Students make recommendations to federal Task Force on Financial Literacy

How can we improve the financial literacy of Canadians? It’s a question three York University students were eager to answer when they presented their research findings on May 11 to the federal government’s Task Force on Financial Literacy at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto.

The task force is charged with consulting Canadians from across the country to inform a national strategy, and Neil Britto, Adnan Raja and Justin Yan – undergraduate student researchers working with Professor Brenda Spotton Visano on the York University Community Finance Project – thought it was an ideal opportunity to share their own research findings and expertise.

Above: From left, Adnan Raja, Professor Brenda Spotton Visano, Neil Britto and Justin Yan

The students presented on the importance and role self-assessment resources can play in improving financial literacy. It’s a topic they know a lot about – they’ve been working on a self-assessment tool that aims to improve financial literacy in the Black Creek community and in under-resourced urban communities beyond.

As Britto noted, self-assessment tools provide the opportunity to examine one’s own ability. Typically, they consist of a set of questions categorized by a specific topic or situation. In terms of financial literacy, he said that self-assessment tools often appear in the form of a questionnaire or a workbook. The one they’ve been developing is an online questionnaire that is intuitive enough to provide customized, educational feedback and links to further resources.

“Self-assessment is an important component to improving financial literacy because it allows individuals to acquire a greater understanding of what it is they do know and what it is they need to know,” said Britto. “When structured effectively, self-assessment resources can help individuals to tap into their personal financial goals and to acquire a better sense of what they need to make more informed financial choices.”

One of the primary goals the students have is to take their research findings and the online tool and bring them out into the community. Presenting to the task force seemed like an ideal opportunity to speak directly to a group who has the capacity to influence policy. It was also a chance for them to provide input around the issue of how communities can be better linked and equipped with financial education resources and infrastructure.

“The students’ presentation was exceptionally well-delivered and well-received by the task force committee members,” said Spotton Visano. “They took a high-level interest in what the students had to say and seemed genuinely interested in the ideas that were presented.”

Raja said the experience was a great opportunity to take stock of the research they’ve done thus far and to see how academic research, when applied, can make a significant impact. Yan couldn’t agree more. “It reinforced the importance of communicating the research done in universities to those who can effect greater change,” he said. “It was an honour to be given the chance to apply our own work towards policy decisions that may help to shape financial education initiatives in the near future.”

The task force will release its national strategy to the public in late 2010. For more information on the students’ presentation, e-mail