How far we’ve come and what’s next: an interview with Dilip Soman

May 24, 2018

By Jane Rooney, Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader

In this final segment of blogs about the progress of our National Research Plan on Financial Literacy, I’d like to take a moment to thank members of our first Research Sub-Committee 2016-18, who completed their two-year term in February. Your efforts have helped us to draw an important road map for financial literacy research going forward!

In this blog post, I’m going to share a conversation with a member of the sub-committee, Dilip Soman, who was recently named as the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics. I asked him to gauge our progress to date and give a taste of where we need to go from here.

Here’s our conversation:

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You've been a member of the Research Sub-Committee since 2016. What would you say are the biggest takeaways from the progress made by the committee up until now?

I would say that there are two major takeaways. The first is the idea that financial education is not enough. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient for behaviour change. In addition to education, we need to think about other interventions that help Canadians make better decisions in the context of a financial landscape that is becoming increasingly complicated. The second big takeaway is that one size doesn't fit all. The strategies and programs we develop need to be customized to the unique contexts facing the diverse subpopulations in our nation.

What studies stand out to you as being particularly significant when it comes to improving Canadians' financial well-being?

Of course, the Canadian Financial Capability Survey (CFCS) is always helpful because it gives us a snapshot view of what Canadians are thinking and doing. However, there have been a number of other recent studies that contribute by giving us very specific insights on when and how we should build financial capability. For instance, a 2014 study coming out of the Colorado Center for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making does a remarkable job in conducting a meta-analysis of financial literacy programs, and telling us when programs work and when they don't.

The CFCS has been hailed as a benchmark for studying financial literacy in Canada. It will next be fielded in 2019 (next year). Can you sum up the significance of its findings to date, and also give a sense of what you hope to glean as a researcher from the next round of this survey?

The CFCS is invaluable because it provides researchers and policy makers with a roadmap. It gives us a snapshot of what the issues are, how well Canadians are doing and what the priority areas are going forward. It is particularly valuable to researchers because it gives us a good sense of where to focus our research efforts.

You are going to continue as a member of the Research Sub-Committee for 2018-20. Can you give us a taste of what the sub-committee may be concerned with in the coming two years? What work still needs to be done (perhaps stemming from the work of the past two years but not necessarily)?

We need to integrate our research activities with the last mile - with practitioners who are actually in our communities delivering financial literacy programs. We also need to continue to build a culture of evidence among our practitioners - to try and get them to question practices, to recognize that financial literacy needs are fluid over time and across sub-populations, and that routinely collecting evidence about what works and what doesn't will allow them to be in a better position to be nimble and agile with program delivery.

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