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Remarks at the FINRA Foundation 2015 National Financial Capability Study Release

Chair Mary Jo White

Washington, DC

July 12, 2016

Thank you for inviting me to help mark the release of the results of the 2015 National Financial Capability Study — and a special thank you to Rick Ketchum, the FINRA Foundation, the Treasury Department, and the other collaborators for this important work. We are all here today because we care deeply about the state of financial capability of everyone in this country.

We recognize that financial know-how, as well as resources, can make and break lives — which is why it is so critical that we understand the strengths and weaknesses in Americans’ financial knowledge, resources, access and habits. We must also recognize that average or median numbers do not tell the story of everyone’s, or perhaps anyone’s, financial capability. Income and educational difference continue to significantly impact and we are concerned about each person’s and each family’s financial capability.

The 2015 study provides some very illuminating data and insights on the financial well-being of Americans, and on their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. It describes the financial habits and thinking of Americans with data we might not otherwise have. For financial regulators, this is invaluable feedback that helps us assess the impact of what we are doing and how we may need to adjust our focus and increase and change our outreach.

As Rick noted, while the study gives some comfort that more Americans today are on firmer financial footing than in 2012, it also suggests that financial knowledge has slightly decreased. Indeed, the study’s financial literacy quiz shows that there continues to be a lack of some basic investor knowledge. For example, most Americans are still not aware that market interest rates and bond prices move in opposite directions or that a mutual fund usually provides a safer return than a single company’s stock.

The clear “headline” lesson from this study is a familiar and critical one: in today’s increasingly complex world, Americans need the financial skills to tackle life’s everyday challenges. They should have an understanding of how savings and investing can help meet their life goals and achieve a secure retirement. And investors must be well informed in order to understand risk and to detect and avoid fraud.

At the SEC, we join our fellow financial regulators in firmly believing that enhancing the financial capability of Americans is a financial and, indeed, moral imperative. Investor education is one of our primary means for boosting the necessary knowledge, providing investors with basic information, resources, and tools to make sound financial decisions that can truly make a difference in their lives.

The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy helps investors understand the markets and make informed investment decisions. We inform investors — and potential investors — about the benefits and risks of investing, the impact of fees, and the red flags of investment fraud. And we are reaching more and more investors every day in different places and in new ways.

Our headquarters outreach team and the SEC’s 11 regional offices participate in investor education events throughout the country. These events focus on senior citizens, military personnel, millennials, affinity groups, and general audiences. I join these efforts first-hand when I can, as I did when I recently went to the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in New Jersey to support Military Consumer Protection Day and spoke and answered questions at a faith-based conference in Irvine, California.

Our staff also assists tens of thousands of investors every year with their questions and complaints. We also maintain a very helpful online resource dedicated to retail investors, Investor.gov, which draws more than 20 million unique page views annually, and includes investment tools like a compound interest calculator and our EDGAR database to research publicly-traded companies.

Through social media, we reach more than 70,000 investors with timely lessons on being an informed investor and avoiding fraud. We also educate investors through frequent investor alerts and bulletins, covering saving and investing topics, as well as investment fraud. We have also begun the first-ever nationwide public service campaign in the SEC’s history. The campaign encourages investors through television, radio, print, and social media to research the background of their investment professional by using Investor.gov.

We are pleased with the results of these engagement efforts, and deeply committed to enhancing them. We know that our regulatory colleagues and other organizations are also doing the same. The bottom line is that the financial well-being of all Americans is a critical priority and our country is made stronger and our economy more sound by investors who are knowledgeable and informed. It is the responsibility of all of us to continue to raise that bar.

Thank you for all of your hard work on the 2015 report and for all that all of you do to address financial capability.