Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oklahoma's 10th Annual Financial Education Conference

Oklahoma held its 10th annual Financial Literacy conference, thanks to the cooperation of the Kansas City Federal Reserve branch and local coalitions. The event centered around natural disasters, specifically the April tornado that tore through Moore this year and claimed the lives of several children. 

There was plenty of information and ideas shared. Economics professors presented on historical financial crises and tornadoes. On their minds was the work and contribution of Dr. Robert Shiller, who recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics this year. There were also members from the Oklahoma Council on Economic Education, the drafters behind the state's Core Curriculum Standards set to incorporate financial education in public schools. Members of the Jump$tart coalition and Junior Achievement program were available as well, along with local educators and nonprofits. 

I was empowered by the passion and determination of all involved. What I learned was that the campaign for financial education is growing and still strong, but there is still plenty of work to accomplish. 

Among the day's highlights are: 

1) A study conducted by Dr. Kevin Simmons from the University of Austin found that tornadoes are very much as we have assumed: unpredictable. While the disastrous ones impact us in financial and emotional ways, they are rare. The last high intensity tornado that hit the US was about 80 years ago. Getting governments involved in protecting citizens is more an ideal than practical since the cost of protecting all those in a tornado's way is a cost burden. Good news is engineers have developed ways to build, what Dr. Simmons labeled, "safe houses" secure enough to withstand strong winds and hits, but are very expensive to build. For now, builders are focusing on reinforced rooms in homes. 

2) For anyone sitting around waiting to predict the next financial bubble, there are a few things to stay clear of. For the most part, if anything sounds too good to be true, it really is. Anytime an investor tries to sell a security that is purported to be innovative, unprecedented, or necessary, it really isn't. Dr. Jonathan Willner from Oklahoma City University introduced graphs that charted stock performance from as far back as our country's history. What we saw was a persistent and consistent behavior in market activitiy: as a new investment gains momentum, it is followed by a steep fall and slump. Think the Industrial Revolution of the 1930's, the real estate rave of the 1990's, and the boom at the beginning of this century. The lesson gleaned is avoid risky trends, unreasonable investments, and fads. Chances are, they will lead to the next recession. 

3) The Core Curriculum Standards are set to officially roll out next year. They include uniform lessons that will be deployed on a national level. All schools across the country are set to abide by the same rules. The focus is on improving the writing and financial skills of children. Turns out Oklahoma has one of the best cooperation levels out there, and the state has even added to the standards. High school seniors of 2014 must graduate fluent in 14 areas of financial knowledge. Sounds promising but only problem is that teachers will not be required to be certified or trained in finance or economics to teach the curriculum. A recent survey found that only 20% of our teachers feel secure enough to teach these topics, which will be either taught alone or incorporated into other subjects. This gap in qualification and obligation is augmented somewhat by the contribution of financial institutions who volunteer their staff to discuss financial education with students. This strategy will have to do until school administrators figure things out. 

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