To counter the negative public perception of their industry, a group of 15,000 insurance agents and financial advisers yesterday launched a community outreach initiative to teach financial literacy to the underprivileged.

The first initiative of the IFPAS (Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore) Alliance is to start teaching and mentoring teenagers who are recipients of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF). A pilot programme will start later this month involving 20 recipients and 15 trained volunteers.

The alliance will also partner welfare organisation Fei Yue Community Services to support their clients' financial literacy and counselling needs from the first quarter of next year.

"We see a dire need, reinforced by recent news about rising credit card debt," said Bernard Lim, who spearheads the alliance's initiative, leads a Prudential insurance agency and also runs financial education workshops.

"People who are in the best position to address the issue are financial services professionals. We can help people break out of the poverty cycle by teaching them how to manage money, even basic things like budgeting, understanding value, and starting to invest.

"By understanding the problems of welfare clients, how debt works and bankruptcy issues, our members can also understand their own work better."

The IFPAS Alliance initiative is called FinCARE, or Financial Counselling, Aid and Resilience Education. It was launched at the Singapore Recreation Club yesterday to an audience that included insurance chief executives and agency leaders. The IFPAS Alliance also donated $100,000 that it raised from the industry to The Straits Times SPMF.

Said IFPAS Alliance chairman Leong Sow Hoe: "We are probably used to a characterisation that we are unscrupulous salesmen only interested in closing the next deal.

"This is unfair because it is wrong. Many members of our industry do a lot of community work, church work and render social services ... it's about time we changed our profile."

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) assistant managing director Lee Chuan Teck, who was guest of honour at the event, said the initiative will benefit both receivers and givers.

Financial education can make a big difference to the low-income and less-educated by empowering them to make positive financial decisions, he said.

Mr Lee also urged the industry to establish a code of ethics, and continue engaging with the wider community. "Financial advisory is built on trust. This trust has been eroded in recent years, due to the overcommercialisation of the profession and errant behaviour. FinCARE is a step in the right direction."