As Financial Capability Month comes to a close, Fintech Explained sat down with a leader in the financial education space, Billy J. Hensley, Ph.D., president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®). Dr. Hensley has led NEFE through its evolution from a provider of direct-to-consumer resources to a leading voice in the financial education space.

Our conversation on financial capability covered NEFE’s history as one of the founders of Financial Literacy Month, the essential role digital tools play in advancing financial capability, and Dr. Hensley’s own financial literacy advice for consumers (“ask questions about everything”).

Read our conversation below and catch up on past editions of Fintech Explained here.

Q: Tell us about NEFE®’s mission and how the organization is marking National Financial Capability Month this year.

A: NEFE is a unifying voice for the national financial education community, and we lead the charge through research and collaboration. We are nonprofit, independent, and committed to the financial well-being of all Americans. Last year we celebrated our 30th year as a private operating foundation.

National Financial Capability Month, recognized by some as Financial Literacy Month, is something NEFE is proud to have started more than a quarter century ago when it evolved from Youth Financial Literacy Day. Now there is a broader focus on financial capability, which includes all the factors contributing to well-being.

All month we are providing reflections on the work that advances financial education and how we can amplify advocacy efforts. We also are recognizing and elevating the achievements of our partners. April is a welcome moment of recognition, but we’re continually pursuing better data and evolving as we gain new insights.

Q: What roles can digital and fintech tools play in effective financial education?

Digital and fintech tools are essential in advancing financial education, and we must continue to work to ensure access to them is equitable. This area is just one part of the Personal Finance Ecosystem that contributes to an individual’s overall well-being.

A NEFE opinion poll finds that almost half (44%) of U.S. adults feel confident making financial decisions because of prior knowledge. Digital and fintech tools expand opportunities to gain that knowledge to make better decisions. While a large majority of people will consult a resource before making a financial decision, the nature of where that information comes from varies depending on age, education level, gender, and race.

There is a shared responsibility to ensure that everyone has equitable participation in our financial society, yet prevalent barriers exist that limit full inclusion, most of which are systemic. Providing digital and fintech tools with positive and demonstrated outcomes is important. We believe broader access to these resources would be a game-changer.

Q: NEFE recently held an inaugural financial education innovation and impact summit. What were the key themes you discussed at the Summit?

A: NEFE’ss 30th anniversary in 2022 culminated with our inaugural Financial Education Innovation and Impact Summit focusing on key issues facing our field while paving the way for our future work. There were three essential themes:

1) Focusing on the quality of financial education by improving content, instruction, teacher training, and defining outcomes for classroom-based instruction.

2) Building awareness around who has access and does not have access to quality financial education, which leads to more assertive advocacy and increased research funding to address gaps.

3) Demonstrating impact and effectiveness in individual behavior change, but also systemic and societal changes.

These themes are critical to ensure financial education is effective for all and genuinely contributes to improving an individual’s well-being. The outcomes from the Summit validated the need for greater collaboration in the field. Bringing together leaders from various backgrounds and industries to discuss current research and explore topics relevant to advancing financial capability is a core value at NEFE.

Q: What is your number one piece of advice to consumers when it comes to being financially literate?

A: Ask questions about everything, from the fundamentals within the topical lessons of personal finance to the systemic issues upon which our financial landscape is built. While knowledge is essential to improving financial well-being, financial literacy is not a cure-all. After all, budgeting and saving alone will not lift families from poverty. We live diverse financial lives and have myriad experiences with financial services, including some encounters that lead to exclusion and bias, resulting in mistrust and trauma. If financial education is to work effectively for all, we must consider how to make it more inclusive and honest about the existing financial ecosystem. That begins with asking questions. The point of financial education is the democratization of personal financial information. As such, seek financial education opportunities that expose you to broader topical discussions beyond the typical budgeting and saving lessons.