Remarks at Netherlands-OECD Global Symposium on Financial Resilience throughout Life


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

20 April 2016

Amsterdam, Netherlands

(As prepared for delivery)



Your Majesty Queen Maxima, Minister Dijsellbloom, President Knote, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to be in this beautiful example of modern Dutch architecture to open the Netherlands-OECD Global Symposium on Financial Resilience Throughout Life. As Amsterdam’s former Stock Exchange, it’s also an appropriate venue to launch a new OECD report on Financial Education in Europe: Trends and Recent Developments.


Before diving into the issues, allow me to commend Your Majesty on your leadership promoting financial literacy and inclusion, and to thank our Dutch partners for organising this symposium and hosting the meetings of the OECD International Network on Financial Education, the INFE.


Improving financial literacy is crucial


Financial literacy is an essential life skill. From the cost of education to healthcare, people are confronted with complex, difficult financial decisions: how much and how to borrow, how to save and invest, or which kind of insurance to buy. Almost one in five adults in the European countries covered by our report borrowed money in the last 12 months.


And pension reforms in many countries have given individuals more responsibility in financing their retirement. Both borrowing and saving for retirement require an understanding of some basic financial concepts like compound interest. But the preliminary results of the OECD’s survey on adults’ financial literacy in Europe show that on average only a third of respondents demonstrate an understanding of compound interest. And more than half of respondents do not set long-term financial goals.


Poor financial security increases households’ vulnerability to shocks. It also undermines consumer protection, with people either unaware of their rights or unable to understand them.


To address these challenges, we all need to develop the skills to be financially resilient. 


The OECD has been working extensively on financial literacy


This has been a top priority for the OECD. Our organisation has been leading international efforts to promote financial literacy for over a decade.


In 2005 the OECD produced the first major study of financial education at the international level, Improving Financial Literacy: Analysis of Issues and Policies. More recently, in 2014, as part of our Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the OECD also produced the first ever international assessment of 15-year old’s financial knowledge and skills. It made for sobering reading. We found that on average, 15% of students in countries surveyed score below the baseline level of performance. At best, these students can make simple decisions about everyday spending.


We also found that the results tied into a broader inequality picture: financial literacy was strongly related to socio-economic background, but only weakly related to a country’s level of development or extent of financial inclusion.


Since 2011 the G20 has been working closely with the OECD in this area and has recognised the importance of financial literacy as part of a policy “trilogy” that also includes:

  • financial inclusion, providing access to suitable financial services for all citizen;
  • and financial consumer protection, which ensures fair treatment, appropriate information and access to redress mechanisms.

The OECD has supported this trilogy approach by delivering two sets of High-level Principles to the G20: the High-Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection in 2011, which help national authorities ensure the appropriate regulatory framework is in place, and the High-Level Principles on National Strategies for Financial Education, developed by OECD/INFE in 2012. These Principles help policymakers deliver evidence-based, coordinated and tailored approaches to financial education. Globally, almost 60 countries have embarked on the development of national strategies for financial education. More than a third of these are in Europe.


Decisive policy action is needed


The Netherlands has led by example. The Dutch National Strategy for Financial Education was launched in 2008 and was revised in 2014, with implementation ongoing to 2019. One element of the National Strategy is a website providing easy to understand information, advice, checklists, and tools aimed at encouraging responsible financial behaviours.


The National Money Week, held here in the Netherlands, aimed at primary school children, and the Pension3Day, bringing together over 250 different organisations to encourage people to think about and plan their pensions, are examples of initiatives which help improve public financial awareness.


However, there is always more that countries can do.


Our report makes a number of policy suggestions:


Firstly, countries that have not yet done so should develop a national strategy for financial education in coordination with financial consumer protection and financial inclusion measures, taking into account the impact of digital financial services. This should involve effective assessment using instruments such as the OECD/INFE questionnaire for adults and the PISA survey. Better sharing results of the evaluation of financial education programmes is also critical.


Countries should also strengthen implementation of financial education, harnessing the power of new and inclusive delivery methods, such as games, interactive online tools, videos, dedicated apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Whatever the method, particular attention should be paid to reach vulnerable groups, such as migrants, the elderly, the unemployed, over-indebted consumers and the young.


The report also makes policy recommendations to strengthen the delivery of financial education in school. One suggestion is to mainstream teacher training on financial literacy within professional development programmes, instead of leaving it to voluntary and ad hoc initiatives.


Ladies and gentlemen,


Financial education and literacy empower citizens, with benefits spilling over into many dimensions of well-being. So it’s good for people, it’s good for society and it’s good for the economy.


We will soon be delivering new evidence on levels of financial literacy among adults and 15 year-olds, and those results will give us a good idea of where we stand. We will keep working with national authorities, with relevant stakeholders, and, of course, with INFE, to design, deliver and implement better financial education policies for better lives.  Thank you.