Canadians’ level of financial literacy is not improving despite attempts by the federal government and other groups to help consumers better understand financial concepts and manage money more prudently, according to recent research by Mississauga, Ont.-based Credo Consulting Inc.

Credo surveyed more than 24,000 Canadians during 2016 and 2017 as part of the Financial Comfort Zone Study, an ongoing national consumer survey conducted in partnership with Montreal-based TC Media’s investment group. (TC Media publishes Investment Executive.)

In the survey, Credo asked Canadians questions designed to gauge their comprehension of basic financial concepts associated with the value of money over time, budgeting and the diversification of investments, among other financial concepts.

In 2017, survey participants’ average financial literacy score was 75.3 out of 100, marginally higher than the average score of 75.0 in 2016.

“The data suggest that things aren’t really changing,” says Hugh Murphy, managing director with Credo.

However, Jane Rooney, Canada’s financial literacy leader, says that co-ordinated efforts from public, private and non-profit organizations over recent years to help Canadians “manage money and debt, plan and save for the future, and protect against fraud and financial abuse” have been yielding positive results. (The financial literacy leader is a position overseen by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada [FCAC] in Ottawa.)

“I have seen very good progress,” says Rooney, who was given a five-year mandate in April 2014 to provide national leadership on financial literacy. “We’re benchmarking quite well.”

As evidence, Rooney cites, among other studies, the results of an international survey of financial literacy among 15-year-olds that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) administered in 2015, in which Canadian teens ranked second among the 15 OECD and partner countries included in the survey.

“[Canadian youth] are doing well,” Rooney says, “because they’re doing well in school. But they’re also highly ‘banked’; they’re earning money; and they’re talking to their parents about money.”

Individual financial literacy programs that the FCAC either initiated or supports are monitored and measured in terms of their relative efficacy, Rooney says. For example, her group worked with university students to deliver the Your Financial Toolkit program to help young adults manage their financial affairs. After implementation, she says, “We saw that students behaved better and were more confident in their financial decision-making.”

In 2019, the FCAC will field its Canadian Financial Capabilities Survey, a broad survey of financial literacy levels in the general population that is conducted every five years. “That [particular survey] captures, we hope, [the results] of all of the efforts,” Rooney says.

In 2015, under Rooney’s leadership, the FCAC published its National Strategy for Financial Literacy, a blueprint for improving financial literacy in Canada.

Rooney acknowledges there’s “room for progress” in reaching her mandate’s goals, particularly in helping certain groups, such as low-income Canadians, newcomers and youth.

Credo’s research also suggests there’s work to do among certain vulnerable groups. For example, survey participants with less than $5,000 in investible assets had an average financial literacy score of 73.8. Meanwhile, those with more than $500,000 in investible assets posted an average score of 81.4.

In terms of helping low-income Canadians, Rooney cites the results of the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, administered in part through the Canada Revenue Agency. As part of that program, volunteers help low-income individuals file their tax returns and make sure they receive their refunds and benefits. In turn, there’s an opportunity to provide financial literacy by helping these individuals manage those refunds and benefits.

Credo’s research also suggests there’s a correlation between Canadians’ education levels and financial literacy. Survey participants with only a high-school diploma posted an average score of 70.2; those with a university degree had an average score of 79.7.

Rooney says her group has worked collaboratively with the provincial and territorial governments on expanding financial literacy programs in primary and high-school curriculums. For example, Quebec introduced a mandatory financial literacy program for high-school students last year, and Ontario is rolling out a financial literacy component as part of its Grade 10 mandatory curriculum in September.

The programs are “fantastic opportunities,” Rooney says, for students to learn about financial fundamentals “before they get into their adulthood or post- secondary education.”

Meanwhile, there also is a vital role for financial advisors in achieving the overall strategy to boost financial literacy, she adds.

“Advisors are reaching Canadians at all stages of their lives,” Rooney says. “[Advisors] can help people choose products and services that best meet their needs, but also to identify how to budget, how to save, how to plan for the future and how to pay down debt.”