Recent security failures among financial reporting agencies illustrate the need for vigilance among consumers, and Charlotte financial literacy advocates say the importance of the issue extends beyond security.
In September 2017, Equifax reported a data breach that left the personal information of 145 million U.S consumers exposed, leading to Congressional hearings and proposed legislation – but, surprisingly, little action.
The need to understand credit, a task usually accomplished online, is a key skill required among consumers, say Kristi Thomas and Roderick Banks, who support financial literacy and other community programs at Wells Fargo in Charlotte.
Online financial resources, services, and websites are popular, growing, and providing increased levels of access. Television advertising promotes the ability of banking customers to perform a variety of tasks with a mobile phone – view accounts, transfer money, pay bills, check credit – all without going to a bank, or even logging into a laptop computer.
“Everything from checking your account balance to paying a bill to being able to manage your finances — having access to those digital tools is tremendous,” said Thomas, community affairs officer at Wells Fargo. “If you don’t have access to a laptop or phone where you can access that information then you’re going to miss out on those opportunities and resources.” Unfortunately, 20 percent of U.S. residents lack an internet connection at home, or devices to access these online resources. Charlotte figures are consistent with these studies.
Numerous online sources teach financial literacy. One, handsonbanking.org, enables individual to learn how to access their banking information online, apply for a loan, and perform other actions. It also paints a broader picture, including the basics of banking, personal finance, life events, small business formation, and entrepreneurship.
“It teaches folks from kids to teens to adults to seniors about financial education, and the vehicle that we use to share that information is online digitally,” said Roderick Banks, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo.
Other valuable online resources include a website provided by the North Carolina Council on Economic Education; “Teach Children to Save,” managed by the American Bankers Association; and the VITA program from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, which offers qualified, free tax help to people who need support. The volunteers who provide support are certified by the IRS.
Banks and Thomas explain that numerous volunteers, programs, and organizations within the financial community are available to provide education, and they usually require digital resources. “Financial literacy and digital literacy definitely work hand and hand with what we’re trying to do from a financial education standpoint,” Banks said.