IMPROVING FINANCIAL LITERACY

SRI LANKA’S FINANCIAL LITERACY RATE COMPARES POORLY WITH THE REGION, ACCORDING TO AN AUTHOR OF VOLUME PROMOTING AWARENESS ON THE SUBJECT

Th e CFA Society Sri Lanka has launched a programme to improve financial literacy in the country in collaboration with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Th e programme’s objective is to develop the financial capabilities of Sri Lankans by making e-books available free of charge and carrying out a print & digital media campaign encouraging the public to download and read the e-books. The e-books are available in English and Sinhalese for download at www.cfasrilanka.lk. CFA Society Sri Lanka’s Advocacy Chair Ravi Abeysuriya authored the book ‘Financial Literacy to Achieve Your Financial Wellbeing’. Th e book is aimed at all strata of people, to get a basic understanding of financial concepts and to take control of their financial futures. It details topics such as ‘How to Achieve Financial Independence and Wealth’, ‘Personal Financial Planning’, ‘Do’s and Don’t of using Credit Cards’, ‘How to Borrow Smart’, ‘Understanding the Most Important Aspects of Taking a Loan’, ‘How Money Works’, ‘Wealth Management’, ‘How to Be Prepared for the Unexpected’ and ‘Planning for Retirement’.

Sidath Kalyanaratne, CFA Sri Lanka’s Advocacy co-chair, authored a separate but related book “Entrepreneurship: The journey of an entrepreneur”, aimed at advising would-be Sri Lankan entrepreneurs on improving the success rates of their ventures. It details topics like ‘Where to Find Capital’, ‘How to Approach Potential Lenders/Capital Providers’, ‘Managing a Business’, ‘How to Manage Working Capital’, ‘Refinancing’, and ‘Challenges and Complexities with Growth and Scale’. Excerpts from an interview with the author, who is also group director of Candor and rating agency Fitch’s founding chief executive in Sri Lanka, Ravi Abeysuriya are as follows:

You authored the book “Financial Literacy to Achieve Your Financial Wellbeing.” What made you write this book and how did you find the time?
I was a member of the Central Bank’s Financial System Stability Consultative Committee, and while attending these meetings, I came to understand how prevalent the lack of financial literacy was. There are many dishonest individuals and organizations operating outside the regulatory setup that operates pyramid schemes in the guise of organisations paying high interest on deposits. Financially illiterate citizens often get carried away with high returns without an appreciation of risks.

There are loan sharks and irresponsible credit schemes that charge effective interest rates as high as 220% a year and drive already vulnerable people into a debt trap. We’ve seen people unable to repay their loans commit suicide. The unscrupulous are able to exploit because the financially excluded lack knowledge.

Sri Lanka’s print literacy and financial literacy gap is the region’s widest. The financial literacy rate in Sri Lanka is 35% compared to an average of 65% in more developed economies. Evidence clearly shows that low financial literacy in Sri Lanka is not confined to the poor but common among professionals such as doctors, lawyers and even judges. Hence, I thought of writing a book bringing together articles I’ve written and learnings gained over 35 years working in the financial services sector.

Surveys have shown that only 7% of Sri Lanka’s labour force are entrepreneurs, whereas the global standard is about 30%. Hence, I thought of including material on how to start a business as well in the book. I was fortunate that my colleague, Sidath Kalyanaratne, came forward to write the e-book on entrepreneurship.

Why is CFA Society Sri Lanka spearheading improving Sri Lanka’s financial literacy?
The CFA Institute is a global not-for-profit investment education and professional organization with more than 155,000 members in over 160 countries. Its mission is to lead the investment profession globally by promoting the highest standards of ethics, education and professional excellence for society’s ultimate benefit.

We believe we have a role to play in building a stronger and more accountable financial industry. To restore and maintain trust in our industry, we need to speak to the industry’s broader purpose – that is why our mission refers to the ultimate benefit of the society!

One of the main strategic focus areas of this mission is building market integrity by working with regulators and other industry partners to improve the market environment and credibility of the finance industry. We believe that a well-functioning, efficient financial system depends on the trust of the participants. It also depends on the basic knowledge and awareness of the participants about the financial products and services offered, their relative risks and rewards, and their specific suitability to each person.

It’s to this end that we are committed to working together with the Central Bank to support its National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS). Higher financial literacy will help more people in this country make the right choice in their financial journey and encourage them to enter the formal, regulated financial system. This will enable greater access to capital, as well as more suitable capital allocation, supporting growth, reducing poverty and increasing future savings.

How can the public obtain this book? Is it available in bookshops?
The e-books are available only on the web for download at www.cfasrilanka.lk. Our objective is to reach out to as many people as possible, particularly students in schools and universities that have computer labs and Sri Lanka’s over 10 million smartphone users. They can easily download the e-book.