Remarks by Jane Rooney at the 5th OECD-GFLEC Global Research Symposium to Advance Financial Literacy


May 18, 2018
Paris, France

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Good afternoon! Thank you for that kind introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be here today to discuss how financial education can contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth.

I’ve been asked to talk about our work with seniors.

First, I’d like to describe some of the financial issues facing seniors in Canada today.

In the discussion afterwards I will describe our efforts in Canada to strengthen financial literacy among our seniors and future seniors, with a view to how that work benefits the Canadian economy as a whole.

Like many developed countries, Canada has an ageing population: we now have more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15.

Canada is also struggling with a high level of household debt, with a debt-to-disposable income ratio of 170 per cent, according to the most recent figures.

The Governor of the Bank of Canada, Steven Poloz, has issued several warnings as recently as this month that Canada’s high household debt poses growing risks to financial stability and the economy.

We also know there is a growing problem with debt among seniors.

We recently published a study – Financial Literacy and Retirement Well-Being in Canada – that found:

  • Nineteen percent of retirees in Canada had a mortgage on their primary residence in 2014, up from 16 percent in 2009
  • The proportion of retirees with an outstanding credit card balance increased to almost 15 percent in 2014 from 12 percent in 2009

Bankruptcy among seniors is also on the rise.

According to statistics from Canada’s bankruptcy regulator, seniors aged 65 and older were responsible for 11 percent of personal bankruptcies in Canada in 2017.

And incidentally, that figure has been rising each year since 2012.

As for near-seniors aged 60 to 64, in 2016, they accounted for 7 percent of all personal bankruptcies.

So, in 2017, seniors and near-seniors filed for 18 per cent of all personal bankruptcies in Canada.

These are worrying developments.

Seniors are especially vulnerable to rising interest rates, because many live on a fixed income.

And seniors with variable-rate loans face the biggest struggle when interest rates go up – as they are now doing.

Our analysis also found a link between financial confidence and financial well-being.

Seniors and near-seniors who feel that they are in control of their finances – for example, confident in their ability to make ends meet, and to choose financial products – are much more likely to have planned or be planning for their retirement.

Increased financial confidence also helps seniors budget, live within their means, save, and plan for emergencies.

But the levels of financial confidence among Canadians seniors are uneven.

Women in this age group often have lower financial confidence. When a partner becomes ill or incapacitated, they may have to make financial decisions for the first time ever.

While confidence is important, our research also found that some seniors are overconfident, and that overconfidence can lead to poor financial decisions.

When it comes to long-term planning behaviours, our findings tell us that people with the best outcomes are those who have both higher financial knowledge and higher financial confidence.

Adding to the problems of greater indebtedness and bankruptcy among seniors is the simple fact that today’s seniors are living longer.

This means they will need to plan for longer retirements and possibly higher health care costs.

Another challenge to consider with this age group is how best to communicate with them.

While some seniors are comfortable getting their financial information and services online, many are not.

Statistics Canada data from 2012 shows less than half (48 percent) of all people over 65 use the internet, significantly less than any other age group.

This means we have to factor in the need for in-person and paper interventions.

And finally, our research now shows that money is the leading cause of stress among Canadians, and that stress is having a negative impact on mental and physical health.

So when we talk about financial education for seniors, clearly it’s a complicated proposition with big implications for public policy.

Canada’s retirement system relies on three pillars:

  • government programs
  • private pension plans – which are becoming more scarce
  • personal savings

The ageing of our population is putting more and more pressure on government programs like the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement which is an entitlement that helps seniors at a low income threshold.

There is also more pressure than ever on individuals to plan and save for their own retirement.

But we know personal savings are on the decline.

These pressures underscore the importance of effective financial education for today’s seniors, and for those younger groups who will be the seniors of tomorrow.

We need to equip our population with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.

This will help strengthen their personal financial well-being and the well-being of the economy as a whole.

I look forward to describing some of our policy initiatives on this front in our discussion today.

Thank you!

Questions and answers

What is the Seniors’ Financial Literacy Strategy?

In 2014 the Government of Canada recognized the need to better assess the financial needs of seniors.

The same year, FCAC launched a series of consultations across Canada and across all sectors.

The goal of these meetings was to find out what unique financial challenges seniors were facing, and how financial literacy might help.

Some of the key questions we found seniors were facing included:

  • “How can I ensure my savings will last as I get older?”
  •  “What government benefits am I eligible for?”
  •  “Can I continue to work, and if I do so, how would income affect my benefits and taxes?”

Based on these consultations, we developed our Seniors’ Financial Literacy Strategy. The strategy has four goals:

  • engaging more Canadians in preparing financially for their future years as seniors
  • helping current seniors plan and manage their financial affairs
  • improving understanding of and access to public benefits for seniors
  • increasing the tools to combat financial abuse of seniors.

We have been working toward these goals on several fronts.

What information and resources does FCAC have for seniors?

To help implement our strategy, we developed specialized content for seniors and near-seniors, for example on topics like planning for retirement and living in retirement.

Our information considers life events and interventions when they are most meaningful such as ‘working while collecting a pension’ or ‘caring for someone who is ill’.

Another way we help connect seniors with information is through our Canadian Financial Literacy Database.

It’s a one-stop hub for programs and initiatives across the country, including more than 150 resources for seniors.

All of our content is available through

How does FCAC mobilize stakeholders?

