Personal view: Financial literacy is sound investment for everyone – Crain’s Cleveland Business

By KAREN MINGHINE and MICHAEL JEANS

Each April, Financial Literacy Month offers an important opportunity to educate consumers on the fundamentals of personal finance — from how checking accounts and credit cards work to how to establish a basic household budget. And it must be a year-round commitment by our community because it is so fundamentally important to making financially responsible decisions integral to the everyday lives of our residents.

Financial literacy can also be an issue for entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can benefit from help improving their credit and their business plans. A healthier small business means more stability for workers and the communities they live in.

That’s a key goal of the work done by Growth Opportunity Partners in economically disadvantaged areas they serve in and around Cleveland. Just as many large corporations benefit from advisers and professional partners, Growth Opportunity Partners believes business owners located in under-resourced communities could benefit from the same types of partnerships.

Financial literacy is a critical topic for Citizens Bank, as it is for all banks and financial institutions. The Citizens Helping Citizens Manage Money program will improve the financial education of more than 260,000 individuals by supporting financial literacy initiatives at 80 local community organizations, which includes $1.4 million in donations to nonprofit partners and volunteer outreach by Citizens colleagues.

Citizens Helping Citizens Manage Money has supported financial literacy programs at Growth Opportunity Partners for several years. The most recent contribution will help the organization offer financial education and support to both business owners and residents in the economically disadvantaged areas in and around Cleveland.

Growth Opportunity Partners provides education and capital to small businesses, and makes financial education available to the people who live in the communities where those businesses are located. The organization focuses on business projects that offer employees meaningful wage jobs, not projects that exclusively create multiple minimum-wage jobs. The market has a sufficient supply of those jobs, so Growth Opportunity Partners focuses on the quality of the job, which begins with access to a better wage and an opportunity to participate in other company benefits.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently spoke about the importance of financial literacy training in creating strong household finances, which contribute to the growth and stability of our national economy. She said, “Whenever I am asked what policies and initiatives could do the most to spur economic growth and raise living standards, improving education is at the top of my list.”

Citizens Bank’s research shows the average consumer has questions about the core financial challenges they face today, but many think they don’t have the ability to tap into the expertise they need. The good news: They’re not in it alone. Banks can offer the kind of financial expertise these consumers desperately need, but don’t realize is available to them. Financial advice on everything from saving for retirement to financing an education to even managing budgets is as close as the local bank branch.

Nonprofit organizations like Growth Opportunity Partners and the nine other northern Ohio agencies Citizens gave contributions to this spring can help as well. It’s important for consumers to know that these resources exist in every city.

Citizens also provides free online resources to everyone through the new Financial Fundamentals hub at www.content.citizensbank.com/financialfundamentals. The site includes basic information on budgeting and saving, managing debt, getting credit, buying a home, protecting your identity and more. Citizens also will be posting financial tips and advice on social media channels throughout April, which is Financial Literacy Month, and inviting our followers to join us in a savings challenge.

We encourage consumers to improve their financial education by talking to their banker, visiting Citizens’ website or contacting a local nonprofit that offers financial counseling. We know that money doesn’t come with instructions but believe that when consumers are educated, they have the confidence and knowledge to make informed financial decisions for themselves, their families and their futures.

Minghine is Ohio retail director of Citizens Bank. Jeans is president and CEO of Growth Opportunity Partners.

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