Educate. People should understand what they need. Encourage them to evaluate their individual situation and what potential products can help them.
Most of us take it for granted that we can open a bank or a credit card. But the truth is, according to the World Bank, close to one-third of adults — 1.7 billion — are still unbanked, and have no access to a transaction account. About half of unbanked people include women in poor households in rural areas or out of the workforce. What can be done and what is being done to promote more financial inclusion? Authority Magazine is starting a new series about Companies Helping To Promote Financial Inclusion. In this series we are talking to leaders of companies and organizations who are helping to promote financial inclusion.
As part of this series I had the pleasure to interview Pam Liyanage.
Pam Liyanage is a co-founder of MoneyPrep, a video game app that teaches kids aged 5–12 smart money habits and financial literacy skills. Liyanage is a financial services industry expert and mother of four. Her mission is to change the world, one child at a time, by helping them to achieve power over their own financial futures regardless of their current family circumstances.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Sure! I grew up in a very small rural town, under a thousand people. It is the kind of place where everyone knows each other and helps each other out. The kind of place where you are supported by the whole community and you have the freedom and the encouragement to dream big. I always had big dreams but to achieve them, I had to move to a bigger city. Although I live in a city now, my small town roots are a huge part of my personality, my imagination and my desire to help and support others.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Grit by Angela Duckworth. That book really resonated with me both in my personal journey and also in what I see with kids. I fully believe that grit can be the factor that gives kids the edge to succeed as adults, even over IQ and book smarts. Kids who have grit just keep going and find a way to move forward. I knew a boy in elementary that struggled a bit academically but had a “stick to it ness” that was remarkable. He didn’t get the best grades but he always put in 110% effort and found ways to navigate what he wasn’t sure of. He grew up to build and lead a very successful company. Grit has always been a marker for him so it is no surprise to see his adult success. When you think of it, grit and determination are a large part of our everyday triumphs — big and small.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My dad, who was an elementary teacher for 35 years, once said to me “There are a limited number of years in a person’s life when they are completely stress free. Kids should stay kids as long as possible.” I love this and I think of it often. It guides our company’s direction. With our MoneyPrep kid’s learning games, we are teaching kids how to be smart with money while still keeping the fun factor. We want the skills they learn to help them reduce financial stresses in their future.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is more of a state of mind than a skill. It shows in everything you do, everything you say and the way you carry yourself. I have seen young kids be very good leaders. To me, it’s not about knowledge or titles but it’s more about kindness, listening openly, and inspiring open and flat communication. If a team member has the comfort to express anything on their mind, ideas and/or issues, I’m doing my job. Always an open door and an open ear.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the stories from my banking past that highlighted the path to my current company is about a young woman who came to my office looking for information about a student loan. When I asked her if she was planning to attend college, she said “Oh I am already in college and I already have a student loan”. So I followed up with “Do you have questions about how it works?” She then replied “No I know how it works, the money was already deposited to my bank account.” That’s when the tears started to well up. She continued, “The problem is that I used the student loan money to go on a big trip and now I don’t have enough to pay my tuition.” It was one of the many times in my banking career that I needed to educate as well as serve my client and it sparked an inner desire to teach kids about money BEFORE they land in a similar position.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of our readers are on the same page. What does it mean to be “unbanked”?
Being unbanked simply refers to people who do not have bank accounts or use banks in any way. Unbanked people usually pay with cash or buy prepaid debit cards and they sometimes rely on alternative financial services options.
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain some of the typical reasons why a person might be unbanked? Why can’t they just walk into the local bank and open an account? Why can’t they simply open an account online?
Here are some of the common reasons people are unbanked:
- They have no identification. People need ID to be able to set up a banking profile.
- They are unemployed or lack a regular income. These individuals may not see a need for any banking services.
- Language and literacy barriers. Some people do not feel comfortable or confident to walk into a bank and ask questions, so they avoid it altogether.
- Lack of trust in mainstream banking. There are those who feel that banking fees are too high and they feel more secure holding their own money.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your work to promote Financial Inclusion? Without saying names, can you share a story about a person who was helped by your initiative?
We focus on teaching smart money skills specifically to young kids. Our goal is to start them off on the right path with education and help them build responsible money habits that last. A great example of the impact of our work came to light at a mall. As I was shopping one day, a young person came up to me in a store and said “Hey, aren’t you the lady that came to my class and talked about money?” Surprised she recognized me, I said “Yes, I’m sure it’s me. I talk to lots of classrooms.” She then proceeded to tell me how the lessons and stories I shared in class were helping her with her shopping skills. She told me about comparing products and watching for sales and practicing a 24 hour cool down. I was so incredibly touched and happy that she was on the right track and that I had helped her get there.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for businesses to promote financial inclusion?
Financial inclusion means availability and access to financial services for all. It is everything from access to basic bank accounts and debit cards to lending, investment services and education. This is incredibly important as the opportunities that financial services provide are what allow people to achieve their goals, personal and otherwise. Home ownership is a good example. This is a goal for many people and without access to financial services, it would be unattainable or at the very least extremely difficult to achieve. Also, by widening access to credit and loans, it helps to build up the entrepreneurial community and the economy.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps Business Should Take To Promote Financial Inclusion”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Educate. People should understand financial services — what they are and what they provide. Knowing what it means takes the fear and uncertainty out of the picture and replaces it with possibilities.
- Educate. People should understand where to go. They need to know what their options are for becoming banked. Traditional banks and branches, digital solutions, etc.
- Educate. People should understand what they need. Encourage them to evaluate their individual situation and what potential products can help them.
- Educate. People should know when to engage with financial services. They will benefit from knowing when to start thinking about financial services and the advantages that early engagement offers them.
- Educate. People need to understand the language. It helps immensely when they know what to ask and have a basic understanding of financial terms and concepts.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A movement we recently started is called “Breaking the Taboo: Opening the Money Conversation.” Finances have been a hush hush topic for so long. Generations of families never talk about money or discuss any finances in the household, especially with kids. I would love to see this change. We are always working to encourage everyone to open up the money conversation in their homes. When kids understand it from a young age, they are much better prepared to handle the responsibility when they are independent adults. Starting good money habits and practices young and knowing the consequences and triumphs of their spending and saving decisions is what will give our kids brighter financial futures with less money stress of their own.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
If I could meet with anyone it would be Ryan Reynolds. Everything I know about him as a person demonstrates a gem of a human being. He is kind, compassionate, driven and he holds onto his roots. These are all qualities I deeply respect and I try to emulate myself. He has the attention and the stage to inspire and help others and he does so just because. To me, that is amazing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow the MoneyPrep journey on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube and Linkedin. Or you can play the video game by downloading the MoneyPrep app from the App Store or Google Play.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!