes. This project contributes to the progress of that commitment.

Financial products and services in Australia are becoming increasingly complex. Research shows there is no lack of information for consumers; the problem is that some consumer groups often have difficulty gaining access to this information, which is not targeted, relevant or reliable for them (Consumer and Financial Literacy Taskforce (CFLT) 2004). Some groups have been identified as having particularly low consumer and financial literacy levels, and research indicates that targeted approaches to equip them with appropriate financial skills, knowledge and information would ensure that they are better placed to make informed decisions, are less vulnerable to scams and are able to avoid unmanageable levels of debt (CFLT 2004). Women are over-represented in these groups (ANZ 2005).

2.2 Research Methodology

The project has been staged in two parts. Stage 1 included a review of the literature and five Roundtable discussions with peak women's organisations and welfare groups.

Literature review

The literature review was completed first and focussed on three core questions:

  • How do marginalised groups of women gain access to financial information?
  • What barriers do marginalised women encounter in attempting to gain access to financial information?
  • What opportunities exist to help marginalised women to improve their financial literacy?

The literature review is at Appendix 1.

Roundtables

Five Roundtable discussions were held with peak groups and other stakeholders in order to:

  • identify issues for women from marginal groups in regard to financial literacy;
  • identify ways of contacting women from marginal groups;
  • build relationships with peak groups to assist future research on the issue; and
  • collect information to assist in the development of an interview methodology for Stage 2.

The stakeholders invited to the Roundtables were identified through discussions with OfW, the coordinators of the National Women's Secretariats funded by OfW and through peak bodies. Five Roundtables were held (one each in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth) in November 2005 and each included a mix of stakeholders representing marginalised women.

The Roundtables included:

  • peak welfare and support groups;
  • groups that provide financial counselling;
  • peak disability groups;
  • peak women's organisations; and
  • peak groups representing older people, rural women, organisations working with Indigenous women and peak groups working with CALD women.

Roundtable participants were sent a discussion paper drawn from the literature review to provide background for the discussions. Two organisations were unable to attend but were able to participate through other means (a phone interview was held with a peak disability organisation and a short written submission was received from a peak women's organisation).

A full list of Roundtable participants is at Appendix 2.

2.2.1 Stage 2

The findings from Stage 1 uncovered a range of issues about marginalised women's financial literacy for which further research was considered important. Stage 2 involved conducting 15 focus groups with marginalised women from the target groups in urban, regional and remote areas. One hundred and fifty women participated in the focus groups. Two groups each were held with women who are carers, CALD women, women with a disability, single mothers, rural women, and older women; and three groups were held with Indigenous women.

Participants were recruited through the peak groups who took part in the Roundtables as well as RPR's own networks. As these participants were drawn through their contact with community sector organisations they may differ in characteristics/skills than marginalised women in the general community. A list of the groups and locations is at Appendix 3 and focus group questions are at Appendix 4.

This report incorporates findings from the literature review and the outcomes from both the Roundtables and focus groups.

2.3 Research foc us on marginalised women

This project aims to complement the work of the Financial Literacy Foundation. In particular it aims to identify the issues and needs of marginalised women in relation to financial literacy.

The findings of the ANZ 2005 survey of financial literacy in Australia showed that people with lower socio-economic status had lower levels of financial literacy, and that women overall had lower levels of financial literacy than men.

Historically, women's economic security has been strongly tied to their partners' incomes, and this is still the case for many women in Australia. However, falling marriage rates and rising divorce rates mean that women can assume less than ever that a partner will contribute to their long-term economic security; they are more likely to have to rely on their own financial literacy skills for managing their money (Security4Women 2004).

A recent study found that couples on income support or low incomes are much more likely to separate than those with higher incomes (Bradbury and Norris 2005) and The Policy Research Report on Economic Security for Women (Security4Women 2004) concluded that while some women in Australia enjoy high levels of economic security, many women are very vulnerable to slight shifts in their financial circumstances.

Women's participation rate in the labour market in August 2005 was 57.4 per cent compared with 72.4 per cent for men. Of those who work part time in Australia, 71.6 per cent are women. Of all women in work, 46 per cent were working part-time in 2006 (www.abs.gov.au). Preliminary findings of a study by Gibbings and Heyworth (2005) indicate that women's employment status is affected markedly by the number and age of their children, and that women of lower educational achievement are more likely to be unemployed and generally work fewer hours.

Factors that detract from women's financial literacy may also affect their economic security and are often overlapping. They include:

  • women's competing responsibilities, including child care and care of aged parents, which often make it hard for them to make time for education and training that might improve their employability;
  • careers interrupted by family and community responsibilities;
  • little opportunity to build assets or to save for retirement;
  • poor access to financial advice and services (Security4Women 2004); and
  • discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age and/or appearance (in the context of employment).

The Roundtable discussions highlighted what participants saw as the clear correlation between economic exclusion and poverty and poor financial literacy. They saw poverty as being a major barrier to marginalised women being able to access information and education to improve their financial literacy. This research project has identified the key causes of poverty among women as being:

  • the nature of the paid work that women do;
  • the cost of child care and education;
  • lack of affordable housing;
  • problem-gambling and debt incurred by partners;
  • level of income support, especially for single mothers, carers and women with disabilities; and
  • lack of wealth accumulation to support retirement.

2.4 Concept ualising financial literacy

The review of the literature found that although financial literacy has been given a good deal of government attention internationally, little attention has been paid to spelling out what is meant by the term. The review outlined a number of models that conceptualise financial literacy and drew from them to propose a functional definition as follows:

Financial literacy is a process of making meaning of, and understanding, financial issues and situations. It requires:

  • a set of prerequisite skills (which importantly include literacy and numeracy);
  • knowledge of how to access information and resources;
  • confidence in one's own skills and knowledge; and
  • a set of values relating to personal financial responsibility.

In addition, becoming financially literate requires information and services to be available, accessible, useful and useable

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Key findings - Access to financial information 

This section outlines the key findings from the research on the ways that marginalised women access financial information. Findings from the focus groups indicate that respondents currently have a range of strategies for managing their finances they implement in order to be able to cope financially. The section begins with an outline of participants' current strategies and then discusses their responses to a number of sources of financial information.

3.1 Current financial management strategies

Stakeholders in the Roundtables considered it important to recognise that many women on low incomes were good money managers out of necessity and this needs to be recognised and built on in future financial education policy and program development. As a starting point to discussing the core question of how marginalised women access financial information, the focus group participants were asked about their current strategies for managing their finances.

The strategies women employed to manage their finances were consistent across the groups and include the following:

  • the use of lists, diaries, and account books to enter and monitor expenses;
  • either not using credit cards or being rigorous in paying them off;
  • using Centrepay or other direct debit facilities to regulate their bill paying;
  • getting extensions on their gas, phone and electricity bills by negotiating with the utility companies to part-pay the bills; and
  • a range of budgeting strategies including seeking out specials at the supermarket, recycling clothing, using discount vouchers and coupons to purchase food and other household items, and taking advantage of free entertainment opportunities.

Some women indicated they had sought assistance from financial counsellors and advisors in developing these money management strategies while others described turning to friends, family and respected members of the community for advice on financial matters. Others learnt tips from magazines and some had attended one-off seminars on particular financial topics. Many women indicated that their current strategies had developed by a process of personal learning through trial and error.

The older women considered their budgeting skills had been learnt early in life, at a time when there was less easy access to credit and living " within their means" was more accepted. For some women with disabilities, being able to manage their finances gave them a sense of control over their lives, and in the single mothers group a number of women were proud of their discipline in dealing with the costs of raising children alone.

Some examples reported by women include:

A single mother from Perth: If at the end of the fortnight I have money in the bank, that is a bonus. I have everything deducted. Centrepay takes $25 per pay and it is put towards my electricity bill so I am ahead in payment. This month I had a $500 bill but only had to pay $50. We live on a small amount trying to feed eight people so that is a huge achievement.

A participant in the women with disabilities group: Having a household accounts book in which I enter all my bills so I can keep track, is the way I manage my money. I have a diary which notes when bills are due and the day before they are due, I phone for an extension. Some companies know me well and I get extensions as routine (usually for a month).

An Indigenous woman in the Sydney group: It helps me to manage if I don't see it – a proportion of my pay gets put into an account which I can't get access to. I learnt the hard way – I was $20,000 in debt but I'm doing OK now."

Some women in the Brisbane CALD group who described how they had decided to work with others in their community, setting up a system of pooling money as a means of saving: We put $100 every month into a joint account with some other families from our community. If a family needs the money for something like buying a car or visiting a sick relative, the group decides who needs the money most and we keep a record of who has used the money.

3.2 Sources of financial information

The focus groups sought to gain further information about specific avenues by which women from the target groups had informed themselves about financial matters. Using the findings from Stage 1, the focus groups sought responses to specific sources of financial information and whether they were relevant and helpful. These are outlined below.

The review of the literature and the Roundtables discussions found the principal avenues by which people gain access to financial information include:

  • formal education sources such as financial education in schools and financial education programs for adults;
  • counselling and advice services such as financial counsellors and financial advisors/planners;
  • Internet and print-based resources;
  • the social welfare support system; and
  • informal avenues such as family and friends.

These avenues were tested in the focus groups by asking participants to respond to their experiences of accessing specific sources of financial information.

3.2.1 Formal education sources

The literature review identified a number of programs being implemented in Australia and internationally that aim to improve the financial literacy of particular cohorts of the population.

There are programs that target marginalised groups such as Indigenous and CALD communities, and programs targeting women such as those for women approaching retirement or recently retired.

Most of these programs have been developed at local or regional levels to cater to local needs and access requirements. Some are one-off seminars and workshops while others are structured programs running over a number of weeks. Examples of short courses and workshops that have catered to different groups of women are Girl Savvy, a series of one-day workshops for young women aged 14 to 18, delivered by the Office for Women (NSW) and seminars on financial planning for retirement for older women run by the Office of Women's Policy (Victoria) and the Victorian Council on the Ageing.

Longer courses catering to marginalised women include a number of partnerships between financial institutions, government departments and community organisations, such as Saver Plus developed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the ANZ bank; and Finance First which is a partnership between the YWCA and Citigroup, the NSW Department of Education and Training and the University of Technology Sydney. The literature review provides further detail (see Appendix 1).

Findings from the focus groups revealed that formal education courses were currently not a popular source of accessing financial information for these groups of women. However, some respondents indicated they had attended one-off seminars and workshops on such topics as planning for retirement (older women); understanding the GST (rural women); Internet banking (Indigenous women); and using an ATM (older women). TAFE English as a Second Language (ESL) courses that included basic financial information as one topic had been accessed by newly-arrived migrant women.

3.2.2 Counselling and advice

Financial counselling and information services

Financial counsellors are funded by the Australian Government and state and territory governments to provide free and independent services targeting low–income, marginalised consumers. There are approximately 450 full-time, part-time and volunteer financial counsellors in Australia (Barker 2005). They are based in Centrelink, financial counselling services, local government (mainly in Victoria) and in a wide range of community organisations.

A number of women in the focus groups had accessed financial planning assistance from Centrelink Financial Service (FIS) officers and had found their advice on budgeting and planning useful. They reported that Centrelink FIS officers understood their circumstances and tailored their advice accordingly. Some older women in Victoria had accessed financial counselling through their local councils and saw them as a trusted and reliable source.

The Roundtable discussions revealed that while a number of the peak organisations knew of, and referred women to financial counsellors, other peak groups were unaware of these services. It was notable that the organiser of the Melbourne CALD group was unaware of the existence of financial counsellors and few CALD participants in the Melbourne group knew of these services.

Financial advisors

Financial advisors operate in almost all areas of the finance industry, providing advice for a fee on a range of issues, including mortgages, debt reduction, loans, investment and superannuation. They are a source of financial advice for some marginalised women although the fees charged made their services prohibitive for some women on low incomes. A number of women across the groups had accessed advice from a financial advisor with some reporting satisfaction with the advice and others finding that it was not relevant or reliable.

In both rural groups there were women who, after selling farms and moving into regional towns, had accessed paid financial advice at that life stage. Most were happy with the advice they received and had acted on it to provide a retirement income for themselves and their husbands. Some carers and older women also reported receiving useful advice from financial advisors whom they had accessed for advice at particular life stages, such as when buying into a retirement village.

However, the focus group research also reinforced the findings from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and Australian Consumers Association (ACA) joint survey, which found that many people received poor advice from financial planners (cited in Council Of The Ageing (COTA) National Seniors response to the CFLT discussion paper 2004). A number of focus group participants who had accessed paid financial advice were unhappy about the response they received. They reported often finding the advice confusing and not always knowing the right questions to ask to get the advice they required. Others reported feeling patronised by male financial planners who did not make any attempt to tailor advice to the women's circumstances and were only interested in selling their own products.

3.2.3 Banks

The majority of focus group participants use banks for everyday transactions on savings and other accounts, and a number of women have approached banks for financial advice. Few respondents believed the advice and service they received from the banks was helpful. The exceptions were some Indigenous women in a regional centre who had attended a session organised by their local bank, resulting in employment of a female bank manager as a " friendly face" at their local branch. Some rural women found that dealing with a female bank manager made a positive difference.

The majority of women in all groups reported negative experiences when using banks for financial advice, including feeling patronised and vulnerable. Older participants believed the banks had been irresponsible with their advice and reported demeaning experiences.

One older woman from Sydney said: A bank discriminated against me not just because of my age but also because of my gender. Being an older woman makes you vulnerable. Another older woman said: Banks give you the rosy side of things and tone down the fees.

Dealing with banks represented a major hurdle for most of the CALD respondents who were faced with learning the language of banking. In the Melbourne group, women spoke of their fear of approaching banks and of the difficulties in understanding different types of accounts, how automatic teller machines work and how to obtain a loan.

One recently-arrived refugee told the group: In my country we were always given cash when we worked. Only rich people had bank accounts.

Most of the CALD women in the Brisbane group were using banks but continued to face English literacy and numeracy difficulties, particularly if their schooling in their country of origin was interrupted. They found bank personnel spoke too quickly and no interpreting service was offered.

Research for this project has found that Indigenous consumers are among the most financially excluded in Australia. This is particularly so for remote Indigenous communities, of whom 28 per cent live in locations which are distant from centres of population and services, including banks. (This compares with 3 per cent of the non-Indigenous population). Moves to digital service provision by the banks may also disadvantage Indigenous people who face issues such as language barriers, a lack of technological literacy and a cultural preference for face-to-face services (Westbury 2000).

Women from the remote community of Santa Theresa (90 kilometres from Alice Springs) reported that the lack of public transport makes accessing banks very difficult and most said they do not use banks very often. (The community has a Commonwealth Bank agent).

One woman told the story of trying to obtain a loan from a bank in Alice Springs. She found the experience very intimidating and had to return to the bank eight times to produce all the required paperwork. The bank approved the loan at a higher amount than she initially requested. The loan has been used to buy items for the family and she has little capacity to make the required repayments.

3.2.4 Internet

The Internet is a source of a vast range of financial information from government bodies, banks and financial institutions, and community organisations. It has become an easy method for reaching the population-at-large, as information dissemination is cost-effective and easy. However it poses difficulties for some groups of consumers, including many marginalised women. This research has found that it is not a uniformly popular source of accessing information for marginalised women.

Findings from the research indicate the factors impacting upon women's Internet usage for accessing financial information are age (younger women were more likely than older women to access financial information from the Internet); being in the workforce (women who had access to a computer at work were more likely to use the Internet to access a range of information); geographic location (Internet connections in many rural and remote communities were often slow and unreliable); having Internet access at home (single mothers and carers with home access found it a useful information source); and English language competency (women from CALD backgrounds and some Indigenous women from remote communities were less likely to seek information from the Internet).

Older women who have not grown up with computers are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to understanding and using Internet services. In 2001, census data reported that only 10 per cent of people aged 65 and over accessed the Internet the week before the census compared with half of those aged between 15 and 55 (Lloyd 2004, cited in COTA 2004). None of the women in either of the older women's focus groups considered the Internet as a helpful source of financial information. Most did not own a computer at home, and of those who did it was not used for accessing financial information, as they found the plethora of financial products advertised to be confusing.

