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Getting Sorted

Financial literacy was the third highest priority of Australians in a recent ANZ study, more important than fraud, terrorism, data security, fees, interest rates and labour rights and behind responsible lending and consumer protection.  ANZ’s Money Minded financial literacy program aims to reach 45,000 people in 2015 and Saver Plus to reach 4,750.  This initiative has the ability to re-engage up to 294,000 consumers that have completed Money Minded previously.

In March this year the Beddoes Foundation – a new not-for-profit organisation - launched the Getting Sorted study to underpin the design of a suite of financial literacy and health and wellness initiatives.  Designed as an interactive tool, the Getting Sorted Study was a psychological assessment of the thinking patterns of Australians with regards to financial literacy.  This study linked financial literacy and money management skills with the health and wellbeing of Australians (emotional, psychological, vocational, social and physical health aspects).

Working with Dr Rebecca Sheils, a psychologist, the Foundation developed the Getting Sorted study following a review of scientific publications on thinking dispositions, heuristics, problem-solving, and behavioural economics and distributed it in partnership with Fairfax media.

Now with over 8,000 consumer ratings (three quarters without a financial adviser), this is the largest financial literacy study ever conducted in Australia. It is also the first study to adopt a ‘whole of person’ approach, going beyond education and knowledge to link financial thinking styles, attitudes and behaviour with the overall health and wellbeing of consumers.

In a surprise finding, the study revealed that financial thinking styles not only impact people’s financial decision-making and behaviour but also profoundly affect their emotional, psychological and physical health.  Importantly, we observed that unhealthy financial thinking styles have detrimental emotional, social, vocational, psychological, and physical health impacts on individuals – independent of financial literacy.

The study showed that thinking about finances negatively affects one in five relationships in Australia – and it doesn’t stop there. People whose relationships were adversely affected by thinking about money also had reduced emotional wellbeing, lowered satisfaction with life and worse physical health.

What is now clear is that without helping Australians improve their natural or predisposed thinking style, no amount of advice, information or education will drive behavioural change, enabling consumers to become better at making good financial decisions.

In addition to the health benefits of improved financial thinking, we now understand how people’s financial thinking styles either inhibit or support the translation of new knowledge into changed behaviour. This is particularly important in the design and roll-out of new financial literacy programs.

Certain financial thinking styles may either create slippage or give traction to new knowledge, skills and advice. It appears that if knowledge is the fuel and intellect is the engine, a person’s thinking style is like the gearbox. With the car in neutral, it doesn’t matter how fast the engine goes or how full the tank is, the car won’t move without moving into gear.

The Getting Sorted study has provided a profound and compelling rationale for these four thinking styles to be the starting point of all Financial Literacy programs. Unless unhealthy thinking is changed, no amount of financial education or knowledge development will change behaviour.

Using this study, the Beddoes Foundation is now able to develop an evidence-based financial literacy behavioural change program (The Money Gym) using proven interventions focused on identified needs.