Possessing financial knowledge alone does not solve financial problems. Rather, what is equally important is having the right attitudes towards money, said Michael Reyes, CEO of financial education company MoneyTree Asia Pacific.
"Give me the healthiest seed in the world, and plant it in the most infertile soil," he said. "It's not going to grow, because inherently there is something we have to fix. It doesn't matter what you're feeding into it."
MoneyTree Singapore was set up officially in March 2009 after two years of methodology testing. It teaches financial literacy to primary and secondary schools pupils here.
To measure children's financial aptitudes, the company recently developed a three-component index with the University of Delaware Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE). MoneyTree believes the index, comprising online quizzes and activities, can predict a child's financial future.
The Financial Aptitude and Success Traits (FAST) Index evaluates a child's theoretical understanding of cash management, mindset towards money, and ability to withstand peer pressure when spending.
Parents and educators can customise their teaching and track the progress of the child's financial intelligence using the results.
The company is looking to include the index in its existing programmes across the region.
With the help of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the company has been reaching out to relevant ministries in Thailand and Saudi Arabia with plans for global expansion.
More than 50,000 children aged between 6 and 17 have participated in MoneyTree's activities in the past six years, either through partnering schools or holiday camps, said Ryan Soh, chief executive and co-founder of MoneyTree Singapore.
The young participants hold jobs, draw salaries, pay income taxes, and sometimes win cash prizes from art competitions. They get extra "play money" for answering questions not only for correctness, but for enthusiasm and logic as well.
The student who amasses the most play money by the end of the camp walks away with gift cards, book vouchers, or even S$200 - in real cash.
The question is not whether children have to gain financial literacy, but when, said Mr Soh, an entrepreneur who was once mired in credit card debt. "Do you want your child to learn the hard way, when they are adults, or would you prefer if they lose play money and eventually learn from it in the classroom?"
Singapore fell to sixth place for financial literacy in an annual survey conducted by Mastercard in April. It was the biggest decline out of sixteen Asia-Pacific markets, noted Mr Soh. He attributes the poor showing to the absence of benchmarks for evaluating Singaporeans' financial literacy. "At the end of the day, everyone can say that financial literacy is important. For subject matters that are not assessed in Singapore, there is no emphasis. So everything remains as just ground talk," he said.
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