Monday, October 24, 2011

We are All Blacks!

This has been a busy fall so far with a lot of travelling (I am on my way to Sweden), starting a new financial literacy seminar series (more in future blogs), and keeping up with my newly acquired interests: football and rugby! It has been a season full of exciting games, including the Rugby World Cup, which was held in New Zealand. I am extremely happy to announce that the New Zealand All Blacks are the World Cup champions! I am ecstatic and wish I were in New Zealand to celebrate their victory. What could be sweeter than winning the World Cup when your country is the host and your fans are in the stadium? I can only imagine the explosion of joy in Eden Park in Auckland at the end of the match with France (and the sense of relief as well since the score was so close, I could hardly breath...).

I will celebrate this great victory by writing about New Zealand and the role they have played in the field of financial literacy. Under the leadership of feisty Diana Crossan, the Retirement Commission has done a lot of innovative work on financial literacy. I mentioned in a previous post that they have one of the best national web sites dedicated to improving the financial literacy of the population. They were also one of the first countries to conduct a second national financial literacy survey in order to measure financial knowledge over time and therefore assess their progress in improving financial literacy. They have many programs targeted to specific groups of the population, recognizing that different people have different needs and different economic circumstances. One group of great interest is the Maori, and specific programs have been designed for them as well. While small and without a big budget, the Commission is a mighty group. And to better communicate the focus of their work, they have recently changed their name from Retirement Commission to the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income. The main lesson here is not to underestimate the power and ingenuity of what one institution—however small—can do for financial literacy. And while New Zealand is a small country, it has been a model to look to for financial literacy.

I have one recommendation for Diana Crossan: go to that talented captain of the All Blacks, Richie McCaw, show him your muscles (figuratively, I mean), and ask the team to support financial literacy. I am sure a lot of New Zealanders would pay attention. In my view, sport and financial literacy go very well together (wink)!

But for now, congratulations to the All Blacks and to New Zealand for being World Champions and hosting the World Cup. Bravi!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Financial literacy, the Maori, and … rugby

I am just back from Australia and New Zealand and will write first about my trip to New Zealand. I was invited to attend a meeting at the University of Otago with representatives of the Maori population, who have become interested in financial literacy. If you do not know the Maori, they are the indigenous people of New Zealand and represent about 15% of the population today. Their name is derived from “Ma-Uri,” which means “children of Heaven.” Maori comprise many “iwi” (tribes), “hapu” (subtribes), and “whānau” (extended family units). Having originated in Polynesia, they brought with them the rich culture of the region, where song, dance, art, and oratorical skills were significant, especially as there was no written language at that time. On my visit to New Zealand a couple of years ago, I went to Rotorua, a town settled by the Maori on the North Island. This time, I was in Dunedin, on the South Island of New Zealand, home of the Ngāi Tahu. See below a picture of the formal greeting among the Maori.

In one of the papers that is part of an international comparison of financial literacy across countries, which I have edited for a special volume of the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, a research group in New Zealand headed by Pension Commissioner Diana Crossan documented differences in financial literacy among the new Zealanders of European descent and the Maori population; the Maori tend to know less. However, this is not the case for the Ngāi Tahu, and one explanation offered for this finding is the fact that Ngāi Tahu have promoted a series of programs aimed to increase financial literacy and saving. A description of Whai Rawa, their matched saving initiative, is provided on the web page noted at the end of this post. The meeting at the University of Otago was about trying to measure the effectiveness of the new initiatives and changes in the well-being of this population over time.

It felt special to sit among this group. The meeting opened with the traditional Maori greetings, and much of the discussion and questions were led by one of the Ngāi Tahu representatives. He was just as one would expect a chief to be: charismatic, wise, and pragmatic. His questions to me were remarkably similar to the ones I often hear when I travel around the world: What is the business case for financial education? What works? and How do we know that it works? But there were major differences, too. The Ngāi Tahu’s planning horizon is very long. Their vision is “For us and our children after us” (Mō tātou,ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei). They feel strongly about their community and about sustainability of resources over time. I came away with not only a deeply felt respect for such foresight but also admiration for this capacity to lead and look ahead.

You may know about the Maori from the “haka,” or war dance, that the New Zealand rugby team performs before each game (if you have not seen it, you have got to watch the video posted below). I like the haka for many reasons. First, it shows how much the Maori traditions have been embraced by the population in general. Maori or not, every player in the rugby team plays the haka very seriously. Second, one wants to build up energy at the beginning of an important event. Third, it scares the hell out of the opposing team. And this brings me to my next topic: rugby! New Zealand is currently hosting the Rugby World Cup. Their national team is the All Blacks, and I spent a good part of my time in New Zealand watching rugby. The All Blacks are amazing players and I was glued to the TV for hours. On Sunday, I went to the stadium in Dunedin to watch Italy against Ireland. We (Italy) did not win, but we put up a good fight against the Irish; it was a good game. On the first leg of my trip back to the U.S. on Air New Zealand from Dunedin to Auckland, the flight safety video was done by the captain and the coach of the All Blacks and everything on the plane was about the All Blacks, including pictures of the players on the coffee cups. Believe me, they are irresistible! One advertisement said: “we are crazy about rugby.” Well, for a week I was too.

Kia ora.