Younger women, particularly those who are in paid employment in offices, were more likely to use the Internet at work. A number of the young Indigenous women in the Sydney and Rockhampton groups used Internet banking and accessed the Internet at work for general financial information. Younger women with disabilities, single mothers and carers are using the Internet at home and find it a useful means of accessing information and overcoming isolation.

Communications technology, including Internet access, remains a difficulty for many people in rural areas in Australia. Women in the rural focus groups reported that, although the Internet is a vital source of information for women living on the land and in remote locations, dial up times are frustratingly long.

3.2.5 Community organisations

Findings from the Roundtables drew attention to less formally recognised avenues that marginalised women use to learn about financial information and educate themselves to become financially literate. They include contact with support workers in family support services, migrant resource centres, and neighbourhood and community centres. Roundtable participants noted that for some marginalised women the support they received from service providers, often over a considerable period of time, had enabled them to gain confidence in their own skills and abilities, including in managing their finances.

An aim of the focus groups was to further examine community resources as sources of financial information. Participants were asked whether they had accessed financial information from a community organisation.

Some of the community organisations offering assistance to women, as reported by women in the focus groups, are:

  • the Multicultural Development Association (MDA) in Brisbane, which auspiced bilingual community assistants to provide information to newly-arrived refugees and migrants on how to open a bank account and budget for a household. The MDA currently runs a household management program and is looking to include specific financial management topics.
  • local groups affiliated with Older Women's Network and National Seniors that had organised information sessions on financial information topics, including using automatic teller machines and financial planning for retirement.
  • Carers Queensland, which has produced a financial information kit that includes information sheets on issues such as guardianship, writing a will and setting up a trust, and phone numbers for further information.
  • the GAP Reconnect Service Alice Springs, which provides a range of services to young Indigenous mothers, including information on budgeting and shopping for healthy food.
  • a Catholic organisation in Brisbane that runs seminars on setting up trusts for parents with children with a disability.
  • staff at community organisations who refer women from the single mothers, CALD and carers groups to financial counsellors and social welfare organisations and other sources of financial information and assistance.

RPR found there is considerable interest in the topic of women's financial literacy among the peak groups and community organisations contacted for this project. At least half of the peak groups RPR contacted, reported they were in the process of, or had run sessions on, aspects of financial management for their female members.

Although responses indicate that the use of community organisations as a source of helpful financial information was not uniformly strong, they did reinforce research (Cross 2004) suggesting that, for some groups of women, learning about financial issues within their own social context and networks is effective.

3.2.6 Informal avenues

This research found some marginalised women are likely to turn to their family, friends and respected members of the community for advice on financial matters. For example, the participants from CALD backgrounds commonly turned to their community for advice on financial matters and in some instances, had worked with other women to learn about Australian financial systems, enabling them to set up small businesses.

3.3 Conclusion

The marginalised women who took part in this research have developed a range of strategies to budget and manage their finances. In many cases their budgeting strategies have been developed through a process of trial and error. When they did seek counselling and advice from financial counsellors, the women reported finding that advice helpful to their circumstances. However, with the exception of Centrelink FIS officers, many women were either unaware of, or reported there were long waiting lists for, financial counselling and information.

Paid financial advice had assisted some women with their investments while others found the advice confusing and not targeted to them, relevant or reliable. Banks were not viewed favourably as a source of financial advice for the majority of marginalised women, who believed the banks were only interested in selling products. The only exception to the negative response to banks came from women who had attended a bank information session tailored to their information requirements. Female bank personnel were also viewed as generally more helpful.

The Internet is a useful source of financial information for some young women who have easy access to a computer and the skills to search for information relevant to their needs. For the majority of marginalised women, seeking financial information through the Internet is a frustrating experience and not a favoured access source.

There was consistency between the findings in Stages 1 and 2 of this project regarding community organisations as a helpful source of financial information for marginalised women. Roundtable findings uncovered a range of less formal routes by which women learn about their finances.

Using case examples, Roundtable participants discussed marginalised women who had gained the skills, knowledge and confidence to deal with their finances through seeking advice from support workers in family support services, migrant resource centres, neighbourhood and community centres.

The focus groups reinforced this finding, although these sources of information were more likely to be used by those women already in contact with a community organisation. These organisations are also an important referral source for women, with the findings pointing to a need for additional resources on financial information to be made available to a range of community organisations that work with marginalised women.

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Key findings - Barriers to accessing services and information 

The literature review categorised the barriers to marginalised women improving their financial literacy as falling into four broad categories: physical, cultural and social, educational, and financial.

The Roundtables sought to explore this topic further by asking stakeholders to consider "what are the biggest barriers that women you work with face in gaining the skills, knowledge and confidence to deal with financial issues?" The focus group research asked marginalised women about general difficulties they face in understanding and dealing with their finances and specifically about barriers in accessing financial information.

The following section outlines the findings for particular groups of marginalised women, as reported in the Roundtable discussions and focus groups, and concludes with the barriers that are common across the groups.

4.1 Women who are carers

Carers of sick or disabled adults or children have been identified as a financially vulnerable group: 55 per cent of primary carers depend on a government allowance or benefit as their main source of income (ABS 2003). An ABS survey of carers found that in 2003 most primary carers were women, and the majority of them were not in the labour force.

Findings from the focus groups indicate the major barrier that carers face in dealing with their finances is obtaining clear information from government agencies, notably Centrelink. Participants reported that information was not given out in a systematic and transparent way and they felt that without asking the right questions it was unlikely information would be offered. Specific barriers cited were the complexity of the system of entitlements; the lack of personalised service; and a perception that Centrelink staff are not aware of all the carer entitlements.

Focus group participants reinforced findings from the ABS 2003 carers' survey that there were many direct and hidden financial costs involved in being a carer. These included the costs of therapy and equipment for children with disabilities; home and car modifications; medicines and respite care. Women in both focus groups reported it was difficult to plan financially for the future, as their focus was coping day to day.

Isolation is one of the reported barriers carers face in accessing financial information, as their caring responsibilities mean they have little opportunity for interaction with others in the same situation. Some women were aware of financial information workshops designed to assist them to understand their finances and entitlements as carers. But it was difficult for them to get to the workshops because of caring responsibilities.

Having to deal with the family's finances when their husband became incapacitated was a particular difficulty for some carers who had previously had little experience with household financial matters.

4.2 Older women

Financial literacy becomes especially important for older women when they are no longer able to work. As life expectancy for women in Australia is 82 years (ABS 2005), most women can expect to live at least 17 years after retirement. Women are more likely than men to live alone in later life (Into 2003). Women who belong to financially marginalised groups and have not been able to accumulate savings and assets, or who have worked in casual jobs where they have accumulated little superannuation, are very likely to become dependent on the government for their support. This is particularly true of single women or women who have been single parents or carers.

A number of life events that are common in the older years, such as ill health, bereavement and entering residential care, can detract from women's capacity to manage their finances and make key decisions regarding expenditure and saving.

Widows have been identified as a marginalised group among older women. For some women, having to take responsibility late in life for a range of financial and other functions that used to be their husband's domain was a confusing and difficult time for these women.

One woman described her situation thus: I was married to an alcoholic, had three children and watched my husband drink our money away. When he died at 60, I took control of our finances, made mistakes, floundered and educated myself.

Some women had turned to their adult children for advice and assistance, only to find this compounded their financial problems. In some instances their children provided unsound advice, and in others there was financial abuse resulting in the sale of assets and investment of money by a relative.

An issue raised in both older women's groups was the financial problems some women had faced when buying into a retirement village. This is a complex financial undertaking that requires sound financial and legal advice.

One experience reported by a Sydney woman as a cautionary tale to others in the group. She said: We learnt the hard way, through selling our unit and buying into a retirement village. Our solicitor didn't understand the terms of the contract for buying into a village as far as ongoing fees for services and departure fees. The departure fees were so steep we lost $100, 000 and this has affected our finances ever since.

National Seniors in Victoria had run seminars on the topic of buying into retirement villages but the group agreed further seminars were needed for older women (and men).

Older women also wanted to know more about reverse mortgages, with some expressing scepticism about the reported advantages. They were fearful of being left homeless if the company went bankrupt and had found it difficult obtaining unbiased financial advice on such schemes. This is a further example of older women's financial vulnerability, which they attributed to the confusing (and perceived as unnecessary) range of financial products and services. Too much choice was seen as making their capacity to manage their finances overwhelming.

4.3 CALD women

Refugee and other migrant women face a range of barriers to attaining financial literacy. These were outlined by Roundtable stakeholders representing CALD women and further explored in the focus groups.

Women's cultural attitudes to money can be a significant barrier to being able to access and deal with Australian financial institutions and government income-support agencies. Examples given in the focus groups include:

  • Sudanese women in the Melbourne group reporting that they were used to budgeting day to day and it has been a difficult transition having to adjust to managing their fortnightly Centrelink payment.
  • Some women speaking of problems adjusting to their children's expectations about money, having come from a less consumer-oriented society. There were ongoing problems particularly with teenagers, including instances of having to repay debts incurred by their children.
  • Women in both groups indicating they have an obligation to contribute to their extended families in their country of origin. They spoke of a perception that: if you live in Australia you are wealthy and should be able to send money home.
  • Men tend to manage the family's finances in many immigrant cultures and this causes friction in families when women receive income support from the government to care for their children.
  • Some immigrant cultures where there are cultural taboos in discussing financial issues, which are considered to be private and personal.

Refugee women face particular difficulties understanding the basic financial information needed to survive in Australia, as they have commonly experienced interrupted schooling in their country of origin and often lack basic literacy and numeracy in their own language. The critical time for them is in the first two years of settlement, and providing information to assist women to deal with a new financial system is important.

The lack of financial information resources in community languages is a barrier to accessing information, as are difficulties in accessing interpreter services. This is compounded when interpreters lack understanding of financial terms and are unable to translate them accurately.

4.4 Women with disabilities

Poverty is particularly prevalent among women with a disability. A number of factors contribute to this, including low incomes, fewer employment opportunities and additional expenses due to their disability. Additional expenses may include the high costs of medication, the purchase of special equipment or aids, and access to appropriate housing, transport and services related to personal care or home maintenance.

Women with disabilities are often doubly disadvantaged. Their over-representation in part-time, casual and lower-paying jobs and among those relying solely on government payments means that they are one of the most economically marginalised groups in Australia (ACFOA 2003; People with Disabilities 2005).

The degree of access people with disabilities have to information in appropriate formats clearly has a bearing on their financial literacy. For those with physical and sensory disabilities, physical access to existing financial education programs and resources may be very limited (SCARC 2004).

In both focus groups, the women made clear that their major problem in dealing with finances was being barely able to survive on their income. As one woman stated: you can't manage your finances when you don't have money. Both groups talked of the constant juggling associated with the reduction in benefits triggered by earning over the allowed amount. This was an ongoing problem for the women who were able and wanted to work.

When asked about the specific barriers they faced in accessing financial information there was considerable anger directed at Centrelink. As a Perth woman said: There needs to be a cultural change in the way people with disabilities are treated by Centrelink. Currently the system is punitive, not supportive, and this is set to get worse. People with disabilities need to be able to be granted an interview if we want face-to-face information.

Another woman reported she had sought financial information from Centrelink FIS but found it: unsuitable for my needs as it appeared to be entirely geared to retirement and super.

Other barriers reported by participants and the peak groups representing them include:

  • the cost and unsuitability of transport for women who cannot drive, which means accessing banks and computers in libraries can be difficult;
  • for those with physical and sensory disabilities, physical access to existing financial education programs and resources is limited; and
  • lack of financial information in formats such as Braille, on tape and pictograms (for women with a cognitive disability).

4.5 Rural women

Rural women reported significant access barriers, which broadly reinforce findings from the literature.

A common theme from the Roundtable and focus group discussions was their experience of dealing with service providers who have discriminatory attitudes towards women. Banks were criticised by women in the rural groups for ignoring them when they approached the bank for a loan with their husbands. Others reported humiliating experiences, including one case in which a women who had run a small business in a rural town discovered the information relating to her finances had been publicly talked about in a social setting. Another woman had experienced problems with a separated partner obtaining access to their joint account and withdrawing all their savings.

The closure of rural bank branches and the general lack of financial counselling and other support services has made getting advice and assistance difficult for rural women. Women reported having to travel long distances to banks and other service providers which, with rising petrol prices, was a drain on their time and resources.

Women who wanted to access financial information via the Internet found the service often slow and unreliable and this, combined with the fact the information they sought was often complex and full of jargon, was significant access barrier.

4.6 Single mothers

Women who are sole mothers account for around 90 per cent of all lone-parent families and exhibit the greatest disparity between male and female wealth holdings (NATSEM 1999:77). It is generally recognised that single-parent families face a much higher risk of poverty than most other groups in the community. According to a NATSEM study in 2001, the proportion of single-parent families inincome poverty was 18 per cent compared with 6 per cent of couples with children. Single-parent families typically spend half of their income on rent, household bills and food, where these essentials account for only one third of the income of other families. In Australia, half of all jobless single-parent families have no car (Zappalà 2003).

Women in the two focus groups for single mothers lived in very different circumstances from one another — young Aboriginal women in the Alice Springs group live in settlements on the fringe of the town and face multiple barriers to managing their finances. The lack of regular, low cost, reliable public transport into Alice Springs means they are often forced to use the nearby convenience stores that are: two to three times more expensive than the supermarkets in town. All the participants live on income support and indicated there are few employment opportunities or traineeships offered.

Lack of services including transport and local bank branches, and the fact that English is their second or third language, are major barriers to these women accessing financial information that is reliable and useful to them. Half of the group had attempted to obtain a bank loan, but only one woman was successful, with the others reporting unhelpful staff and forms that were too complicated.

The Perth group, which included women who were separated and divorced, all reported living on incomes under $40,000. This group was very vocal about the barriers they faced in dealing with their finances and specifically about accessing financial information that is relevant and reliable.

Accessing information from Centrelink about their entitlements was a major topic of discussion in this group. They reported a range of negative experiences including: not being told about Centrepay; being given inconsistent information each time they approached Centrelink; receiving letters that contained unnecessarily complex language; and finding Centrelink's web site difficult to navigate.

The majority of the group wished to improve their financial knowledge and skills but stressed that sources of information and education needed to suit their circumstances. Of particular importance was child care. Child care is a big issue for us. If we are to attend training or information courses they need to offer child care, or for those with children at school, offer courses within school hours.

In addition, the Roundtable discussions highlighted the social isolation and depression that arise as a consequence of poverty as negatively affecting women's capacity to pursue educational opportunities to improve financial literacy.

4.7 Indigenous women

Indigenous consumers have been found to be among the most likely to be financially excluded in Australia (Connolly 2001). The literature review identified that disadvantage for Indigenous people in Australia is severe. Factors contributing to financial exclusion for Indigenous people include: poor literacy and numeracy and generally low levels of education; on average, low incomes and high unemployment; high rates of disability and poor health; remote location and lack of services. Women in the three Indigenous women's focus groups confirmed these factors.

There were differing views about banks as a source of relevant and reliable information for these women. About 28 per cent of the Indigenous population of Australia live in locations that are distant from centres of population and services, including banks. As many banks move to Internet-based services and close small branches in rural areas, Indigenous people in remote areas (where telecommunication services are unreliable) are particularly vulnerable to falling on the wrong side of the 'digital divide'.

This was confirmed by women from the remote community of Santa Theresa, where women face multiple barriers to accessing banks and other services. These include isolation, lack of public transport and increasing costs of fuel. Those women who had tried to access information from banks in order to get a loan, reported the difficulties faced with complicated forms and generally unhelpful staff.

Four Sydney women reported discriminatory attitudes from banks, which led them to access more culturally relevant sources such as the First Nations Credit Union. The Rockhampton women described more positive experiences with a particular bank that had offered a workshop on Internet banking. Attending this, had helped them overcome fear of using the Internet.

The Roundtables also identified the following barriers to accessing services and information:

  • lack of role models for women when they were growing up;
  • lack of Indigenous financial counsellors for people to talk to;
  • no known Indigenous-specific financial education programs in urban areas; and
  • lack of information in Indigenous languages.

