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Prepared Remarks of CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the Financial Literacy and Education Commission Meeting

By Richard Cordray

Across the country, the agencies that form this Commission have been working, both alone and together, to promote and encourage opportunities to incorporate financial education in schools, workplaces, and communities. Since we last met, FLEC hosted a public hearing in Atlanta where we had an excellent discussion about the importance of financial education in the workplace.

During the hearing, we heard from Mike Wiggins with Southwire, an Atlanta-based company. He told us about a program they developed called “12 for Life.” The company discovered – as many companies would discover if they paid any attention to it – that quite a few of their plant employees under the age of 19 lacked basic financial skills, such as not understanding the taxes withheld or other deductions from their paycheck. In response, Southwire decided to reach out and partner with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to provide financial education to their employees.

They developed a mentoring program and recruited local schools and financial professionals to come into the workplace and teach their employees about responsible financial decision-making. These efforts enabled their people to promote and advance their financial life goals and remain productive employees at Southwire. Many of us thought their testimony made a compelling case for employers to encourage and provide access to financial education in the workplace.

The federal government is the nation’s single largest employer and it is important to lead by example. That is why we at the Consumer Bureau have been working with the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor as they encourage and assist other federal government agencies in developing robust financial education plans for their employees. The vast majority of FLEC members have adopted such plans, and every FLEC member should make it a point to do so. Then the further task is that we all need to put in the effort to implement our plans for the benefit of our employees, as we are now in the process of doing at the Bureau. We would be glad to work with any federal agency – whether part of this Commission or not – to share best practices and resources to better meet the needs of your and our federal employees. In particular, we are committed to work with OPM to highlight those best practices and the types of financial fitness resources that federal agencies can provide for their employees.

Today’s meeting is focused on the research intended to support youth financial education. Ultimately, we want to enable our young people to pursue decisions that will allow them to achieve their future financial goals. To that end, at the Consumer Bureau we are working on a project that specifically examines the issue of consumer financial well-being. We are evaluating just what financial well-being is exactly, what skills and behaviors help people achieve it, and how we can measure it. Later, you will hear from my colleague Camille Busette, who leads the Office of Financial Education for the Bureau. She will go into more depth about that project and also will discuss our broader research portfolio.

At the last public meeting, we heard about some innovative approaches that different states are developing to promote financial education for youth. At the end of that meeting, I agreed to help the Commission find a better way to coordinate with state and local leaders around the country. After consulting with many stakeholders, the Bureau is committed to leading an effort called the State Engagement Project.

This project is designed to gather input from state policymakers on resources and information that will be helpful for states to consider when determining the best way to incorporate youth financial education into their programs. We think this is an excellent opportunity for federal agencies to partner with state policymakers to expand access to K-12 financial education and help develop ways to offer hands-on financial learning.

We know that efforts to integrate financial education into K-12 education have faced significant hurdles – hurdles that we must surmount. Having come from state and local government myself, I understand the important role played by state and local policymakers. The objective here simply cannot be met at the federal level alone. It thus is critical that we work well and closely with our state and local partners to expand access to financial education for America’s youth. And as we engage with them to understand better how to make progress on these issues, we will be seeking to share opportunities for the other FLEC agencies to join this initiative as well.

These efforts to improve the financial capability of all Americans are greatly furthered by our continued collaboration with our FLEC colleagues. When we take a step back, we can all recognize that we have managed to build the greatest system of economic liberty in world history right here in this country. Yet it will only endure over the long run if we are willing to take the necessary steps to strengthen that system from the bottom up, starting with the individual. Thank you for your mutual interest in these goals and I look forward to today’s discussions.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.

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