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CEO Blog: Are Future Generations Missing Critical Skills?

David Nelms |Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of Discover Financial Services
Wednesday, 15 Feb 2012 | 11:46 AM ET

We live in a world where our kids can find anything about everything on the internet. Ninety-five percent of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and 80 percent of them are users of social media sites. This generation knows more about technology than most of their parents. And they have the ability to communicate with friends and know about issues in real-time – around the world.

So, why is it that they can know so much, communicate so quickly and also be “connected” 24 hours a day, but they still don’t know the basics about money?

Less than 25 percent of students say they are prepared to deal with the financial challenges that await them in the real world. And the 2011 Charles Schwab Teens and Money survey found that only 64 percent of 18 year olds know how to manage a credit card – down from 74 percent in 2007.

The answer is that kids are not being taught financial basics through real, honest conversations at home or in school. Only 12 states currently require a personal finance course for graduation, even though Treasury Department research shows that high school graduates in states that mandate financial education have higher savings rates and a greater net worth than graduates from states without financial education.

How do we fix the problem that continues to get worse and not better? The answer is not rocket science. We need to be teaching it in schools and parents need to be talking about money at home. But how do we start?

First, financial education needs to be a key part of schools’ curriculum.

That is why Discover is making a $10 million investment to bring financial education to high school classrooms across the country through a program called Pathway to Financial Success. Over the next five years, Discover will offer grants to public high schools that adopt and measure a financial education curriculum. The program will work to train teachers across the country through the network of the Council for Economic Education, which trains thousands of teachers annually. We are also working with President Obama’s Council for Financial Capability and are planning to involve other corporations in this effort because we believe public-private partnerships are essential to address this problem.

Second, we know our kids have a gap in math skills. Financial education can tie financial concepts to math and economics to allow kids to see real world applications of some of the skills that matter so much. For example, curriculum can explore budgeting and compound interest as it relates to savings.

Third, nearly 90 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Endowment for Financial Education said financial education was needed in the classroom, yet only 20 percent felt they had the capability to teach personal finance. To help prepare teachers, we will provide them with training. As part of the Pathway to Financial Successprogram, students who are part of classrooms with financial education curriculum as a result of a Discover grant will be tested to ensure the information is resonating.

Finally, as a parent, I know how difficult it can be to talk to your child about money. Forty-one percent of adults and parents said they wish they were more informed about managing money and financial responsibility, so they could pass that knowledge on to their kids. There are tools out there that can help:

Here are four simple steps to begin talking to your kids about money:

  • Use milestones and events to talk about money. It’s tax season, so involve them. If you decide to give your kids an allowance, use that to talk about money, savings and the difference between a “want” and a “need.” If your kids spend more than they save, talk to them about why they are doing that.
  • Celebrate saving. Open a savings account with your child if he or she doesn’t already have one. Talk about a savings goal. Depending on your child’s age, maybe it’s a new pair of shoes, a new toy or a special trip they want to take.
  • Make it a game. Financial Entertainment has award-winning games for adults and kids to teach financial fundamentals like budgeting, interest rates and saving.
  • Give your children a reality check about your finances. For example, if they ask you to buy something and you can’t afford it, tell them it doesn’t fit in your budget right now. Or, include them in discussions about making large purchases, so they can learn how you make spending decisions.

We owe it to our children to provide them with the best opportunity for a brighter financial future and to help our nation, as a whole, have a stronger grasp of the basic principles that can help them achieve their dreams so they don’t become financial nightmares.

David W. Nelms is Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of Discover Financial Services . He is responsible for all Discover® branded financial services, including credit cards and banking products; the Discover Network, a comprehensive payments network that supports multiple card products, issuers and processors; PULSE, one of the nation's leading PIN debit networks; and Diners Club International, a global payments network. He is also Chairman of Discover Bank, the issuing bank for the Discover card brands.

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