4.8 Barriers to financial literacy common across marginalised groups of women

Focus group participants were asked a question about the broader difficulties they face in understanding and dealing with their finances. The women reported a range of issues which had made it difficult for them to gain financial literacy. These included having the prerequisite skills to understand financial issues and situations; confidence in their skills and knowledge; and knowledge of, and physical and financial capacity to access financial information. These barriers are categorised below as social and cultural, physical, educational, and financial barriers. The literature review and Roundtable discussions support these findings.

Social and cultural barriers

In order for services or programs to be accessible to marginalised women, they need to be provided in ways that are culturally appropriate, respectful of diverse social and cultural needs and respectful of women. This is so for all women who experience difficulties when attempting to access services, including particular cohorts of women such as CALD and Indigenous groups.

Roundtable participants clearly recognised that poverty had multiple impacts on women's capacity to plan financially, other than for their immediate needs. This was reinforced by the focus group discussions in which women, particularly those living on benefits, stated they had little capacity for long-term financial planning and had developed money management strategies offering only the smallest of buffers for emergencies.

A Perth woman from the women with disabilities group said: Survival is a physical and mental fight. But what happens? You get sick and go backwards. The sense of hopelessness that poverty brings has impacted upon these women's self-esteem and motivation to investigate financial information. As one single mother stated: there is no time to sit down and do something about it. Generational poverty also means that for many low-income women there are no role models and supports to assist them to understand financial systems and structures. A number of Indigenous women reported that when they were growing up there was no one to talk to about money (and there was little interest in thinking about long-term money management strategies).

Cultural expectations about money are barriers to financial literacy for some Indigenous and CALD women who are expected to support extended family members. Indigenous women in the Sydney focus group had found it difficult to explain the high costs of living in the city to family members at home, who had expectations they would send money on a regular basis. Some women reported difficulty in budgeting because of the ongoing expectation they would contribute to funeral and travel expenses for extended family members.

As noted previously, some CALD women were expected to repatriate funds to their families in their country of origin and often struggled to meet these financial obligations.

Financial abuse by partners was also recognised as a barrier to women's financial literacy and occurred across all groups of marginalised women. It took the form of women not being allowed any money of their own; joint funds being used to gamble; and utilities being registered in only the woman's name. Examples reported by focus group participants include:

  • an ex-partner of a rural woman was able to access and clean out a joint bank account;
  • women in the CALD group managing the family's finances that had been their husband's domain and the men being resentful about adjusting to life in Australia where women were paid the benefits for children; and
  • a single mother who during her marriage, was never allowed by her husband to have anything to do with the finances. She struggled to learn even the most basic financial management principles.

Physical barriers

Lack of private transport and reliance on public transport for many women on low incomes make attending courses, or even getting to banks, a time-consuming and frustrating undertaking. Public transport was reported as being unreliable by women in a number of the groups, most notably in suburban Brisbane and Perth. For women in rural and remote areas, public transport services were so infrequent that it often meant spending a whole day in the nearest town in order to do banking and other business.

Access to a computer was important to women's ability to access a growing range of employment opportunities. A Perth woman with a disability reported: Not all jobs are listed in the paper. If you don't have access to the Internet, you miss out on those jobs. And some jobs are advertised in the paper but you have to apply online. A common complaint across the groups was having to deal with call centre systems and processes when trying to access financial information.

Educational barriers

Women need to have the opportunity to seek out and use financial information if they are to improve their financial literacy. Stakeholders at the Roundtables noted a range of literacy, numeracy and technological literacy barriers among the women they represent. These include low levels of literacy and numeracy and lack of skills to access information on the Internet.

The jargon and often difficult language used by financial institutions was a particular problem for many of the women attending the focus groups. These problems were compounded by the lack of English literacy among many recently-arrived migrants and refugee women but were not restricted to these groups. Other women commented on what they saw as the impenetrable language used by banks and other financial institutions.

Financial barriers

Marginalised women saw the costs of some financial services as a critical barrier to accessing financial information. Exclusion from education programs or financial literacy services because of an inability to pay, is a significant issue to be considered when designing or implementing programs.

While most programs identified in the literature review are offered free-of-charge or at very low cost, the focus groups identified hidden costs such as child care and transport as barriers to accessing courses.

Marginalised women also identified the costs associated with accessing financial planners as a barrier to gaining professional financial advice.

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Key findings - Life-stage financial literacy needs 

Women are likely to require financial intervention, or targeted life-stage financial advice, when facing relationship transitions such as separation, divorce or death of a partner, or before retirement or taking career breaks to raise children. This research has sought to explore these issues with women from the target groups and their representatives.

The CFLT found that people rarely seek information about the financial implications of such life stages and events in advance (2004). Focus group discussions reinforced this finding but provided useful information that can assist in the development of targeted and timely financial advice for marginalised women.

This section outlines participants' deliberations on life-staged financial information and education needs.

5.1 Girls and young women

Suggestions from the Roundtables and focus groups concentrated on financial education in schools and for young women leaving home and starting work.

Financial education in schools

The Financial Literacy Foundation has worked with Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to reach agreement on introducing financial literacy education into the school curriculum from Kindergarten to Year 10 under the National Consumer and Financial Literacy Framework.

Current life skills subjects offer the opportunity to explore financial education using relevant examples such as mobile phone debt, saving to buy clothes, a car or other items, while the personal development curriculum in schools provides an opportunity for discussion on career choices and to hear from role models about choices and decisions that led to achieving career goals. One suggestion was to use a wide variety of role models including Indigenous, CALD and disabled women.

The Indigenous women from Santa Theresa and the young single mothers in Alice Springs would like to see the introduction of school programs on budgeting which they consider an important skill for their daughters. Other women concurred about the importance of early learning in primary school to encourage good budgeting habits.

Leaving home and starting work

This stage was seen by many respondents as a critical life stage for many young women and an orientation to the financial information they will require is needed, to successfully negotiate this stage. This includes budgeting; understanding employment agreements and contracts; knowledge of superannuation; signing rental leases; entitlements to benefits; avoiding pitfalls such as debts incurred from mobile phones, credit cards and car payments; as well as the consequences of unpaid fines.

A young Indigenous woman from the Sydney group said: I needed good advice when I moved out of home and moved from the country to the city. I had a lot of establishment expenses, got a loan and got myself into debt. It has taken me ages to pay it off.

Older women were concerned for their grandchildren who were living in a more complex financial environment.

5.2 Having a family and middle age

Women from the target groups agreed marginalised women face multiple financial information needs from around 20 to 50 years of age. A number of key transition points where targeted life-stage financial advice is seen as important, were common in all the groups. While other situations requiring advice were only applicable to particular groups.

Such situations are encompassed in the following stages:

Having and raising children

Financial information on entitlements and support for women upon the birth of a child was seen as important by all participants.

Having a child born with a disability was a critical stage for some women in the carers group. One woman noted there was little information provided to her when her son was born with a disability and it would have been useful to have a checklist of what financial, health and education assistance was available to her. Establishing trusts for a child with a disability was a concern raised in both carer focus groups.

Buying a home

Reliable, jargon-free information and advice is needed on buying a home including: understanding mortgages and repayments; and approaching a bank if unable to make repayments.

Returning to work

Returning to work after having a break to raise children is a stage participants saw as requiring targeted advice about superannuation, access to courses to upgrade skills, and budgeting and financial planning assistance.

Separation and divorce

This can be a very difficult transition point for many women where targeted advice and assistance is of critical importance. A single mother from Perth said: A woman's mental health is precarious after a separation. Money and emotional health are linked and you forget to see what you do well. Financial advice during this stage needs to include dealing with splitting assets, relationship debt, benefit entitlements and the adjustments needed to live on one income.

5.3 Older age

Participants noted government agencies are putting increasing emphasis on expectations for older people to take a more active role in managing their finances. This is happening at a time when financial products and services are becoming increasingly complex. Older women (65+) were seen as a particularly vulnerable group for a number of reasons, including that they may have had less formal education and are of the generation who left financial matters to their husbands.

Participants noted particular needs for women in their pre-retirement years as:

  • access to independent financial planning about post-retirement investment options,
  • advice on the costs associated with buying into a retirement village and investing the proceeds from the sale of a farm or the family home;
  • understanding pension entitlements;
  • understanding superannuation; and
  • technological literacy (use of ATMs, Internet banking, etc).

Financial literacy becomes especially important for older women when they are no longer able to work. Participants noted it is important for older women to have a basic level of numeracy so they can understand and deal with pension entitlements, superannuation, investment opportunities and be aware of scams. Widows were seen as a particularly vulnerable group who frequently required assistance to deal with, and make decisions about property and other assets.

Programs run in seniors groups, the development of resources in clear, jargon-free language, and access to financial advice and counselling were suggested, to provide financial assistance opportunities for women, pre and post-retirement.

5.4 Conclusion

Targeted life-stage financial advice is required by many women at transition points in their lives. This project has highlighted transitionary times that are common to many girls and women as well as those that are particular to some groups of marginalised women. Even though there is frequently little motivation to access information ahead of these stages, it is nevertheless important that information is available when women need to access it.

A new school curriculum, developed as an initiative of the Financial Literacy Foundation, will aim to provide young people with an understanding of basic financial concepts and information to equip them to make informed financial decisions.

Peak organisations working with older women have begun developing and running workshops for older women on topics that have been identified as important at stages in their older years, including planning for retirement, investing in a retirement village and understanding reverse mortgages. This project has highlighted other needs at this age, including understanding superannuation and pension entitlements and technological literacy (use of ATMs and Internet banking).

Women's middle years contain a number of key transition points for which there is no lack of financial information. However much of it is not targeted, relevant or reliable for them. Section 6 outlines the focus group findings in relation to women's interest in opportunities to learn more about financial information and provides a starting point to consider how these needs may be met.

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Key findings - Opportunities to help marginalised women improve their financial literacy 

Stage 2 of this project tested the responses of women in the target groups to some of the approaches which are currently used in Australia and internationally to increase financial literacy. This section begins with a summary of the findings from the literature review, highlighting those programs which have been evaluated and that demonstrate elements of good practice. It should be read in conjunction with Section 4 of the literature review (Appendix 1).

The following section then outlines the findings from the focus groups regarding women's responses to programs that increase skills, knowledge and confidence about financial issues.

6.1 What is good practice in delivering financial educatiocation programs ?

The literature review describes a sample of existing financial education programs and approaches in Australia and internationally that target women and marginalised groups. However, with few exceptions, the research does not indicate how effective the approaches described in the literature have been in improving knowledge or changing consumer behaviour. The CFLT (2004) notes the lack of outcome evaluations as a major shortcoming of current approaches to the provision of information and education on financial literacy in Australia.

Those programs that have been evaluated demonstrate a number of common elements of good practice. These include:

Having a clear target audience whose cultural needs and access requirements have been considered at program design stage

These programs include:

  • Finance First, which was developed through focus group consultations with low-income parents and students to gain an understanding of their financial education needs. It was then piloted in three sites and learnings from the pilots were used to adapt and expand the program.
  • Many of the financial education programs for Indigenous Australians which have been designed by Indigenous people or with Indigenous input. For example, the Family Income Management project was designed by Indigenous people to suit the needs of the community.

Working with participants over an extended time in courses that focus on improving participant's financial education skills

These programs include:

  • MoneyMinded, developed to help community educators and financial counsellors assist people on low incomes to improve their financial knowledge and make informed decisions about their money. The program contains six core modules and 11 additional modules with a flexible delivery format to suit participants' needs.
  • SaverPlus, which helps participants to identify an education-related savings target and to participate in training that enhances and develops their financial skills. Participants are assisted by a mentor who works with them throughout the program.

Being well-resourced (in both economic and human resources) through partnerships between financial institutions, government departments and community organisations

These programs include:

  • SaverPlus, which is a partnership between the Brotherhood of St Laurence and ANZ and has now been expanded to include the Benevolent Society, Smith Family and Berry Street as community partners. Participants work with a relationship manager who acts as mentor and helps them to meet their goals.
  • Family Income Management scheme, which is funded by FaCSIA, supported by Westpac, and had the involvement of local Indigenous people in its design phase.
  • the Tangentyere Bank Pilot Project, in which the Tangentyere Council collaborated with Centrelink, FaCSIA and Westpac to aid their clients in the transition from cheque-based to electronic-based banking.
  • MoneyMinded, which has involved collaboration between the ANZ and financial counsellors and community educators.

Evaluating the program and using the results of the evaluation to improve the program

  • MoneyMinded, which has been independently evaluated, fed the evaluation results back into the program.
  • SaverPlus, evaluations of which found many positive benefits, including direct benefits in terms of improved savings and less tangible benefits such as the creation of support networks with other parents. Based on the evaluation findings, the program has now been expanded to the ANZ working with other community partners, including the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Smith Family and the Benevolent Society.
  • Finance First, the evaluation of which reported a number of positive outcomes for both parents and children in their attitudes to, and management of money. The evaluation findings were used in the development of student and parent programs, Making Cents and EvenStart respectively.

6.1.1 Good practice in Indigenous communities

Some of the programs attempting to assist Indigenous people with finances have a number of common features that appear to contribute to their success, which are:

  • providing face-to-face services;
  • tailoring services to suit the cultural needs of Indigenous clients (for example, clan accounts);
  • using materials for people with low literacy skills (videos, oral presentations, large format, comic book style materials);
  • training and employing Indigenous people who speak the local language; and
  • having supportive partnerships with large financial institutions.

6.2 Findings from the focus groups about opportunities to improve women's financial literacy

The focus group research sought to gain further information from marginalised women about their interest in specific types of financial literacy programs and approaches. As noted previously, the groups represent a small sample of marginalised women and the findings on their preferred information/education approaches need to be read with this in mind.

Focus group participants were asked their views on particular approaches to learning about financial issues. These were one-off workshops/seminars; adult education programs conducted over a number of weeks covering specific topics; programs run in community venues where financial topics are covered as part of a broader program on, for example, household management; and matched savings programs.

One-off workshops and seminars

This was the most enthusiastically endorsed approach to learning about financial issues. Women across all of the focus groups were clear about their requirements for attending a workshop. They stipulated workshops should be:

  • interactive and practical, offering opportunity to ask questions;
  • delivered by a trusted, independent trainer (not aligned with a financial institution);
  • held in an accessible venue such as a community centre, preferably with public transport access;
  • free;
  • designed in consultation with women in similar situations to those likely to attend; and
  • marketed positively, acknowledging what marginalised women already do well in managing their finances.

In addition, women with children want child care provided or for courses to be run during school hours. Indigenous women in Sydney stipulated that workshops need to be culturally appropriate and make use of visual materials such as videos and comics.

Only some groups stipulated workshop topics they would find useful. The older women wanted workshops on reverse mortgages, planning for retirement, investment options (including investing in retirement villages), health and life insurance, and funeral funds. Interest in these issues reflects this project's findings that older women (60+) feel overwhelmed about financial choices and decisions they may need to make in their later years.

Younger women about to embark on study, want clear information on the higher education contribution scheme (HECS), Abstudy, budgeting while being a student and Internet banking. These suggested topics reflect findings that this is an important life stage for which financial advice is required.

Financial education programs

Women who were interested in attending a longer program saw that it would offer more in-depth opportunities to become financially literate. Requirements stipulated by those interested in such programs were that:

  • the program was run over a period of weeks or months;
  • participants could pick and choose from the topics offered according to their needs; and
  • completion of the course was acknowledged with a certificate of attendance.

The longer format appealed to women from CALD backgrounds who mentioned a range of topics including managing debt, power of attorney, investments, planning for retirement, and making a will. The literature review identifies some Australian examples of financial education programs developed for specific CALD groups—including newly-arrived refugee women—that covered topics on understanding interest, credit payments and budgeting, buying a car and furniture, "what happens if I don't pay", and utilising banking services including automatic teller machines. Given the findings from this and other research that the first two years of settlement are critical life stages for refugee and other migrant women, such an approach should be more widely investigated.

Community centre short courses

This option aimed to investigate levels of interest among marginalised women in learning about budgeting and financial planning within the context of a broader course on household management, returning to the workforce or a similar topic. It was included as an option because there is some evidence that the most comfortable setting for many people to receive financial education is in a community-based organisation.

A study of financial literacy education in the US (Institute for Socio-Financial Studies 2005) found that financial literacy education should take account of language, community processes; issues, anxieties and fears; and needs to be grounded in the learner's own contexts and networks.