First, by mobilizing and engaging stakeholders. Stakeholders laid out 36 actions in the Seniors’ Strategy, all of which have been fulfilled or are ongoing.

In addition, we have tracked 30 new activities helping advance the goals of the strategy and keep up the momentum.

We continue to work closely with stakeholders to develop financial literacy education programs aimed at seniors.

For example, we have worked with the Chartered Professional Accounts of Canada and the Canadian Bankers Association to develop volunteer-led financial literacy workshops for seniors which are now available across Canada.

How does FCAC work with Financial Literacy networks?

We are also working closely with members of 14 financial literacy networks across Canada to ensure seniors get access to the benefits for which they are entitled.

How does FCAC work with other federal departments?

In addition to mobilizing stakeholders and generating our own resources, we also work closely with other departments within the federal government

The Interdepartmental Committee on Seniors was established 10 years ago to promote interests of seniors across departments and agencies.

Just one example of this collaboration: we worked closely with Employment and Social Development Canada to develop a publication on powers of attorney and joint deposit accounts.

We also work with parliament as a whole, for example, through a parliamentary committee which conducted a study of key issues related to Canadian seniors. 

I appeared before this committee last fall to discuss the issues of financial security, fraud and financial abuse among seniors.

FCAC then contributed to the government’s response to the committee’s report, which will be tabled in parliament in June, making way for further action.

GIS and other federal initiatives:

In the meantime, the federal government has also introduced changes to help improve service delivery to low-income seniors and ensure they have access to benefits.

It is expanding automatic enrolment for recipients of something called the Guaranteed Income Supplement – a supplement for low-income seniors.  

This will not only contribute to ensuring Canadian seniors receive services and benefits that are easy to access, convenient and timely, it will also play an important role in helping reduce the incidence of low income among seniors. 


Also, the Canada Revenue Agency has expanded its Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) to assist Canadians including seniors with modest incomes and a non-complicated tax situations complete their tax returns. 

This program helps many Canadians access public benefits to which they are entitled, often for the first time.  

Canada Revenue Agency is also making it easier for Canadians to file their taxes through new services.  

It is now offering tax filing over the phone for low income or fixed income including seniors.

How will FCAC incorporate Financial Literacy into the workplace for the next generation of seniors?

But what about the next cohort of seniors?

Our research shows that early and frequent engagement around financial literacy for younger adults helps prevent financial problems later in life.

So, in order to help future seniors, this year we are helping develop initiatives for adults in the workplace.

We recently created a workplace financial literacy working group.

To get buy-in from employers, they first had to understand the impact of financial stress on employees. This impact includes negative effects on productivity, and for some, the employer’s bottom line.

It’s designed to help adults achieve the goals of our national strategy, namely to:

  • manage money and debt wisely 
  • save and plan for the future
  • ensure they know their rights and responsibilities pertaining to financial products and services

These initiatives will ensure people get the information and skills they need in the critical years leading up to retirement.

Does financial literacy have an impact on seniors?

When we consulted for our seniors’ strategy, we learned that seniors who have access to financial literacy interventions can:

  • Better prepare for retirement by building personal savings and assets
  • Make responsible decisions about when and how to retire
  • Choose financial products that make the most sense for their retirement needs
  • Plan for and cope with major financial decisions related to life transitions
  • Navigate and get the most out of public programs and services
  • Understand the importance of tax filing to access the benefits to which Canadians are entitled
  • Recognize and protect themselves against financial abuse
  • Determine the appropriate supports to help with financial decisions and management

What are Moneyfit Challenge and Your Financial Toolkit?

This year, we’ve implemented two new workplace financial literacy interventions:

The first is called the MoneyFit Challenge, which is a free online incentive-based program. Employers of all sizes and industries can join, and their employees can earn points towards prizes by completing various learning activities. Topics include budgeting, saving, borrowing, debt, and rights and responsibilities as consumers. 

Our second initiative is a workplace pilot program which was based upon a program called Your Financial Toolkit which we adapted to the workplace.  We ran 13 pilots from January to March 2018 both in person and by Webinar. Nine different host organizations participated.

We got positive feedback from the 300 employees who participated:

  • 93% rated the workshop “excellent to good”
  • 97% said they appreciated getting this type of workshop at work
  • 89% said they would be interested in another workshop on another topic

Are digital access and digital literacy impediments to reaching Canadian seniors?

Many banks and other organizations are driving to digital.

It’s safe to say, digital communications channels are here to stay. Most organizations have moved to providing information to their publics via online channels, including social media. 

While we don’t expect this trend to change we need to consider the unique needs of seniors and how they access information.

Statistics Canada data from 2012 shows less than half (48 percent) of all people over 65 use the internet, significantly less than any other age group.

There are some seniors who are quite comfortable accessing information and doing business on-line. However, there are others that don’t have adequate digital literacy, confidence, or interest in accessing information through the Internet. 

Also, there are some seniors that do not trust on-line banking or shopping. They prefer to receive tangible hard copy information or a paper receipt for a business transaction.

We also have to keep in mind accessibility needs of seniors as their sensory capacities (i.e. vision, auditory) diminish as they age. Navigating the Internet for information or for business use may prove frustrating for those that have these sensory challenges. 

Low-income seniors may not even have access to a computer or the Internet.

That tells us that there is a segment of the seniors population that needs information resources “on paper” out of necessity or preference. Various levels of government and non-governmental organizations should consider the unique needs of some seniors so they are not left behind.

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