Is it time financial experts got down to the level of mwananchi?

ILAM Business Development and client service General Manager Elizabeth Irungu after unveiling the Digital Unit Trust portal. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Can you tell the difference between compound and simple interest? Do you know what a policy is? What about a facility in banking?

The above questions can only be answered correctly if you have had the privilege of being around people who already know the answers or if you were taught in school which probably means that is your career path.

Yet as it is, individuals with no knowledge of what a policy is are being targeted and implored by financial services companies and their representatives to purchase covers. Or those who do not know what a facility is are being sought after by banks and microfinances to take loans at 'very low interests'.

And without knowledge of how the world of finances works, many have 'burnt their fingers' in investments or saving platforms that they thought they knew but later realised they did not. It is logical to say how well you know the portfolios you want to put your money in will to a large extent determine the extent of the returns you will get.

But as experts revealed in a recent gathering that sought to discuss Kenyans' saving behaviour, the poor decisions behind these investments may be due to the wanting level of financial literacy among many.

It was also deduced that it is time for financial institutions and experts to dumb down and think like ordinary Kenyans.

While not all Kenyans have been to a business studies class or self-taught themselves about money, its value, and how it works; the majority do have the desire to grow their wealth.

Be approachable

However, this cannot be done if gibberish is what they hear whenever they encounter a financial advisor.

Elizabeth Irungu, General Manager Business Development and Client relations at ICEA Lions Asset Management noted that sometimes the financial space is filled with so much jargon that has people lost.

"One of the things we must do is unmask ourselves and be approachable and centric to the audience, and give them products that they can understand," she said during the discussion held at the launch of a report on savings behaviour among Kenyans.

The study was conducted by Enwealth, Strathmore University, and Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM).

"I can attest to this," she said. "I am in business development and we meet many people who say: I do not understand anything you are saying. What was all that?"

Ms Irungu said it is a good time for the financial experts to rethink how they present the products and knowledge in order to put it in a way the majority will understand without a problem.

These jargons, said Catherine Mwangi council member IHRM, are accompanied by individuals who have dressed up yet they are targeting the common person. They should instead not only dumb down their diction but dress down as well.

"Some of the things we have observed from a human resource point of view is: when you go to the informal sector and you really want to bring awareness in terms of financial management, the way you dress by itself, will intimidate them. We need to be careful when we are approaching them," said Ms Mwangi.

She shared an episode where they only got a handful of people while sensitising a motorbike operators' group. When they emerged for the second attempt wearing jeans and rubber shoes, the turnout was better.

How much these jargons have affected the uptake of saving and investment products could reveal if it has any link to the purported disinterest (in these products) by the young population. Today banks, financial services firms, Saccos and microfinances are investing heavily in technology in order to attract this population.

Digital factory

"The median age for Kenyans is less than 20. The current consumer is the young generation and we can't ignore them and what we are doing is use the same generation to come up with solutions for the generation," said Catherine Karimi chief executive officer APA Assurance Life Company.

She said at APA, they have invested in a whole digital factory with the aim of penetrating the youthful population.

While the confusion on many terminologies can be attributed to the increase in the number of products in the market as a result of technology, Dr Shem Ouma, chief manager and head of Research and Strategy Retirements Benefits Authority (RBA) noted that this phenomenon was also observed in the past.

"At the financial sector regulators forum we have picked this one up and actually we have tried to build on the literacy level to be scaled up so that it does not only speak to those of that relevant subject in the financial sector but goes all the way up," he said.

He said financial literacy is important even to a professor.

"Because you find people making bad savings and investment decisions and then they become a liability to society when they would have actually really provided for themselves," said Ouma.

Ouma said the authority in partnership with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) developed a curriculum that is infused into various levels of learning from nursery through secondary to tertiary level.

This should enable individuals to interact with these terminologies.

"And when they understand them; then they are able to make better savings and investment decisions for themselves," said Ouma.

Mohammed Khalid, senior investment manager GenAfrica Asset Managers tied the situation to the country's education system.

"I do not know to what extent the current education system - the Competency-Based Curriculum- does inculcate financial literacy but I will tell you back in the day, the closest I came to financial education or literacy was towards the end of high school," said Khalid.

Khalid said in this age of social media, financial experts should ensure the information disseminated through social media is made in a more palatable form.

"Some of it is quite technical. We should try to talk to the person in the streets so we need to see if we can cut it back to that level," said Khalid.

He added that today the common person on the street can feel the impact of the government's economic policy.

"That is the stage we can pick up from," he said.

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