There was little time to explore this option in much detail in the focus groups but it appealed to some women as a means of learning about particular topics. The CALD groups were interested in learning about managing their finances in their first language with others in similar circumstances, in a known community setting.

Women in the disabilities groups suggested that living skills programs currently run by various service providers for women with a cognitive/developmental disability should include topics on budgeting and money management. Roundtable participants representing women with disabilities agreed on the importance of these topics being included in life skills programs and were critical of programs they saw as being based on outdated and sexist ideas of what women with disabilities wanted to know. They reported that although some programs included basic budgeting skills, many concentrated on personal care, dressing and make-up. Thus limiting women's opportunities to learn about basic financial information and with assistance, manage their own finances.

The Indigenous single mothers in the Alice Springs group were interested in having information sessions on money management as part of a living skills program. They stipulated that such a program needed to be delivered by people they trusted and who understood their circumstances, in a known community setting. Indigenous women in the Sydney group who were not currently working were also enthusiastic about attending a program in a community centre where financial issues were covered within a broader program on household management. Suggested topics were buying in bulk, buying better and healthier, and using the Internet to learn about financial issues.

Matched savings programs

The focus group research also sought responses to a specific type of program designed to encourage saving and learn financial literacy skills. The example given was based on the SaverPlus program, developed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and ANZ. The program aims to help families on low incomes improve their financial knowledge and build long-term saving habits. Program participants identify an education-related savings target and work towards this goal by regularly saving a portion of their income. They also participate in training that enhances and develops their financial skills. ANZ donates two dollars for each one saved by participants towards their children's education (up to $2000).

The idea received a mixed response and time did not allow it to be fully explored in the focus group. Some women were cautious, believing it sounded "too good to be true", while others expressed an interest in learning more about such schemes.

Other sources of financial information

Focus group participants were also asked to nominate other ways they would like to receive financial information. A number of women in the groups said that print-based information in the form of booklets, brochures, and fact sheets is useful if it is written in a clear and jargon-free style.

This reinforces other research undertaken by RPR on how marginalised consumers like to obtain financial information. Focus group participants in a project undertaken for the NSW Department of Housing considered fact sheets, checklists and brochures a useful means of obtaining information about home purchase. These resources were considered most useful when they accompanied face-to-face information provision. Indigenous participants reported they were more likely to take notice of, and use, publications that have a culturally appropriate design and use of language (RPR 2004).

6.2.1 Informal sources

Roundtable participants noted that some marginalised women were likely to turn to their family, friends and respected members of their community for advice on financial matters. The CFLT discussion paper quotes evidence from a US study that found the most commonly cited sources of information about personal finances were, in order of preference, friends and family; the mass media; information brochures and the Internet; and seminars and classroom courses (Braunstein and Welsh 2002 cited in CFLT discussion paper).

6.3 Conclusion

The focus group findings provide some clarity on the types of approaches favoured by marginalised women to increase their skills and knowledge on financial issues. One-off workshops and seminars are viewed as a good start towards increasing financial understanding. They are an appropriate means of informing women about specific financial topics that can be covered in a day or half-day. Provision of written information to take home can act to reinforce the messages of a workshop.

Longer courses appealed to some women who could see the benefits of learning to increase their skills and knowledge over an extended period of time and to women who had the time and capacity to attend and liked learning with their peers. Courses that include financial skill development as part of a broader program of living skills or home management were also seen as useful. These approaches are more resource-intensive but the literature review found those that have been evaluated have been shown to increase the financial literacy of marginalised consumers. Longer courses appealed to women who had the time and capacity to attend and who liked learning with their peers.

In each case, there was agreement across the groups about access requirements that need to be taken into account in the development and design of financial education programs. Marginalised women want to increase their financial knowledge and skills through interactive and practical programs that acknowledge and build on their existing skills. They want to learn with their peers and have the opportunity to test what they learn in a non-threatening environment.

Their responses reflect contemporary adult education approaches, which suggest that effective learning takes place flexibly within the learner's social contexts and networks. These findings are similar to those in an Australian study which found that, for older people on low incomes, it was difficult to take action on their own to highlight their financial needs and that seniors groups provide the numbers and the organisation to work with people in their own settings and with issues that are central to their needs (Adult Literacy and Numeracy Australian Research Consortium 2003: 26).

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Summary and Recommendations 

Women require financial literacy to ensure their own and often their families' economic security. Falling marriage rates, rising divorce rates and earlier death of men mean women are more likely to have to rely on their own financial literacy skills for managing their money. Many marginalised women are vulnerable to slight shifts in their financial circumstances and the benefits of increased access to paid employment have not been realised by many groups of women.

Focus group findings reinforced Roundtable discussions with peak women's and welfare groups that recognised poverty has multiple impacts on women's capacity to access information to plan financially, other than for their immediate needs. While some women manage their financial circumstances well, financial literacy education would assist women who are not able to manage their finances from day to day; those who get into financial difficulty, for example by borrowing; those who are unable to meet the costs of some necessities; and those who experience life changes or move to prepare for and cope with different life stages.

This research project has provided new understanding on barriers to accessing information and how they may be overcome so marginalised women are assisted in becoming more financially literate. This research also confirmed the need to target messages according to women's specific life stages and relationship transitions such as separation, divorce or the death of a partner.

While some groups of marginalised women face particular barriers because of their age, geographic location and additional support needs, this research project identified four common types of barriers.

These are:

  • physical barriers, including lack of transport and access to a computer;
  • educational barriers, including low levels of literacy and numeracy, lack of English language skills for some refugees and migrants, and understanding financial institution jargon;
  • social and cultural barriers, including cultural expectations around money for some Indigenous and CALD women, lack of opportunity to learn about finances due to partners taking charge of a family's money, and lack of role models and supports from whom to learn about financial issues; and
  • financial barriers, including child care and transport costs associated with attending courses, and costs of some services such as financial planners.

7.1 Future directions and recommendations
 

7.1.1 Information on financial services

Findings on how marginalised women access financial information has uncovered a lack of knowledge about existing services that are available to assist people on low incomes. Financial counselling services funded by the Australian and state and territory governments, local government (in Victoria) and in a variety of community organisations were not universally known about by peak women's groups and other social welfare organisations. The peak groups that attended the Roundtables and organised focus groups are a logical starting point from which to publicise and provide information on available financial counselling services.

Recommendation 1: that information is provided to each of the organisations involved in this research, which outlines and provides contact details for the range of financial counselling and other services provided by the Australian and state and territory governments.

7.1.2 Approaches to financial literacy education and information provision

This research project has provided clarity on the types of approaches favoured by marginalised women to increase their skills and knowledge on financial issues. The requirements women have for attending workshops or longer courses generally reflect good practice in adult education approaches and include that they:

  • have an interactive format allowing time for questions and to test understanding;
  • are delivered by a trusted source whose information and advice is independent;
  • are free;
  • are held in a known and easily accessible venue;
  • are designed in consultation with the target audience; and
  • are marketed positively, acknowledging what marginalised women do well in managing their finances.

Participants in this project endorsed different types of information provision and education programs according to their perceived financial literacy needs. These ranged from half and one-day seminars on specific topics to longer courses that focus on specific financial topics or more broadly on budgeting and managing finances as part of a household management or living skills program.

The project has uncovered a range of barriers faced by marginalised women when they attempt to access financial information and services. Significant among these are the attitudes and service delivery practices of government and non-government service providers, which were reported as lacking transparency, relevance and reliability.

One way to assist women to obtain the information they want from these service providers is to equip women with skills in question-formulation and critical thinking in order to organise their thoughts, prioritise their concerns and effectively communicate these concerns. Working with a simple checklist of questions to ensure coverage of all the areas in which information is required will assist this process.

Recommendation 2: that financial education programs for marginalised women use approaches that reflect good practice adult-education formats. These include an interactive format allowing time for questions and to test understanding; delivery by a trusted independent source; held in easily accessible venues; are free; and designed in consultation with the target audience.

Recommendation 3: that financial education programs are developed in a range of formats to suit the needs of different groups of marginalised women. These include half and one-day workshops as well as longer courses that exclusively focus on financial issues or provide financial skills development as part of a broader living skills or home management program. Print-based information (brochures, booklets etc.) and Internet sites are useful adjuncts to face-to-face information provision for some marginalised women.

7.1.3 Delivery of financial information and education

A number of peak groups that participated in this research project indicated an interest in assisting their members to become more financially literate. This may involve running budgeting skills or household management workshops, providing information on financial services available or sponsoring one-off seminars on topics of interest.

It is proposed these peak groups meet with Australian Government agencies such as the Financial Literacy Foundation to discuss the findings from this research project and how the financial literacy needs of their membership can best be met. The findings indicate that needs of particular groups of marginalised women vary and options for different types of financial education exist.

One suggestion is for the Financial Literacy Foundation to work with interested peak women's and social welfare groups to develop pilot financial education programs for their constituency. A further suggestion is that, in order to develop the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to become financially literate, as well as the knowledge of how to access information and resources, that interested women's peak groups be involved in the development of a series of financial education modules that can be adapted to the needs and circumstances of the women they represent.

These modules can be made available to these peak groups as well as to other Australian Government programs where budgeting and financial management skills are important components of the programs (eg. Family Relationships Services Program).

Recommendation 4: that peak women's and social welfare groups who work with marginalised women be involved in progressing these research findings and options for the development of reliable targeted programs for marginalised women.

Recommendation 5: that discussions between the peak groups and the Australian Government include options for

  • 1) the development of pilot financial education programs for interested groups of marginalised women and
  • 2) a series of financial education modules that can be adapted for use by the peak groups according to their needs and interests and
  • 3) exploring opportunities to incorporate financial management modules into other programs, such as existing living skills and household management courses for Indigenous Australians and people with cognitive disabilities.

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References 

ACFOA (2003), Disability and the Millennium Goals, Issues Paper, (www.acfid.asn.au)

ANZ (2005), Adult Financial Literacy, Personal Debt and Financial Difficulty in Australia, Summary Report AC Neilson

ANZ (2003), ANZ survey of financial literacy in Australia—final report, Roy Morgan Research, May 2003

Barker, S (2005) An overview of financial the counselling landscape in Australia, presentation at the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association's conference, 17 June 2005

Bradbury, B and Norris, K. (2005), Income and Separation, paper presented at HILDA Research Conference, 29–30 September 2005

Care Inc. Financial Counselling Service (2004), Annual Report 2004, ACT

Chodkiewicz, A. (2003), Numeracy in Practice Managing money: a study with older people, Adult Literacy and Numeracy Australian Research Consortium, University of Technology Sydney

Elder Abuse in the ACT Report 11 (2001)

COTA National Seniors (2004), Response to the Consumer and Financial Literacy Taskforce discussion paper, Australian consumers and money, July 2004, (www.cota.org.au)

Cross, J (2004), Adult learning: Removing barriers not creating them, presentation to the APEC Symposium on lifelong learning, Taipei.

Into, F.H. (2003), 'Older women and Financial Management: Strategies for maintaining independence', Educational Gerontology 29:10 November-December 2003, pp. 825-839(15)

Iredale, R (1992), Employment strategies for refugees from the Proceedings of the Welcome Stranger national Forum on Refugees: Sydney 19-21 June 1992 The Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference

Marshall, N., Murphy, P., Burnley, I. & Hugo, G. (2003), Welfare outcomes of migration of low income earners from metropolitan to non-metropolitan Australia, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute

NSW Department of Housing (2004) Homestart Help Options Paper, RPR Consulting

National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) (1999), Women's economic status: distribution of assets, Canberra

Security 4 Women (2004a), Economic security for women, policy research report

Security 4 Women (2004b), Lifelong economic well-being for women, summary paper: What women want, July 2004

The Consumer and Financial Literacy Taskforce (2004), Australian consumers and money, Australian Government, Canberra

Urbis Keys Young (2002), Women's information needs study, prepared for NSW Department for Women, February 2002

Westbury, N. (2000), What's in it for Koories? Barwon Darling Alliance Credit Union and the delivery of financial and banking services in north-west New South Wales, CAEPR working paper No.7, ANU, Canberra (available at www.anu.edu.au/caepr/)

Zappalà, G. (2003), Barriers to participation, financial, educational and technological, Orfeus Research, The Smith Family, Sydney

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Appendices 

Appendix 1 

  1. Introduction
  2. Access to financial information
  3. Financial literacy and economic marginalisation
  4. Opportunities to help marginalised women improve their financial literacy

Introduction 

This literature review is a key component of a project being undertaken by RPR Consulting, commissioned by the Office for Women (OfW) in the Department of Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA). RPR's brief is to investigate financial literacy among marginalised women.

The first stage of the investigation includes:

  • a review of existing Australian and international literature and research pertaining to women's financial literacy, and
  • meetings with peak groups and other stakeholders to:
    • identify issues for women from marginal groups in regard to financial literacy;
    • identify ways of contacting women from marginal groups;
    • build relationships with peak groups that may assist future research on the issue; and
    • collect information to assist in the development of an interview methodology.

The second stage (the methodology of which will be based on information gained in the first stage) will involve interviews and focus groups with representatives from target marginal groups.

1.1 Literature review method and structure

This literature review has involved a search of Internet resources available from Australia, the UK, the USA and Canada, and a review of academic databases. Sources referred to include: submissions to the Consumer and Financial Literacy Taskforce (CFLT); government discussion papers; academic research; independent financial services, institutions and businesses; community service organisations that provide financial literacy education programs; and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The review focuses on three core questions:

  • How do marginalised groups of women gain access to financial information?
  • What barriers do marginalised women encounter in attempting to gain access to financial information?
  • What opportunities exist to help marginalised women to improve their financial literacy?

For the purposes of this review marginalised women include:

  • women with disabilities and women who are carers;
  • women in rural and remote locations;
  • Indigenous women;
  • women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds;
  • women who are divorced or widowed;
  • single mothers; and
  • older women.

The review addresses three core questions, both in general and for the groups of marginalised women listed above. Before doing so, it outlines the policy context of the investigation; explores the meaning of the term financial literacy; and provides background information on the economic marginalisation of certain cohorts of women.

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1.2 Policy context

One of the eight priorities of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission's 2001 Consumer Education Strategy was 'financial literacy and financial exclusion'. The Australian Government established the Financial Literacy Foundation under its Election 2004 Policy, Super for All and Understanding Money, to deliver its commitment to provide Australians with the opportunity to build their capacity to better manage their money. The Foundation was established in response to a recommendation of the CFLT that a central coordinating body be established to improve the effectiveness of consumer and financial information and education in Australia.

Key elements of the national strategy are:

  • an Australia-wide information and awareness-raising campaign to be launched in 2006;
  • a web site for financial literacy information and education resources;
  • financial literacy programs in schools and workplaces, as well as in vocational and higher education; and
  • research and benchmarking of financial literacy levels.

This literature review aims to complement the work of the Foundation. In particular, it aims to identify the issues and needs of marginalised women in relation to financial literacy.

Financial products and services in Australia are becoming increasingly complex. Research shows there is no lack of information for consumers; the problem is that some consumer groups often have difficulty gaining access to this information, which is not targeted, relevant or reliable for them.

Some groups have been identified as having particularly low consumer and financial literacy levels, and research indicates that targeted approaches to equip them with appropriate financial skills, knowledge and information would ensure that they are better placed to make informed decisions, less vulnerable to scams and able to avoid unmanageable levels of debt. Women are over-represented in these groups.

Research by the CFLT confirms that women, including single mothers, are among the social groups likely to experience financial exclusion. While there has been limited research in Australia looking specifically at levels of financial literacy among women, research on this topic in the United States has found that women tend to be more anxious about their financial future and more uninformed about the ways to secure it (National Endowment for Financial Education 2000).

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1.3 Conceptualising financial literacy

'Without a definition there can be no systematic approach by which agreed elements or competencies within financial literacy could be developed within or across jurisdictions' (ASIC 2004:6).

Financial literacy has received a good deal of government attention internationally. In the US, the Federal Reserve Board was so concerned with the lack of financial skills among high-school leavers that in 1995 it funded the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Finance, and the US Department of Labor has launched a national Financial Services Education campaign. In Canada in 2002, Social and Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI) called for a national policy and program on financial literacy (SEDI 2002). The government of the UK, through its Savings Gateway and Child Trust programs, has made a significant public sector commitment to financial literacy.

