Tuesday, 3 August, 2021

Boosting Financial And Digital Literacy


Rudra Prasad Adhikari

Financial literacy is simply an ability to understand financial matters such as earning, budgeting, saving, investing etc. It is a way of developing financial knowledge and skills, and apply them for effective financial management. It includes personal as well as organizational financial management skills such as how to make income, how to budget, how to track expense, how to save and how to invest effectively along with understanding the time value of money. People need to prevent them from making poor financial decisions and becoming victims of abusive financial practices.
Digital literacy is simply an ability to read, write or interact with digital media such as computers, mobiles etc. It is a way of developing and applying communication skills in digital platforms like websites and applications including social media through the use of text, images, audio and video. It helps people to understand the contents available in the digital platform and utilize them for personal and organizational well-being. People need to enhance information and communication technologies (ICT) skills and prevent them from becoming the victims of abusive cyber practices.

The terms 'financial literacy' and 'digital literacy' look like they are distinct from each other, however, in the present days of modern banking these two terms are complementary to each other and programmes related to these terms should be run concomitantly. Especially in the banking and finance sector, these programmes seem very essential to explore the business with modern banking tools and technologies.
As the Bank & Financial Institutions (BFIs) are imparting various kinds of modern banking services and facilities like ATM debit and credit card, mobile banking, e-banking, Electronic Cheque Clearing (ECC), Inter-bank Payment System (IPS), Real Time Gross Settlement Service (RTGS) etc. customer should be literate financially as well as digitally to make the full-fledge utilization of the services. Those who have no knowledge or have incomplete knowledge on financial matters and lack ICT skills, cannot fully utilize and enjoy such services and facilities, and sometimes may suffer from security issues.
With the increased access of people with digital devices (computer, mobile etc.) and internet network, the demand for digital banking is growing day by day. People are attracted towards digital payment methods thus leaving traditional way of payment through cash or Cheque.
In this context, it is necessary to conduct financial and digital literacy programmes concomitantly so that the maximum number of customers can be benefitted from the digital banking techniques. It will ensure customers' quick access to such modern banking services and save their time & travel costs on the one hand and reduces the operational cost of BFIs & offices on the other hand. It will be useful to promote digital payment and retain the security of payment as well. In addition, it will help to reduce fraudulent activities & money laundering cases. It plays a vital role in the flourishing digital economy in the country.

Literacy Programmes
There are various ways to boost up financial & digital literacy programmes concomitantly. Some of them are as follows:
Policy formulation & implementation: The government and the BFIs regulating body i.e. Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) can formulate policies to run financial and digital literacy programmes in the country. Such programmes can be implemented as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) thus directing BFIs to spend a certain percentage of the total profit income in the programmes.
Revamping schools & universities' curriculum: The curriculum of our schools and universities need to be revised to make it more practical and productive. So, the basic course related to financial and digital awareness should be included in our school and universities' curriculum. This will reduce the numbers of academically qualified persons lacking the knowledge and skills about accessing digital finance services provided by financial institutions.
Informal education & community-level programmes: In the context of Nepal, only formal education couldn't increase the literacy rate, so informal education is also assumed to be more effective so to increase the literacy rate.
Likewise, the financial and digital literacy programmes can be also implemented at the community level as a part of awareness programmes mobilizing local social workers, teachers, volunteers, university graduates etc.

Organisational initiatives
Apart from financial and educational institutes, there are many government and non-government agencies which can run financial and digital literacy programmes thus participating in their huge number of involves (management and staffs). Security bodies like Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force (APF) etc. and the big private firms can offer such programmes as a part of their training and orientations.
Financial Access: It is said that only 61 per cent of the total population of Nepal has formal financial access as per the report published by Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) in 2019. It means a large number of the population is still out of financial access, so measures have to be adopted to increase access. In the past year, the government had started a campaign targeting the lower class people that enabled every citizen to have at least one bank account. Likewise, another campaign should be run to increase digital banking access which enables customers to take at least one digital service free for some time.
Apart from the above; running campaigns like declaring 'the ward or local level with the fully digitalized economy' wherein no cash or Cheque payment is done; 'ward with 100% inhabitant with mobile banking or digital wallet'; 'local level with offices only making digital transactions'; 'offices with all employees using digital payment methods'; 'BFIs with 100% customers using at least one digital banking tool' etc. bringing various promoting schemes and policies.

Govt's Role
Whatever the programmes designed for financial and digital literacy, there would be a key role of the government, Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) and BFIs from policy formulation to implementation, monitoring & evaluation.
Boosting financial and digital literacy concomitantly is the need of the hour. It can be implemented effectively with the joint effort of the government and the private sector. This will have positive inference in exploring the digital economy throughout the country and aid to adjust & compete with other economies of the world.

(Adhikari is an IT Professional)