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GREATER: Build a sturdy three-legged financial stool


The Idea: Giving our young people a solid financial education is key, but financial education is a three-legged stool that needs investment from home, school and financial institutions. Financial institutions in partnership with high schools should embrace an adopt-a-school financial education program to provide a real-world curriculum that develops high school students’ financial literacy skills

One of our greatest strengths as a community is our deep finance knowledge. 

Yet, the financial literacy of our country – Iowa included – remains a big problem. According to Value Penguin, only 16% of Americans under the age of 30 have a credit score of 720 or above. While the average FICO score tends to improve with age, all of the major life events that can happen in our 30s – home buying, student loan debt, weddings – can have a negative impact. 

Americans ages 30-39 are most likely to have a credit score below 620, and often have significant credit card debt.

I believe that this challenge is largely a result of a three-legged financial education stool that has two weak legs, and that Greater Des Moines’ financial institutions can play a role of stabilizing the stool. 

Unfortunately, the places many people learn the most about money – home and school – often have shortcomings due to lack of resources and expertise. 

Leg 1 – Home: In a perfect world, home is the first place a child learns about money. Parents demonstrate good financial habits, and talk to their kids about “needs” and “wants,” spending wisely now and saving for the future. Unfortunately, not all households are in a position to teach these lessons.

Leg 2 – School: In an ideal world, financial readiness is part of a student’s preparation for the future. But not all schools have the resources to offer sufficient education in a way that connects with students and motivates them to financial success.

But what if our financial institutions were to leverage our region’s unique financial strength and knowledge to help provide a third stabilizing leg so that our young people get the sturdy financial stool they need to succeed financially?

Leg 3 – Financial Institutions: To do this, I envision an adopt-a-school financial education program. Financial services companies would each adopt a high school. They would sponsor and present an interactive, engaging, real-world curriculum developed in partnership with school administrators to teach kids to understand money – not just how to make it, but how to keep it, plan for the future, and build a life they love that is a thoughtful balance of “wants” and “needs.” The program would include real-life outcomes to engage and build student buy-in (pun very much intended).

The curriculum, developed by a committee of school administrators and sponsoring companies, could be incorporated into existing coursework, or developed as a stand-alone course or extracurricular club. Ideally, it would touch every student in the ninth or 10th grade, as a long-term commitment requiring consistency from leadership in the businesses and the classrooms.  

At the end of the program, successful participants would be eligible for a post-graduation scholarship that could be used for college, professional training, apprenticeship or investment – anything that will contribute to a strong financial future. The scholarships would be funded by the program member companies.

Some might say financial institutions are not responsible for their customers’ financial habits, and I tend to agree. But I see an opportunity. By helping people understand both the power and the responsibility of money, financial institutions see better outcomes and, equally important, help their communities grow.

Des Moines and Central Iowa offer the things that matter most in life: education, housing, recreation, business opportunity and lifestyle. That has earned us top place on dozens of “best of” lists. With a little teamwork, and some Iowa “nice,” we can build a foundation that will not only keep us at the top of current lists, but push us to the top of future lists. 


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