Yet surprisingly little attention has been given to spelling out what is meant by the term beyond a basic definition, such as 'the ability to make informed judgments and to take effective decisions regarding the use and management of money' (ANZ 2005). Perhaps because the importance of financial literacy is seen as self-evident (Mason & Wilson 2000:34), the literature generally comprises descriptions of financial literacy education programs or tests of financial literacy among differing cohorts or populations (Beal 2003:2). As Mason and Wilson point out (2000:34), without an adequate conceptualisation, how can financial literacy be operationalised? How can individuals be encouraged to be more financially literate if we cannot recognise it when it happens?

A number of models have been proposed.

Mason and Wilson Model

Mason and Wilson* propose a model for understanding financial literacy as shown in the diagram below. In this model, financial literacy is a process by which individuals use a combination of skills and technologies, resources and contextual information to make decisions with an awareness of the financial consequences (2000:33).

The consumer behaviour model proposed in Australian Consumers and Money (CFLT 2004) takes this notion of a process further and, looking at things from the consumer's perspective, shows how external events, socio-economic background, personal characteristics, skill levels and choice of information can all shape the way decisions are made. It identifies the following 'things I can learn' as components of financial literacy:

  • pre-requisite skills (literacy and numeracy);
  • planning skills (budgeting and saving);
  • investing skills;
  • borrowing skills;
  • spending skills;
  • risk management skills;
  • market awareness; and
  • rights and responsibilities.

The consumer behaviour model also categorises the means by which consumers get information and advice as formal sources, informal sources and intermediaries. The paper does not expand on these categories, but it is reasonable to assume that formal sources include information gained at school and directly from financial institutions or education programs. Informal sources include information gleaned from television, radio or other media; and intermediaries include friends and family.

The UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) (1999) conceptualises financial literacy as a set of learning opportunities rather than a defined set of skills. It identifies opportunities consumers must have in order to become financially literate, including the opportunity to:

  • develop numeracy, literacy and information technology skills in the context of personal finance;
  • develop an understanding of the nature and use of money in its various forms, including credit and debt;
  • learn how to access, interpret, question and evaluate financial information and advice;
  • learn about the consequences of financial decisions and about consumer rights and responsibilities; and
  • learn how to weigh up risks and benefits in order to choose appropriate solutions to particular financial needs.

Others see financial literacy as a component of information literacy, which is made up of a set of competencies:

  • knowing when information is needed;
  • identifying the information needed to address a given problem or issue;
  • finding the needed information;
  • organising the needed information; and
  • using the information effectively to address the problem or issue at hand (American Library Association 1989, cited in COTA 2004).

Research on financial literacy in schools (ASIC 2004) found that for educators financial literacy was not simply a matter of technical knowledge about financial products and services, but covered a broad rage of skills and understandings; financial literacy education must include the development of beliefs, attitudes and values.

Cutler and Devlin (cited in Lois et al 2005) note that an important dimension of financial literacy is confidence: 'Confidence in one's ability to do a thing successfully increases the likelihood of undertaking it and the probability of success.'

Drawing on the foregoing, this review relies on the following as a functional definition of financial literacy:

Financial literacy is a process of making meaning of, and understanding, financial issues and situations. It requires:

  • a set of prerequisite skills (which importantly include literacy and numeracy);
  • knowledge of how to access information and resources;
  • confidence in one's own skills and knowledge; and
  • a set of values relating to personal financial responsibility.

The outcomes of financial literacy can include sound financial choices and improved economic security.

In addition, becoming financially literate requires information and services to be available, accessible, useful and usable. Section 2 explores this further.

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1.4 Why focus on marginalised women?

This review is being undertaken because women, and in particular marginalised women, have been identified as having relatively low levels of financial literacy. The findings of the ANZ 2003 survey of adult financial literacy in Australia were that people with lower socio-economic status had lower levels of financial literacy and that women overall had lower levels of financial literacy than men. The 2005 ANZ survey found that the lowest levels of financial literacy were associated with people with less than year 10 education; those not working or in unskilled work; those with lower incomes and savings levels and single people (ANZ 2005: 2).

This finding indicates women are more often socio-economically marginalised than men. This is due to numerous factors including that women in general spend less time in the paid workforce than men, are more likely than men to work part-time, are less likely to be paid overtime than men and are more likely to have interrupted career patterns due to caring responsibilities. Women's employment is also concentrated in lower-paying industry sectors and occupations. This has implications for women's financial management and security, as well as for their superannuation and retirement savings.

Women require financial literacy to ensure their own and often their families' economic security. Historically, women's economic security has been strongly tied to their partners' incomes, and this is still the case for many women in Australia. However, falling marriage rates and rising divorce rates mean that women can assume less than ever that a partner will contribute to their long-term economic security; they are more likely to have to rely on their own financial literacy skills for managing their money (Security 4 Women 2004). A recent study found that couples on income support or low incomes are much more likely to separate than those with higher incomes (Bradbury and Norris 2005).

The Policy Research Report on Economic Security for Women (Security 4 Women 2004) concluded that while some women in Australia enjoy high levels of economic security, many women are very vulnerable to slight shifts in their financial circumstances. While there have been improvements to the overall economic picture for women in Australia, the benefits of increased access to paid employment have not been realised by many groups of women.

Women's participation rate in the labour market in August 2005 was 57.4 per cent compared with 72.4 per cent for men. Of those who work part time in Australia, 71.6 per cent are women. Of all women in work, 46 per cent are working part-time in 2006 (www.abs.gov.au). Preliminary findings of a study by Gibbings and Heyworth (2005) indicate that women's employment status is affected markedly by the number and age of their children, and that women of lower educational achievement are more likely to be unemployed and generally work fewer hours.

Factors which detract from women's financial literacy may also affect their economic security, and are often overlapping. They include:

  • women's competing responsibilities including child care and caring for aged parents, which often make it hard for them to make time for education and training that might improve their employability;
  • careers interrupted by family and community responsibilities;
  • little opportunity to build assets or to save for retirement;
  • poor access to financial advice and services (Security 4 Women 2004); and
  • discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, age and/or appearance (in the context of employment).

The key causes of poverty among women are:

  • the nature of the paid work that women do;
  • high cost of child care and education;
  • lack of affordable housing;
  • insufficient income support, especially for single parents; and
  • lack of wealth accumulation to support retirement.

Women who are most likely to face some or all of these factors are those who are the focus of this review:

  • Indigenous women;
  • women from CALD backgrounds;
  • single mothers;
  • older women;
  • women with disabilities; and
  • women in rural and remote areas.

These studies show a clear correlation between economic exclusion and poverty on the one hand and poor financial literacy on the other. An examination of the barriers that stand in the way of marginalised groups of women becoming more financially literate will very probably lead to exploration of reasons for their economic exclusion. By extension, improving financial literacy may serve to improve or reduce economic exclusion, and addressing the causes for economic exclusion will assist marginalised women to become more financially literate.

Women also have different financial information needs from men and are more likely to require financial intervention, or targeted, life-stage financial advice. The CFLT has found that people rarely seek information about financial implications of such life-stages and events in advance (2004). Life stages and events that can have great impact on a woman's financial situation include:

  • leaving their parents' home and becoming financially independent;
  • undertaking study;
  • having children (maternity leave or career breaks to raise children);
  • buying a house;
  • divorce or separation from a partner;
  • becoming widowed; and
  • retirement.

In addition, research indicates that women feel less confident than men about their financial planning (ING 2003). This is an important finding given that confidence is a key component of financial literacy.

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Access to financial information 

The principal avenues by which people gain access to financial information are:

  • financial education in schools;
  • financial education programs for adults; and
  • information from the Internet.

This section discusses each of these avenues and then summarises the barriers faced by marginalised women in general.

2.1 Financial education in schools

This approach to improving financial literacy is advocated in Australia and internationally, by government and the business sector, because it reaches a large part of the population and is a means to teach basic concepts to young people before they face financial crises or have to make major financial decisions.

There is ongoing discussion about where in the curriculum financial studies ought to be incorporated: mathematics and personal development are two favoured learning areas. Also under discussion are questions of when financial education should start and what should be included (ASIC 2001). While discussions continue, government initiatives have begun in Australia, the USA, Canada and the UK.

Financial education in schools has the potential to allow young people the opportunities listed by the UK Financial Services Authority (1999):

  • to develop numeracy, literacy and IT skills in the context of personal finance;
  • to develop an understanding of the nature and use of money in its various forms, including credit and debt;
  • to learn how to access, interpret, question and evaluate financial information and advice;
  • to learn about the consequences of financial decisions and about consumer rights and responsibilities; and
  • to learn how to weigh up risks and benefits in order to choose appropriate solutions to particular financial needs.

Such a suite of skills would equip young people to deal with financial situations as they arise.

One of the main limitations of financial education in schools is that students may have a limited interest in learning about things that have little immediate relevance to their lives. While they may be keen to learn about buying a car, they are unlikely to be interested in superannuation. Further, as the range of financial services and products continues to grow, it is not feasible for schools to provide comprehensive financial education.

Clearly, the effectiveness of financial education in schools is affected by limitations on access to education. It is not the optimum strategy for people living in some remote areas, and in communities where school attendance rates are poor.

2.2 Financial education programs for adults

A number of programs are currently being implemented in Australia and elsewhere with the intention of improving financial literacy among particular cohorts of the population. Examples include:

  • Workshops funded by Consumer Affairs Victoria in which the Migrant Information Centre (Eastern Melbourne) partnered with Each Financial Counsellors to develop and facilitate a series of information sessions for Sudanese refugees to increase their understanding of banking, budgeting and consumer credit.
  • The MoneyBusiness program, which is designed to build the money management skills and confidence of Indigenous people and their families, as well as establishing a stronger savings culture in Indigenous communities.
  • Finance First, which is designed to provide financial literacy education for disadvantaged parents and primary school children. The primary school package, entitled MakingCents, was developed by the NSW Department of Education and Training to meet curriculum outcomes in Mathematics and Social Sciences. It has now been made available to schools in NSW and several other Australian states. The parent program package, EvenStart, will be delivered in some NSW schools in 2006.

This review has identified programs targeting women and programs targeting marginalised groups such as Indigenous communities, but few specifically targeting marginalised women. Section 4 of this report profiles a range of these programs.

A number of recent financial literacy programs in Australia are partnerships involving community organisations, government departments and private financial institutions. Examples include:

  • Girl Savvy, a program offering one-day workshops throughout NSW to girls aged 14 to 18, delivered by the Office for Women (NSW) in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank, Guides NSW and the YWCA of Sydney (2002-2005).
  • MoneyBusiness, a partnership between FaCSIA and ANZ in which local Indigenous people are trained to offer coaching in budgeting and developing savings plans.
  • The Office of Women's Policy (Victoria) and the Victorian Council on the Ageing (COTA) are piloting a series of two, one-day workshops in a number of regional centres to address financial issues for women before and after retirement.

Many such programs have been developed at a local, regional, state or territory level and, as a result, there is little uniformity in their availability. The CFLT (2004) notes that information delivery is currently ad-hoc in nature and splintered in delivery.

Few of the programs profiled have been evaluated, and their approaches vary widely, so it is difficult to generalise with any confidence about their strengths and limitations. However, the evaluations that have been carried out indicate that successful programs:

  • have a clear target audience whose cultural needs and access requirements have been considered at program design stage;
  • are well-resourced (in both economic and human resources) through partnerships between financial institutions and community organisations;
  • work with participants over an extended time in courses that focus on improving participants' financial information-seeking skills; and
  • are evaluated and draw on the results of evaluation to improve the program.

See Section 4 for a more detailed discussion of good practice in financial education programs.

2.3 Information from the Internet

As dissemination of information by way of the Internet is cost-effective and easy, and now an essential method for reaching the population-at-large, it has become a source of a vast range of financial information from government bodies, banks and financial institutions, and community organisations. However, it poses difficulties for some groups of consumers.

For consumers to make effective use of Internet resources, they first need to know that the information they need exists; they need to know how to locate it and how to check that a source is trustworthy (CFLT 2004:78). That is to say, they need basic literacy and information-literacy skills, and high levels of financial literacy.

Access to the necessary technology is also a significant issue for people living in rural or remote areas, and for those who have difficulties accessing public facilities.

Older Australians who have not grown up with computers are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to understanding Internet services. The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (2000) estimated that in 2003, 1.9 million retirees (63 per cent) had no Internet connection at home. In 2001, census data reported that only 10 per cent of people aged 65 and over accessed the Internet the week before the census compared with 40 per cent of those under 25 and more than half of those aged between 15 and 55 (Lloyd 2004, cited in COTA 2004).

Research conducted for the Office of Women in NSW found that women are less likely than men to use the Internet to access information from government departments, and that women generally rate the Internet as a less satisfactory way of receiving information than newspapers and television, face to face contact, the radio, or the telephone (Urbis et al 2002).

A small minority of Internet sites offering financial information or publications do so in multiple languages.

2.4 Barriers to accessing services and information

In summary, the barriers to marginalised women improving their financial literacy may be seen as falling into four broad categories: physical, cultural and social, educational and financial.

Physical access to services

Physical access is most problematic for women living in rural and remote areas, and those who have a physical disability. Questions needing further investigation and consideration from policy makers and service providers include:

  • Is appropriate technology accessible?
  • Are services or programs available in their town?
  • Are services or programs accessible to people with physical impairments?
  • Are services or programs accessible to people without private transport?

Cultural and social access to services

In order for services or programs to be accessible to marginalised women, they need to be provided in ways that are culturally appropriate and respectful of diverse cultural needs. This is so not only for CALD

and Indigenous groups, but also for older people, and for all women who experience discrimination when attempting to access services. Questions for further investigation include:

  • Do services and programs cater for the cultural needs of particular client groups, such as Indigenous clients and Islamic clients, who may have very different approaches and beliefs related to managing money? (See section 3 for further discussion.)
  • Are women who approach the service able to speak to women service-providers?
  • Are services available face-to-face?
  • Is interpretation and/or translation available?

Educational access to services

People need to have had opportunities to acquire the skills needed to seek out and use financial information, whether through formal school education or through community education programs. Questions for consideration include:

  • Are women aware of the services that are available?
  • Do marginalised women have the prerequisite levels of literacy, numeracy and technological literacy to use the available services effectively?
  • Do the available financial education programs cater for a range of skill levels?

Financial access to services

This issue is particularly crucial to economically marginalised women. Exclusion from education programs or financial literacy services because of an inability to pay is a significant issue to be considered when designing or implementing programs. While most programs and services outlined in Section 4 are offered free-of-charge or at very low cost, there may be hidden costs which need to be considered including:

  • the cost of transportation to attend seminars or get to a service provider;
  • the cost of child care while attending programs or accessing services; and
  • charges for Internet usage.

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Financial literacy and economic marginalisation 

There has been little research directly concerned with barriers to women becoming financially literate. Rather, research focuses on the reasons for women's financial exclusion and relatively poor socio-economic status. As these issues are clearly related, this section outlines the nature of the economic marginalisation of some groups of women, and identifies key issues which may need to be considered in designing financial education programs for them.

3.1 Issues for CALD women

Economic integration is used both as a benchmark of successful migration and also as a measure of equity and opportunity (UN 2005:64). For CALD women in Australia, particularly refugees and recently-arrived immigrants on low incomes, maintaining economic security can be very difficult.

Statistically, women from refugee backgrounds have the highest unemployment rates in the Australian labour market. In 1992, unemployment rates for both male and female refugees exceeded 30 per cent in the first four years after arrival (Iredale 1992).

All migrants entering the Australian labour market face difficulties such as:

  • language difficulties;
  • lack of Australian work experience;
  • difficulty with recognition of overseas experience;
  • cultural differences in methods of finding employment; and
  • the stereotypical and sometimes racist attitudes of employers (STARTTS 1995).

Refugee women often face other difficulties including a lack of social networks and ongoing suffering as a result of torture and trauma.

Becoming economically integrated and maintaining financial security is difficult for newly-arrived immigrants to Australia, who in some cases are excluded from the social welfare system for a significant period after arrival. According to Security4Women (2004a), some immigrant women make major career compromises because of an inability to access social security.

