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Digital financial education - an opportunity to improve lives

Digital financial education provides an opportunity to improve the lives of SA’s most vulnerable

A free online course that ran during the country’s lockdown period has revealed an interesting perspective on how digitally-enabled financial literacy learning can empower those most vulnerable in South African society.

The pandemic and the associated lockdown have had profound economic implications, and despite the easing of restrictions, South Africa has yet to see significant improvement. According to data recently released by the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), little of the approximately three million jobs lost since the onset of the pandemic had returned by June.

From February to April this year, the study depicted a sharp spike in unemployment, which increased by a staggering 10% (from 43% to 53%). However, data taken from April until June - when the levelled lockdown was effected - showed no positive improvement in this number.

It was during this latter period that Metropolitan, in partnership with online literacy portal FunDza, hosted the second round of its financial literacy course, ‘Moving up with the Majolas’.

The free, zero-data online course told the fictional story of the Majolas, a low-income family living in Soweto, while covering a number of themes that ranged from savings to debt management. Each one of the course’s 10 chapters educated around a specific financial principle, with participants assessed on their learnings through a series of surveys.

Explained Claire Klassen, Group CSI Consumer Financial Education Specialist at Momentum Metropolitan: “With South Africans ordered to remain at home during the critical juncture that would determine the national advent of the Coronavirus, it provided us with an opportune moment to release the second round of our course, which was first launched in 2019.

“Our intention was to assist South Africans in upskilling themselves during this period of relative inactivity, utilising the opportunity to brush up on their financial knowledge.”

Yet, when the course had culminated and the financial services provider assessed the data collected, some interesting insights were revealed. “Our key take out was that those most financially vulnerable in our country were, in fact, highly receptive to the material - demonstrating a keen determination to improve their financial situation.

“Thus - provided it is executed in a data conservative manner - digital learning has afforded us an opportunity to increase access to financial education, reaching a significantly larger portion of the population - and particularly those who are most in need.”

The course, which was promoted solely by traditional and social media channels, saw more than 760 individuals participate, ranging in ages from 13 to over 55 years. The highest participation was within the 19 to 21 year age bracket, while the second highest interaction was among those between the ages of 16 to 18, followed by those within the 22 to 24 year category. The top three participating provinces were Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.

It was revealed that those who were unemployed made up the largest percentage of the course’s participants (35.7%), while the biggest source of income for 30.66% of users was in the form of social grants.

“While the unemployment statistics remain a cause for concern, acknowledged Klassen, “it was extremely encouraging to see this level of engagement among those who found themselves without work.”

More than a quarter (28.6%) of the participants lived in a house within a township area, while the second largest group (25,14%) lived in a RDP house. Anecdotal information applied a contextual lens to the home lives of participants; “We are thirteen in the house”, remarked one user. “We’re 8 in the house, only granny is working," said another.

Despite the personal challenges the data indicated, the course results were promising. Sixty-five percent of those registered completed the course, while the average score across the board was over 83%.

User feedback was equally encouraging: “Planning ahead is key…so we don’t drown in debt in future,” said one user, while another remarked, “It was super awesome to read because it relates to our family dynamics. I have learnt a lot about so many aspects of life; for example business ideas…savings tips…importance of education.” “(A) loan is not a good idea. I have learned to save half of my salary every month so that I will never go to Mashonisa” (loan shark), said a third.

Encouraged by these findings, Metropolitan and FunDza plan to release a new edition of ‘Moving up with the Majolas’ with new material in March 2021 - and those who have previously completed the course will be able to enrol in the new edition.

“The insights gleaned from the course bode well for further digitally-enabled educational initiatives, as it shows a keen interest among citizens to better their circumstances, through taking ownership of their finances,” says Klassen.