Employment is a key means to economic integration. The unemployment rate for migrant women in Australia in 2001 was 6.9 per cent compared with 5.8 per cent of non-immigrant Australian women (UN 2005:66). It is important, moreover, to consider the type of employment that immigrant women find. The 2004 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development indicates that immigrant women tend to take jobs in the private sphere—domestic work, garment manufacturing, entertainment jobs and service jobs being commonly held occupations. More highly-skilled migrant women disproportionately find employment as teachers and health professionals. These jobs follow well-recognised gender patterns in terms of acceptable economic activities and also tend to have lower earnings relative to typical male employment (UN 2005:65).The UN report also notes that because of their economic marginalisation, immigrant women are more likely than other women to need social services and benefits, but less likely to know of their eligibility for such benefits.

Issues for Islamic women

The Islamic population of Australia faces particular issues related to Islam's condemnation of both payment and charging of interest (Ariff 1988). This may mean most financial institutions in Australia are avoided by the Islamic population, with significant impact on the kind of financial services they are able to use and also on the kind of financial education that would be useful to them.

The Muslim Community Co-operative (Australia) (MCCA) was established in 1989 and now has 8,000 members. The MCCA provides financial services according to religious requirements, assists members to purchase homes and make long-term investments, and—usually in emergencies—provides some interest-free loans. The MCCA makes money by charging for its services and using a kind of hire-purchase approach to home purchase. It does not pay interest on savings, but instead gives depositors a share of the profit. As the Islamic population of Australia in 2001, according to ABS data, was 281,600, it is clear the vast majority of Muslim-Australians are not yet using this service (though there may be similar services this literature search has not located) and face a religious dilemma in attempting to use financial services from mainstream banks. Similar ramifications also arise for Muslims thinking about superannuation.

3.2 Issues for women who are single parents

Women who are lone parents account for around 90 per cent of all lone-parent families and exhibit the greatest disparity between male and female wealth holdings (NATSEM 1999:7 7). It is generally recognised that single parent families face a much higher risk of poverty than other groups in the community (Bray 2001). According to a NATSEM study in 2001, the proportion of single parent families in income poverty was 18 per cent compared with 6 per cent of couples with children. Single parent families typically spend half of their income on rent, household bills and food, where these essentials account for only one third of the income of other families. In Australia, half of all jobless single parent families have no car. (Zappalà 2003)

The number of single parents finding work is growing. In 2002, 48 per cent of all single parents were employed (27 per cent part-time and 21 per cent full-time), compared with 32 per cent in 1983 (Gray et al 2003). However, the unemployment rate for lone mothers continues to be very high, at around 38 per cent (STARTTS 1995).

Unemployed single mothers in Australia face many barriers to employment, including:

  • 60 per cent have only 10 years of schooling, reducing their job prospects by half;
  • just over half have spent most of their 'working lives' since leaving school caring for children so have limited work experience (FaCS 2002:5.1);
  • 45 per cent have a mental illness, including 20 per cent who suffer from depression (Butterworth 2003); and
  • around 10 per cent of Parenting Payment (Single) recipients move out of the capital cities each year due to marital separation or unaffordable rents, reducing their job prospects in the short term by about half (Marshall et al 2003).

3.3 Issues for women in rural and remote areas

In many rural and remote areas, access to financial services is limited because of:

  • time and cost associated with travelling to service providers;
  • Internet services that are slow and unreliable; and
  • service providers who have discriminatory attitudes towards women.

In a report on women as first home-buyers, RPR (2004) found that rural women who participated in the focus groups who are aspiring home buyers thought their options for getting accurate non-biased information on home purchase were very limited. A number of participants had experienced a discriminatory attitude from real estate agents and bank personnel whom they had approached about home purchase. They believed that as single women they were not taken seriously by the financial institutions. This was particularly concerning for women who were divorced or separated because they had successfully paid off loans as part of a couple but as single women they were starting again with no credit history.

Many women in these focus groups felt they had been penalised for having generally paid cash for consumer items. They considered themselves to be good budgeters, but because they did not use credit cards they did not have a credit rating.

3.4 Issues for Indigenous women

Indigenous consumers have been found in recent research to be among the most likely to be financially excluded in Australia (Connolly 2001).

Disadvantage for Indigenous people in Australia is severe. Factors that contribute to financial exclusion for Indigenous people include: poor literacy and numeracy and generally low levels of education; on average, low incomes and high unemployment; high rates of disability and poor health; remote location and lack of services.

Remote communities

About 28 per cent of the Indigenous population of Australia lives in locations that are distant from centres of population and services, including banks. This compares with 3 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) has estimated that 16 per cent of the Indigenous population lives 80 kilometres or more from a bank, compared to just 0.6 per cent of the non-Indigenous population (2002:5).

As many banks move to Internet-based services and close smaller branches in rural areas, Indigenous people in remote areas where telecommunication services are unreliable are particularly vulnerable to falling on the wrong side of the 'digital divide'. Moves to digital service provision may also disadvantage Indigenous people who face issues such as language barriers, a lack of technological literacy and a cultural preference for face to face services (Westbury 2000).

Crisis situations

High rates of drug and alcohol misuse, violence and crime, combined with poor health in many Indigenous communities, contribute to ongoing crisis situations in the lives of many Indigenous people. These factors may seriously detract from people's ability to access services and improve their financial literacy. When people are managing their finances from one emergency to the next, scope for long-term planning is likely to be impeded. (This is also true for non-Indigenous Australians.)

Traditional economic frameworks

In addition to the extent of disadvantage faced by many Indigenous people, there are barriers to becoming financially literate that are related to their traditional economies' communal (not individual) and sustainable (not growth-oriented) frameworks.

Income and expenditure patterns in remote Indigenous communities are characterised by feast and famine cycles. This is partly due to low incomes and limited access to savings, but also significant is the 'socially and culturally influenced pattern of immediate expenditure' (CAEPR 2002:6).

Traditionally, Indigenous economic frameworks have been based on obligation to one's family and one's clan, with very little value being placed on individual assets. Sharing wealth according to hierarchical kinship structures is traditional practice. What is seen as 'savings' in a western framework might well be seen as withheld wealth and hence incomplete fulfilment of kinship obligations in a traditional Indigenous context, leading to disputes and loss of status.

A further issue is the low levels of English language literacy in many remote Indigenous communities. Given the strong links between English language literacy and financial literacy, there is potential for the teaching of one to improve the other. Financial literacy, which has potential to provide people with tangible and direct benefits, may provide incentive for attaining higher levels of literacy in a broader sense, the benefits of which can be more abstract and more difficult to measure.

3.5 Issues for older women

Financial literacy becomes especially important for older women when they are no longer able to work. As life expectancy for women in Australia is 82 years (ABS 2005), most women can expect to live at least 17 years after retirement. Women are more likely than men to live alone in later life (Into 2003). Women who have belonged to financially marginalised groups and have not been able to accumulate savings and assets, or who have worked in casual jobs where they have accumulated little superannuation, are very likely to become dependent on the government for their welfare. This is particularly true of single women or women who have been single parents or carers.

A number of life events that are common in the older years, such as ill health, bereavement and entering residential care, can detract from women's capacity to manage their finances and make key decisions regarding expenditure and saving. In the context of such events, families and carers play an important part in decision making. Widows have been identified as a marginalised group among older women. Although little research focuses specifically on their financial literacy, the Compass Consultation on Australia's Ageing Population notes their particular challenges as: often having less superannuation; often being dependent on a single pension; and having to take responsibility late in life for a range of financial and other functions that used to be their husbands' domain. (Slack-Smith & Laverty 2005:23)

In October 2005, the Age Pension was set at $488.90 a fortnight1. While a small supplement is available for rent assistance and there are some concessions available to aged pensioners, this amount represents an amount that is on a par with or below the poverty line as of the March quarter 2005 (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research).

In the 1990s the strongest growth in Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients was among older women. The main reason for this was that alternative payments such as the Age Pension for women aged under 65 were closed off, so those with disabilities claimed the DSP instead (ACOSS 2005).

3.6 Issues for women with disabilities

Poverty is particularly prevalent amongst people who have a disability. A number of factors contribute to this, including low incomes, few employment opportunities and additional costs due to their disability (Senate Community Affairs References Committee (SCARC) 2004). The last-named may include the high costs of medication, the purchase of special equipment or aids, and access to appropriate housing, transport and services related to personal care or home maintenance.

The degree of access people with disabilities have to information in appropriate formats clearly has a bearing on their financial literacy. For those with physical and sensory disabilities, physical access to existing financial education programs and resources may be very limited (SCARC 2004).

Women with disabilities are often doubly disadvantaged. Their over-representation in part-time, casual and lower-paying jobs and among those relying solely on government payments means that they are one of the most economically-marginalised groups in Australia (ACFOA 2003; People with Disabilities Australia Incorporated (PWD) 2005).

In 2003, 46.9 per cent of women with a disability were in the labour force compared with 59.3 per cent of men. From 1998 to 2003, the unemployment rate for women with a disability remained stable, only dropping from 8.6 per cent to 8.3 per cent, whereas the unemployment rate for men with a disability fell from 13.5 per cent to 8.8 per cent (HREOC, cited in PWD 2005).

Women with Disabilities have analysed ABS data that shows women with a disability are half as likely to find full-time employment than men with a disability; twice as likely to be in part-time employment; and are likely to be in lower paid jobs than men with a disability (cited in PWD 2005).

Tomas (1991) identifies the following barriers to women with disabilities gaining or returning to employment:

  • some women with disabilities have a poor self-image and lack the ability to project a positive self-image to prospective employers (while men with disabilities often lack self-confidence, for women with disabilities the problem is particularly acute);
  • lack of access to and knowledge of employment services and training programs;
  • few career options as a result of limited education and training; and
  • attitudinal barriers and discrimination in the job application process and at work (although men with disabilities also often face discrimination in the workplace, this may be compounded for women by gender-based stereotypes).

Another barrier is that women with a disability are expected to carry out traditional women's unpaid work and parenting responsibilities, whereas men with a disability are more likely to seek support to carry out these activities (Women with Disabilities Australia, cited in PWD 2005).

3.7 Issues for women who are carers

Carers have been identified as a financially vulnerable group: 55 per cent of primary carers depend on a government allowance or benefit as their main source of income. An ABS survey of carers found in 2003 that most primary carers (that is to say, people who provide the majority of ongoing informal assistance to a person with a disability) were women, and the majority of these were not in the labour force. Issues faced by carers include the emotional and physical effects of caring, and the need for financial and other support in the caring role. There are many direct and hidden financial costs involved with being a carer. A quarter of primary carers reported that the main effect of the caring role on their financial situation had been that they had extra expenses; slightly less than a quarter reported that the main effect was a decrease in their income (ABS 2003).

  1. See Payment rates of Age Pension (www.centrelink.gov.au) accessed 31 October 2005

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Opportunities to help marginalised women improve their financial literacy 

This section describes a sample of existing financial literacy programs and approaches in Australia that provide opportunities for women or for marginalised groups. It explores some examples of overseas experience in education in financial literacy for marginalised women.

4.1 Existing programs and approaches in Australia
 

4.1.1 Programs and services for the general community

There are several programs and services available to the general community to further financial literacy and to provide financial advice.

The National Centre on Retirement Investments (NICRI) is an independent organisation funded by the Australian Government that provides the public with independent information on financial investments, financial industry services, and savings for retirement. NICRI assists Centrelink's Financial Information Service officers and community workers by providing information on financial literacy.

The Financial Information Service (FIS) provided by specialist Centrelink officers is an education and information service available to everyone in the community. FIS is independent, free and confidential, and provides services by phone, personal interview and through seminars. FIS helps people make informed decisions about investment and financial issues for their current and future financial needs.

FIS officers assist people to maintain and improve their standard of living by:

  • providing them with expert financial information;
  • increasing their confidence to deal with financial issues;
  • assisting them to understand their own financial affairs and the options available to them;
  • alerting them to the levels of risk associated with different financial products;
  • explaining the roles of financial industry professionals;
  • assisting them to be discerning when choosing experts and expert information;
  • explaining the advantages of reducing personal debt;
  • encouraging sensible use of credit;
  • encouraging them to increase their saving and planning for the future;
  • helping with the effective planning for retirement; and
  • showing them how to maximise their overall retirement income.

FIS officers are not financial planners or financial counsellors. They do not give or sell advice or purchase investment products.

Financial counselling

Financial counselling, as defined in various government programs, is a free service provided to people who are in personal financial crisis. Financial counsellors undertake such activities as:

  • provision of advice and information;
  • individual/group advocacy/negotiation; and
  • community education and development.

The Australian Government, through its Commonwealth Financial Counselling Program, funds community-based organisations and local government community service organisations to provide financial counselling services to people experiencing personal financial crisis. This program began providing services in 1990.

Other funding sources of financial counselling include state and territory governments, community organisations and local governments. There are approximately 450 full-time, part-time and volunteer financial counsellors in Australia (Barker 2005). One such service, Care Inc. Financial Counselling Service, reports that women are more than twice as likely than men to contact Care (61 per cent to 32 per cent, with couples making up 7 per cent) and that the majority of its clients report a Centrelink benefit as their principal source of income (Care Inc 2005). In addition to general financial counselling services, there is a range of specialist services that address financial matters relating to problem-gambling and rural communities, for example.

Financial advisors

Financial advisors operate in almost all areas of the finance industry, providing advice for a fee on a range of issues including mortgages, debt reduction, loans, investments and superannuation. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and Australian Consumers Association (ACA) conducted a joint survey of the quality of advice provided by financial planners, and found that many people received poor advice on financial planning even from financial advisors in respected financial institutions (cited in COTA National Seniors response to the CFLT discussion paper 2004). The paper expresses concerns about the "imperfect informedness of the market", where one party in a transaction knows more than the other (COTA National Seniors 2004). The experience of some of their members has been that a large and confusing range of financial products means those seeking professional advice do not always know the right questions to ask to get the information they require.

Targeted programs and approaches

There are few existing financial literacy programs or resources in Australia that specifically target and address the needs of marginalised women. This section therefore identifies a sample of existing programs and approaches in Australia that:

  • target women (but not specifically marginalised women); or
  • target specific marginalised groups, such as Indigenous communities (but do not specifically target women).

The key question to be addressed is to what extent do these programs and approaches reach marginalised women and meet their needs? As the available literature on the programs does not address this question, it will be an important area to explore in the next stage of this research project.

It is also important to note that most of the programs have been developed and implemented at either local/regional or state/territory levels. Consequently, there is considerable variation in the availability of financial literacy programs that are in different parts of the country.

4.1.2 Programs and approaches that target women

The programs and approaches outlined here aim broadly to address the needs of women. Several programs aim to address the needs of women at particular life stages.

The Office for Women (Queensland) is working with the Learning Network Queensland and the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants' League Queensland to deliver free money management seminars to women in regional Queensland called Economy Wise + Budget Smart. The 20-hour seminars cover issues such as spending patterns, debt management, credit cards, financial planning, tax, property, shares, superannuation and the changes in life that impact on money matters.

The Office of Women's Policy (Victoria) and the Victorian Council on the Ageing (COTA) are currently piloting a series of one-day workshops to help improve women's financial literacy in relation to retirement. Two separate workshops are held in each regional centre to address the different issues for women before and after retirement.

Workshop One is designed primarily for women aged between 40 and 55. Topics include planning for retirement, demystifying superannuation, strategies to address your retirement shortfall and how to ensure you get the right advice. Workshop Two (for women aged 55 and over) explores life after retirement, understanding retirement, demystifying products such as retirement income streams and other investments and how to ensure you get the right advice. The workshops cost $15 and the fee includes a comprehensive take-home workbook.

The Office for Women's Policy (Victoria) has also developed the resource Making superannuation work for you: a women's guide which is available on the website(www.women.vic.gov.au) in English and ten community languages.

Girl Savvy is a project offering one-day workshops throughout New South Wales to girls aged 14 to 18. It is delivered by the Office for Women (NSW) in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank Foundation, Guides NSW and the YWCA of Sydney. The program aims to inspire young women to think about the range of work options available to them and communicates the benefits of being financially independent. The workshops are organised through schools but held in venues outside of the school environment. Seventy-three workshops have been held since the program's beginning in 2002, to September 2005. Approximately two thirds of them were held in rural and regional areas, the remainder in Metropolitan Sydney.

Finance First is a family education project designed to provide financial literacy education for disadvantaged parents and primary school children. The project was developed as a community/corporate partnership between the YWCA NSW and Citigroup, and arose from an identified critical need for financial literacy education, targeting low-income families in socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Its objective was to create, through research, development and evaluation, a curriculum-based financial literacy program for primary school children and a complementary course aimed at parents.

The pilot phase held in 2004 involved the testing of an innovative model of financial literacy education targeting disadvantaged communities. The primary school package, entitled MakingCents, was developed by the NSW Department of Education and Training, and meet curriculum outcomes in Mathematics and Social Sciences. The parent program package, EvenStart, was developed by the University of Technology, Sydney.

The feedback from parents/adults on the EvenStart pilot has been very positive. Many parents reported positive outcomes: in their management of money; in their ability to talk to their children about money and encourage them to save, and consequently in their children's attitudes and behaviours concerning money; and in connecting with other parents in the school community. Some parents also reported observing improvements in their children's attitudes and behaviour concerning money after participating in MakingCents.

MakingCents has now been made available to schools in NSW and several other Australian states and territories through a professional teacher training program. EvenStart will be delivered to some school communities in NSW in 2006.

4.1.3 Programs and approaches that target marginalised groups (but not specifically women)

People on low incomes

Centrelink's FIS is a free service that provides independent information on a wide range of financial issues. Its objective is to encourage and assist people to maintain or improve their standard of living by planning effectively for retirement and maximising retirement incomes.

The service also runs a seminar program designed to provide information on a range of topics including planning for retirement, redundancy, managed investments, income streams, superannuation and new policy initiatives. The seminars complement those run by the financial industry, and help people to assess the financial options available to them. The Social Policy Evaluation and Research Centre is currently conducting an evaluation of the effectiveness of the seminars conducted by the FIS.

MoneyMinded is an adult education program developed by ANZ to help community educators and financial counsellors assist people, particularly those on low incomes, to improve their financial knowledge and make informed decisions about their money. The program covers six core topics separated into 17 workshops. The program is flexible, enabling counsellors and participants to select workshops that relate to participants' needs.

The six core topics are: planning and saving; easy payments; understanding paperwork; living with debt; everyday banking and financial products; and rights and responsibilities. The program is not ANZ-branded and does not promote any specific financial institution's services or products.

By mid-2005, ANZ had funded MoneyMinded facilitator training for more than 145 financial counsellors and community educators in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The day-and-a-half training program familiarises facilitators with MoneyMinded's content and structure, as well as providing tips on effective adult facilitation.

RMIT University (2005) conducted an evaluation of MoneyMinded. From 1 March to 30 April 2005, a total of 142 participants in MoneyMinded training had completed pre-training surveys. More than half (66 per cent) were lower-income earners, and half of that group received most of their income from government benefits. Notably, most participants were women aged between 35 and 54, and most participants were either single parents (29 per cent) or part of a couple with children.

The participants who reported the highest levels of satisfaction with the program overall and/or the workshops, were those with lower incomes, those receiving government benefits as their primary source of income and those in part-time (rather than full-time) employment. The evaluation also found that the participants who attended multiple workshops were more satisfied than those who only attended a single workshop.

The facilitators who have either delivered the program already or expect to deliver the program in the future reported high levels of satisfaction with the delivery method and content. According to the facilitators, the most attractive feature of the MoneyMinded program is the modular format, making it very adaptable to a range of clients.

SaverPlus is a financial literacy and matched-savings program developed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and ANZ. The program aims to help families on low incomes improve their financial knowledge, build long-term savings habits and save for their children's education. Program participants identify an education-related savings target and work towards this goal by regularly saving a portion of their earned income. They also participate in training that enhances and develops their financial skills. Throughout the program, participants work with a relationship manager who oversees their progress and acts as facilitator of the training, mentor and personal coach. ANZ donates two dollars for each one saved by participants (up to $2000).

People are invited to join SaverPlus through local school networks. To be eligible to join, it is necessary to be a parent or guardian of a student at a government secondary school; to have a current Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card; have regular income from paid employment; and be able to demonstrate a capacity to save, once regular expenses have been met.

An interim evaluation on the pilot program in Frankston, Victoria, found that SaverPlus participants are mostly single mothers aged between 30 and 50, and that before joining the program 28 per cent of participants said they never saved anything. Most participants (89 per cent) were able to save each month either on a consistent or variable basis. Fewer than one in ten had made a withdrawal from their account. A second evaluation of the pilot program, conducted by Deakin University, found that individual participants have gained considerable benefits, not only in asset building and financial literacy, but in quite unexpected, less tangible ways such as creating support networks with other parents to share travel duties and child care.

ANZ is now working with community partners to deliver SaverPlus in four locations:

  • Frankston, Victoria, in partnership with the Brotherhood of St Laurence;
  • Shepparton, Victoria, with Berry St, Victoria;
  • Campbelltown, NSW, with the Benevolent Society; and
  • South Brisbane and the Gold Coast corridor, Queensland, with the Smith Family.

Indigenous Australians

The Tangentyere Bank Agency in Alice Springs is an initiative of Westpac to improve Indigenous access to banking and financial services. The Tangentyere Council has a Westpac branch operating on its premises that provide face-to-face banking for as many as 2,000 people who live in Alice Springs town camps. People who cash their cheques at the branch can pay their rent and electricity bills on-site and can exchange cash-for-food vouchers to be spent at the Tangentyere supermarket. The bank agency is a not-for-profit organisation which charges no account-keeping fees and allows six free transactions a month.

In 2000, the Tangentyere Council, together with Centrelink, FaCSIA and Westpac, conducted a 12-month pilot project to aid Tangentyere clients in the transition from cheque-based to electronic-based banking—that is to say, essentially from receiving Centrelink benefits as cheques to electronic credit transfer. The project also aimed to help people open bank accounts and sign on to a food voucher program.

The financial literacy program conducted by Tangentyere consisted of a series of face-to-face workshops run by four Aboriginal bank liaison officers using materials designed to meet the needs of illiterate people: large, comic-book style panels were accompanied by an oral presentation and a video. Bank customers were taught how to use an ATM and a key card. Aboriginal bank liaison officers also provided an essential 'proof of identity' service. The evaluation of the Tangentyere Bank Pilot Project saw this training as successful, in that Tangentyere customers have overcome many of the problems associated with electronic banking (McDonell 2003).

The MoneyBusiness program is designed to build the money management skills and confidence of Indigenous people and their families, whilst at the same time establishing a stronger savings culture in Indigenous communities. ANZ is working in partnership with FaCSIA to deliver the MoneyBusiness initiative. FaCSIA will provide specialist knowledge about service delivery in remote Indigenous communities and will set up six sites in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

At each site, locally-trained Indigenous people will work side-by-side with individuals and families to offer coaching in financial literacy, budgeting, bill-paying and developing savings plans. ANZ and FaCSIA will develop an Indigenous money management training materials package (adapting and extending MoneyMinded) to be used to train the workers at the six sites. The SaverPlus financial literacy and matched savings program will be offered in the MoneyBusiness sites.

Targets set for implementation of the program included:

  • MoneyBusiness to be operating in the six sites by March 2006;
  • SaverPlus to reach up to 300 Indigenous families involved with MoneyBusiness; and
  • A national strategy for the delivery of MoneyBusiness financial literacy education program to be developed by May 2006.

The First Nations Credit Union operates throughout Australia and offers savings and transactions accounts, insurance and financial planning, ATM cards, cheque loans and budget accounts and includes a range of Indigenous-specific products. In partnership with ASIC, the credit union initiated Moola Talk, a series of comic-book style, easy-to-read publications that deal with issues such as managing your money, saving, warranties, insurance, PINs and buying a car. The credit union also provides a range of on-line resources and has provided face-to-face information to groups of elders, students, and others on financial issues such as budgeting and saving.

The Traditional Credit Union (TCU) was established in 1994 to provide culturally appropriate financial services to Indigenous people living in remote communities in the Northern Territory, particularly those disadvantaged by lack of access to existing services. The TCU services 11,000 members and operates eight branches in the Northern Territory. Most staff are Indigenous, and community-based customers can communicate in their local languages.

The TCU provides banking services and manages periodical payments and loans, as well as providing financial counselling to members. The TCU also offers members clan accounts so groups can save for cultural activities. Christmas Club accounts are available to help people with low cash incomes to budget for special occasions. Under an agreement signed in November 2005, the ANZ will fund the TCU to deliver financial literacy training to TCU members in Milingimbi and Ngukurr.

The Fred Hollows Foundation has developed The Money Story project as part of the Foundation's Indigenous Health Program in the Northern Territory. The Money Story is an innovative and empowering program that provides financial information, reports and budgets in a form that is appropriate for people with limited literacy and numeracy skills.

The Family Income Management (FIM) scheme has been operating since 2002 in three communities in Cape York: Aurukun, Coen and Mossman Gorge. It expanded in 2004–05 to Hopevale and Weipa. FIM is a project funded by FaCSIA and supported by Westpac.

The FIM project was designed by Indigenous people to build financial literacy and implement budgets, stabilise family functioning, improve living standards and reduce household and individual debt in a culturally sensitive and practical way. It aims to assist families to share their financial resources and build an understanding of prioritised and planned use of financial resources.

The project employs some local people in each location and is overseen by a working group comprised of representatives from each community, Australian Government agencies, Westpac and Cape York Partnerships. Westpac employees work alongside local financial management workers for one month, every quarter.

Local facilitators and resource workers at each site assist families and individuals to negotiate budget-and-savings agreements, set up direct deductions from accounts and provide bill-paying and purchasing assistance. Arrangements with local stores, schools and pharmacies facilitate payment for food, education costs and medications.

Outcomes include debt reduction and debt management, better coverage of essential living costs, increased spending on food and reduced spending on alcohol and gambling, better access to medication, and the ability to purchase white goods and other household items. Some participants have purchased cars and boats and set up small businesses.

FIM provides employment and skills development opportunities for local people and contributes to building local consumer capacity, which helps the viability of local small enterprises.

State, territory and commonwealth consumer agencies have developed the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy Action Plan 2005–2010 to respond to the particular issues facing Indigenous consumers in Australia. The strategy includes financial and banking services as one of eight national priorities. The two actions listed under this priority are to improve financial literacy, with particular emphasis on education of young people, and to address the lack of financial services for Indigenous people in regional and remote areas (ASIC 2004a).

People from CALD backgrounds

The Migrant Information Centre (Eastern Melbourne) in partnership with Each Financial Counsellors received support from Consumer Affairs Victoria to develop and facilitate a series of information sessions for newly-arrived refugees from Southern Sudan to increase their understanding of banking, budgeting and consumer credit. Sessions will cover applying for credit cards, understanding interest, credit payments and budgeting, 'what happens if I don't pay', buying a car and furniture, and utilising banking services including automatic tellers.

In addition, two focus groups were held in November 2005 with members of the community—one group of people who migrated to Victoria more than 12 months ago and the other of people who migrated in the past 12 months—to identify key issues in banking services and obtaining credit. The information identified through the groups will be used to develop two information cards for newly-arrived refugees.

Older people

COTA Western Australia runs an established program called Western Australia Retirement Education Seminars, which covers a range of topics relating to retirement, including financial matters. COTA NSW also offers Retirement Planning workshops. The Commonwealth Bank provides seminars called Banking Made Easy for Older Persons. COTA South Australia is working in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank to introduce older people to electronic banking.

The COTA network of clubs (approximately 2,000) was advised the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to visit, using retired staff to introduce club members to electronic banking. They bring ATMs and EFTPOS equipment so that members can practise without the pressure of a public environment.

The Seniors Information Services (SIS) is a well-advertised central information and referral point for older people with a single, local or freecall telephone number, a constantly updated computer database and training staff to provide appropriate information. The SIS operate in most states/territories (New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland). COTA National Seniors (2004) note in their response to the CFLT Discussion Paper that many of the SIS have fact sheets and publications available on request, but there are very few for financial services.

There are also a large number of publications and Internet resources directed towards assisting people to plan for and manage their financial needs in retirement. ASIC, for example, has a section on its consumer information website that provides information for retirees and people who will be retiring soon.

People with disabilities and their carers

The national and state/territory carer associations have fact sheets for carers on managing money that provide information on financial assistance available to carers and where to obtain assistance with financial matters. The Carer Support Kit (available in 13 community languages from the Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre) includes a fact sheet on financial help.

This review has not been able to identify any other Australian programs/approaches that are specifically aimed at improving the financial literacy of people with disabilities and/or their carers. The programs, noted above, that are designed to improve the financial literacy of people on low incomes (eg. SaverPlus and MoneyMinded) have the potential to be adapted to the needs of people with disabilities and their carers. Issues relating to managing money are often incorporated within general living skills programs for people with developmental disabilities.

4.2 Overseas experience in financial literacy education targeting marginalised women

This section reviews overseas experience in financial literacy education targeting or having a strong focus on marginalised women. All the approaches discussed are from the USA or Canada. Despite expansion of financial literacy education in the UK, programs there are generally focused on school leavers and coverage for adults remains 'patchy and piecemeal' (Coben et al 2005:8). Similarly, in New Zealand most initiatives are directed to improving the schools' capacity to incorporate financial education into the curriculum.

A number of organisations and initiatives in the USA provide financial literacy information and education targeting women. WISER is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to providing women with the skills and information they need to improve their economic circumstances and plan for a financially-sound retirement. WISER runs workshops and seminars, publishes newsletters, reports, fact sheets, consumer guides. Many of their fact sheets and publications are available in languages other than English.

WISER works in partnership with a wide range of groups. They target women entering the workforce, women starting their own businesses, high-school and college-age women, women nearing retirement, church and union women, women living and working in rural areas, caregivers, victims of domestic violence and women of colour.

The US Department of Labor Women's Bureau has a strong interest in policy issues relating to women's financial literacy and has several current or past projects in this area. Wi$e Up (http://wiseupwomen.tamu.edu) is a financial education demonstration project for women in their 20s and 30s. The program is an eight-module curriculum offered on-line, as well as in a classroom setting in educational institutions and other organisations in seven Women's Bureau regions.

In the online program, the curriculum is complemented by an Ask the Experts feature, in which participants' emailed-questions are replied to by volunteers with financial expertise. Another feature available to both the online and classroom-based versions is a series of monthly, one-hour teleconference calls with featured speakers and a question-and-answer session. Participants and experts (mentors) are recruited by local organisations who partner with the Women's Bureau.

Las Mujeres y el Dinero (Women and Money) consisted of a series of financial education conferences held across the country for Hispanic women. According to recent findings, Hispanic women's knowledge about savings and retirement is significantly less that of other groups and their retirement confidence level is less than that of workers overall. They are most likely to rely on Social Security for retirement and expect support from their children and family as well (US Department of Labor Women's Bureau 2005).

The program aimed to empower Hispanic women to learn more about planning for financial security. The Women's Bureau worked with eighteen partners, including community colleges and Hispanic organisations, to organise 11 separate and distinct financial literacy programs, held in ten states across the country. The content of the workshops covered areas such as banking services, managing money, credit and debt, owning a home, and the importance of life, home and car insurance.

Chicago Commons Employment Training Center is a multi-service settlement house that provides job-training services. The centre's students are primarily women who are moving from welfare to work. The centre has worked in partnership with a local bank to provide a financial literacy course (in eight sessions over a period of several weeks). The centre's education coordinator commented that most of the students had not had previous relationships with financial institutions and their 'connection to money was based on spending or making sure not to accumulate too much to avoid welfare penalties' (Jacob 2000). Eighty-eight percent of the graduates of the program opened savings accounts.

Beyond Welfare is an organisation in Iowa that works on a range of community capacity-building projects, including assisting families making the transition from welfare to work to gain financial literacy skills. The program partners each family moving from welfare to work with a volunteer family who offers support guided by the organisation. In 2001, 37 per cent of participants made a successful transition from welfare to work.

A range of programs currently being implemented in the USA target highly specific groups of marginalised women such as victims of domestic violence, women participating in programs that provide alternatives to incarceration, or teenage girls with emotional and behavioural disorders (in a residential setting). However, there is little accessible information on the content or mode of delivery of these programs.

In Canada, Family Services of Greater Vancouver is currently implementing a Financial Literacy Training Project designed for low-income and marginalised populations to increase their economic participation and self-sufficiency. Target groups include women surviving domestic violence, low-income earners, immigrants and refugees, Aboriginal families and other marginalised groups. An adult education approach is used that enables participants to share their experiences with others and understand they are not alone in struggling with personal money management. This approach is intended to enhance community-building peer support.

The program is provided to existing groups (such as parent support groups) in partnership with community agencies such as family support services and neighbourhood houses. This integrative approach has the advantage that the training becomes part of a program that already has a 'captive audience'.

The community agencies provide the venues and coordinate the time with Family Services of Greater Vancouver. Family Services provides trained and qualified facilitators and the learning materials. The program, which is delivered in four, two-hour sessions over consecutive weeks, covers banking, budgeting, consumer issues and achieving a positive personal credit history. Participation is free and child minding is available.

Since 1992, the Bank of Montreal has pursued a strategy for attracting Indigenous customers. The strategy has included:

  • an active policy of employing Canadian Indigenous people;
  • establishment of 20 small branches in remote Indigenous communities, some in partnership with Canada Post;
  • establishment of 15 separate branches, each with at least one employee who can speak the local traditional language;
  • the development of a range of loan products and procedures specifically designed for Indigenous communities;
  • a protocol agreement on dealing with Indigenous clients; and
  • multi-year government grant moneys funding deposited in the bank and accepted as collateral for other loans.

The Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU (2002) cite this as an example of best practice in delivering financial services to Indigenous people.

4.3 What is good practice in delivering financial education and services?

With few exceptions, we do not know how effective the approaches described in this survey have been in improving consumers' knowledge or changing their behaviour. The CFLT (2004) notes the lack of outcome evaluations as a major shortcoming of current approaches to provision of information and education on financial literacy in Australia.

Jacob et al (2000:33), observing that many USA financial literacy programs are one-off sessions, comment that 'most people need financial education programs that give them a continuing chance to learn and reinforce new financial behaviour'. Research in adult education casts doubt on the effectiveness of isolated strategies such as one-off information sessions or provision of information resources, particularly for marginalised consumers and those with a low base of financial literacy, and indicates that approaches that use multiple learning strategies and work over a longer timeframe are more likely to change people's behaviours.

Themes that emerge from a literature review on effective approaches in consumer education indicate that multi-faceted social marketing campaigns are more likely to be successful than those with a single strategy focus (Flowers et al 2001). Approaches found to be successful in health promotion and environmental education social marketing campaigns include:

  • adapting campaign resources to be locally relevant, such as including information at local events (Berg 1999 cited in Flowers et al 2001);
  • using two way interactive communication channels including community programs, newsletters and phone to allow consumers to exchange ideas and clarify information (Dennis et al 1990 cited in Flowers et al 2001);
  • using stories of real individuals and images of ordinary people;
  • providing information that responds to people's needs and is relevant to their particular life stages;
  • using participatory practices that involve people in planning and delivery; and
  • customising information and strategies, including for marginalised groups with often poor literacy.

On this last point, Cahill et al (1998) and Anon (1999) (cited in Flowers et al 2001) recommend that adapting campaigns for people with poor literacy skills involves:

  • producing simple printed material with brief and basic information such as phone numbers for further information;
  • increasing partnerships with community groups such as literacy advocacy groups and older people's groups; and
  • favouring informal sources such as family and friends over official sources which can be intimidating.

Many of the programs surveyed above could be accurately described as one-off. This is particularly so of programs specifically for women. In contrast, programs targeted at specific marginalised groups more often employed a longer-term approach. The evaluation of MoneyMinded, with its series of 17 workshops, supports the view that approaches over a longer timeframe can be more effective. Further investigation of this point is needed to look at the factors which proved successful (e.g. was it the number of modules participants attended or the flexible delivery allowing them time to practice and reinforce their learning over time)?

Other programs, including SaverPlus and those designed for Indigenous clients, allow participants long-term face-to-face advice and financial mentoring. The SaverPlus scheme, which offered a financial incentive, reported the expected positive financial outcomes for participants, but also other benefits including support networks.

The approaches that have most evidence of success appear to be some of those attempting to assist Indigenous people with their finances. The common features of these successful approaches are:

  • providing face-to-face services;
  • tailoring services to suit the cultural needs of Indigenous clients (for example, clan accounts);
  • training and employing Indigenous people who speak the local language; and
  • having supportive partnerships with large financial institutions.

The Institute for Socio-Financial Studies, in its 2005 review of financial literacy education in the USA, found evidence that the most comfortable setting for many people to receive financial education was in a community-based organisation. They recommend that financial literacy education curricula take account of language, family and community process issues, anxieties and fears. They also recommend that educators make clear to participants that financial literacy education is life-long learning and courses should emphasise resourcefulness: where and how to find information, how to find and when to use financial consultants and how to use print media and the Internet to assist in financial planning.

Stage two of this project, involving focus groups with women from specific marginalised groups, will provide an opportunity to develop further understanding of what good practice in delivering services to improve financial literacy to marginalised women might look like.

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Appendix 2 

Brisbane

  • QLD Working Women's Service
  • Multicultural Development Association
  • Queensland Government Office for Women
  • QLD Rural Women's Network
  • Multicultural Affairs QLD Dept. Premier and Cabinet
  • Social Action Office
  • Foresters ANA Mutual Society
  • Kyabra Community Association
  • Future Dreaming Rockhampton
  • Career Employment Australia
  • Aboriginal consultant
  • Children by Choice
  • Brisbane Women's Correctional centre
  • Career Employment Australia
  • Families & Kids Care
  • Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

Sydney

  • Finance First
  • Council of Social Services of NSW
  • Australian Women's Coalition
  • Energy Australia
  • Financial Counsellors Association
  • Council of the Ageing
  • FWCA Refugee Worker
  • View Clubs
  • Centrelink
  • Australian Government Office for Women

Melbourne

  • Office of Women's Policy (Victoria)
  • Ethnic Communities Council of VIC
  • VIC Council of Single Mothers and their Children
  • VIC Immigrant Women's Coalition
  • Council of the Ageing National Seniors
  • Australian Government Office for Women
  • Financial Counsellors Association
  • VIC Women & Disabilities Network
  • Office of Women's Policy (Victoria)
  • Women With Disabilities

Perth

  • Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service
  • Koori Women Mean Business
  • Financial Counsellors Resource Project
  • Women's Legal centre
  • Youth Legal Service
  • Financial Counsellors Association
  • ACROD (National Industry Association for Disability Services) WA Division
  • Council of Single Mothers & their Children
  • President Older Women's Network
  • Ethnic Communities Council of WA
  • Women with Disabilities WA
  • Ethnic Communities Council WA
  • VISHELP

Canberra

  • National Foundation for Australian Women Social Policy Committee
  • ACT Shelter
  • Care Financial Counselling
  • YWCA Canberra
  • Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia
  • Essential Services Consumer Council
  • ACT Government Office for Women
  • Australian Government Office for Women
  • Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

 

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Appendix 3  

Focus group locations and demographic characteristics are as follows:

Indigenous women

Three groups were held, one each in Sydney, Rockhampton and Santa Theresa, 90 kilometres from Alice Springs. Each group had ten participants. The Sydney group was recruited through RPR's Indigenous consultant's networks and was held in Redfern with Indigenous women.

The majority were aged under 44, with three older women aged between 45 and 54. The majority had incomes of less than $30,000, with three women earning over $50,000.

The Indigenous women for the Rockhampton group were recruited by the Coordinator of Futures Dreaming, a community development organisation for Indigenous people in central Queensland. The ten women present, represented a broad age range from 18 to over 60. The majority were on incomes below $50,000.

The ten Indigenous women from Santa Theresa ranged in age from 18 to 45 years and most had incomes of $20,000 or below. They were recruited through a contact provided to RPR by Waltja Tjutangku Palapayi. Santa Theresa is an indigenous community governed by an Elders Council and is situated 90 kilometres south east of Alice Springs.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Women (CALD) women

Two focus groups were held with CALD women, one in Brisbane and the other in Melbourne with eight and 11 participants respectively. The Brisbane focus group was organised by the Multicultural 3Development Association and the Melbourne group by the Victorian Immigrant Women's Coalition. The participants in both groups were all under 44 years and all had been living in Australia for at least ten years, with some having arrived as refugees and others as migrants, or on family reunion grounds. All participants were on incomes below $40,000.

Women with disabilities

Two focus groups were held with women with disabilities in Perth and Melbourne, with 12 and seven participants respectively. The Perth group was organised by Women with Disabilities Western Australia and the Melbourne group by Victorian Women with Disabilities Network. The Perth women were younger than the Melbourne group, with the majority under 44 years. Most of the Melbourne group were aged between 45 and 64. The majority in both groups had incomes under $20,000. Women with physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities were represented in both groups.

Older women

Two focus groups were held with older women, in Sydney and Melbourne, with ten and 11 participants respectively. Sydney participants were recruited through the Older Women's Network and Melbourne participants through National Seniors. All the women were over 54. All the Sydney women had incomes of less than $40,000, as did the majority of the Melbourne women. Both groups had a majority of women who were either widowed, single or separated.

Women who are carers

Two focus groups of ten women who are carers were held, one in Brisbane and one in Sydney, with both groups recruited through their respective state peak agency, Carers NSW and Carers Queensland. Both groups of carers were over 34 with the majority in the 55-64 age group. The majority of the Brisbane carers were on incomes less than $50,000, while the majority of the Sydney carers were on incomes of less than $20,000.

Single mothers

Two focus groups were held with single mothers in Perth and Alice Springs, with 11 and eight women respectively. The Perth group was organised by Solo Mums WA and the Alice Springs group by the Gap Reconnect Service. The majority of the Perth women were under 45 and were on incomes of less than $30,000. All the Alice Springs women were Aboriginal, aged between 18 and 24 and were on incomes of under $20,000.

Rural women

Two focus groups with rural women were held, one in Wauchope (NSW) and the other in Rockhampton, with 12 and ten participants respectively. Both groups were organised through the National Rural Women's Coalition. The majority of women in both groups were over 45 with incomes under $30,000. In both groups, the majority of women had lived on rural properties but most were currently living in regional towns.

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Appendix 4 

Introduction

Hello, my name is xxx and I work for an independent company called RPR Consulting. Our scribe for today is xxx. We are facilitating this group today as part of a project funded by the Australian Government Office for Women. Thank you for your time today. We want to hear from you about a whole range of issues to do with how you manage your finances and what might be helpful to you to access financial information and learn more about financial matters. What you have to say is very important and will be used by the government to help tailor financial literacy programs to better suit women. We are talking to 15 groups of women throughout Australia and the information we get from you will help us report to the government about your financial education needs and how they might be met.

Nothing that you say will be attributed to you by name.

My role as facilitator is to find out your views on some issues and to move the conversation forward from time to time.

Before we start can you introduce yourself and say a little about why you decided to come to the focus group.

Access

  1. What do you do well in managing your money? What do you find difficult?
  2. If you want to get information about how to manage your finances where, or to whom, would you go first? Why?
  3. Have you accessed financial information from any of the following?
    • a financial counsellor (free advice from a community based specialist)
    • community organisation (eg. neighbourhood centre)
    • bank
    • financial advisor (paid advice from a specialist in the finance industry)
    • Internet (Each of these will be put up on the whiteboard.)
  4. Which of these sources of information have you found useful? How did they help you? (Go through each of these one at a time.)
  5. Which haven't been helpful? Why?

Barriers

  1. What has made it difficult for you to understand and deal with your finances?
  2. What have you found difficult about finding information to better help you understand your finances?
  3. Can you give an example of when you learnt something that has helped you better understand and manage your money? Describe what it was and how it helped.

Life-staged needs

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when it was particularly important to have an understanding of your finances? When was it and what did you want to know/understand?
  2. Was the information easy to access? If not, why not?

Particular needs

  1. Do you think you have particular needs for financial information that are different from other groups of women? If so, what are they? And why?

Opportunities

Now I'd like to talk with you about what would be most helpful for you to improve your skills, knowledge and confidence around your finances.

There are a number of different ways of getting information and learning about financial issues. I'll hand out this information and then we can go through each of these in turn to ask you your views on them. (This will be a sheet with a short description of each of the programs 11,12,13,14 below). I'll also go through each of them one at a time.

  1. Half-day or one day workshops - these provide information on particular aspects of understanding your finances, eg. planning for retirement, understanding superannuation, planning and saving etc. (Use relevant examples for the audience.)
    • Would you attend a workshop like this?
    • What topics would you like to see covered in a workshop?
    • Where is a good place to hold them?
    • What about cost? How much would you be prepared to pay? (Indicate a range - free, between $10-$15, $20, over $20.)

The programs I'm going to describe to you (or we can read through) work with people over a longer period of time. I'd like your views on them.

  1. Adult education programs run over a number of weeks which could cover topics such as planning and saving; understanding paperwork; living with debt; everyday banking and understanding financial products. Participants can decide to go on to do more electives if they want to learn more about a particular topic.
  2. Programs run in the local neighbourhood centre or community centre where financial issues are covered as part of a broader program of topics, eg. household management programs. These could run for a number of weeks.
  3. Matched savings programs: People on low incomes deposit money into a savings account with the aim of saving for something they want (child's education, computer, etc.). A second account is set up by employers, government, foundations, etc. who agree to match the amount saved. Training and education programs are provided free and participants are obliged to attend these to learn more about financial issues.
    Q: Would you take part in a program like this? (Ask for each.) Why or why not? OR What would encourage you to take part in one of these workshops/ courses/ programs we have been talking about?
  4. Are there other ways you'd like to learn about financial issues? (Prompt - online, publications, etc.)

Conclusion

Thank you very much for your time today. It's been very useful to talk with you. (Tell them again what will happen - make sure they are comfortable with stories but no names, etc.)

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Appendix 5 

Target group Barriers to financial literacy Life-stage needs Strategies
Carers
  • Lack of targeted, reliable information about entitlements from income-support agencies
  • Lack of respite care to attend courses
  • Isolation
  • On first becoming a carer
  • On birth of disabled child
  • Peaks to work with the Australian Government to develop options for financial education modules.
  • Materials to include information on carer's entitlements
CALD women
  • Cultural attitudes to managing finances
  • Basic literacy and numeracy in English
  • Lack of information in community languages
  • In first two years of settlement
  • Peaks to work with the Australian Government to develop options for financial education modules
  • Materials to include information in community languages as required
  • Undertake search on financial education materials already developed by state-based groups for newly-arrived refugees and migrants
Older women
  • Learning to deal with finances following death of spouse
  • Confusing information and advice on investments
  • Confusion over range of financial products & services
  • Pre-retirement
  • On death of a spouse
  • When investing in a retirement village
  • On spouse's retirement
  • Peaks to work with the Australian Government to develop options for workshop topics and financial education modules on specific topics
  • Work with state-based groups (e.g. National Seniors) on the development of workshops and seminars
Women with disabilities
  • Lack of reliable information on entitlements
  • Lack of suitable transport
  • Lack of information in Braille, tape and pictograms
  • When requiring advice on trusteeships
  • At school
  • Peaks to work with the Australian Government to develop options for workshops on topics of concern to women with disabilities
  • Provide information in a range of formats suitable for women with cognitive, sensory and physical disabilities
  • Work with disability service providers to include financial information in living skills programs
Rural women
  • Discriminatory attitudes from banks
  • Costs of travel to access services
  • Unreliable Internet access
  • On sale of farm
  • On birth of child
  • Peaks to be consulted to develop options for workshop topics and financial education modules on specific topics
Single mothers
  • Lack of reliable information from Centrelink
  • Lack of child care to attend courses
  • Economic marginalisation
  • On separation and divorce
  • On birth of child
  • Peaks to be consulted in the development of options for workshop topics and financial education modules on specific topics
Indigenous women
  • Lack of role models when growing up
  • Lack of reliable information from Centrelink
  • Lack of culturally appropriate financial information
  • Information at school
  • On birth of a child
  • Peaks to be consulted in the development of options for financial education modules.
  • Develop culturally appropriate information on financial issues. Australian Government Indigenous programs to explore outcomes from financial education programs in order to learn from these
  • Use Indigenous facilitators to develop and deliver programs

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