When you're struggling with money, the path to financial confidence can seem like an uphill battle.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year, many financially vulnerable Canadians began to worry about the impact it could have on their finances.
For ABC Life Literacy Canada, a not-for-profit organization supported by the TD Ready Commitment that provides free financial literacy workshops, the need to carry on and help people get access to financial tools and resources was critical – particularly through these challenging times.
One way the organization helps Canadians become better money managers is through its free Money Matters program. The Money Matters program – launched in 2010 by ABC Life Literacy Canada with funding obtained through the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank's global corporate citizenship platform – offers courses designed to educate Canadians about money matters while boosting their financial confidence.
Before COVID-19 hit, ABC Life Literacy Canada was holding 70 to 80 Money Matters workshops per month across Canada, many of which were run by volunteers and held in classrooms inside learning centres, newcomer centres, Indigenous centres, and places of worship.
So, when those in-person classes were paused as a result of the pandemic, it was up to ABC Life Literacy Canada to figure out how to help financially vulnerable Canadians learn critical financial skills in a way that would not endanger public health. That meant finding a way to deliver those same resources online, or at a distance through the ABC Skills Hub.
“COVID-19 forced us to get creative," said Mack Rogers, Executive Director of ABC Life Literacy Canada.
"More Canadians are struggling with jobs and finances right now, and so financial literacy has never been more important. Helping Canadians improve their financial literacy amidst a pandemic has forced us to think differently about how we design, build and offer education programs," said Rogers.
Rogers said the pandemic has accelerated the need to adapt to an increasingly digital world for both the organization and the students it supports.
"Adapting our curriculum to reflect managing money in an increasingly digital world has allowed us to support learners as they transition their everyday banking needs online, while raising awareness of fraud and risk in online financial activity," he said.
Many Canadians are struggling with financial confidence
Even before COVID-19 hit, many Canadians reported that they were struggling with their financial health. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TD in May of 2019, 39% of Canadians surveyed said they were struggling with some or all aspects of their finances.
But it's clear that the onset of the COVID-19 global public health emergency is having a negative impact on many Canadians and their financial health. Indeed, a separate poll conducted by Ipsos in November of 2020 found that 46% of Canadian respondents reported that their family's financial situation has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
“Research shows that if someone has higher confidence in their ability to manage finances, they will,” Rogers said.
"The Money Matters program is for anyone looking to start or continue their learning journey. And the reality is that those journeys didn't stop when the pandemic forced us to stop holding in-person classes. In fact, it made our courses that much more important, to more Canadians," said Rogers.
Working together to overcome challenges
"When we first started the shift to online, we learned that many organizations that host Money Matters workshops didn't have the technology to run the courses online – or don't know how to use it,” Rogers said.
“So, we started to expand community webinars and coaching for anyone who wanted to run an online class,” he said.
After months of hard work and collaboration, the Money Matters program is now offered safely via one-on-one tutoring over the Internet or phone, in a virtual classroom or webinar, and via online e-modules.
Now students can learn from the safety of their home while an ABC Life Literacy Canada member or TD volunteer leads the class online. In some places, online classes are audio-only to accommodate older technology, security concerns or, especially in rural areas, limited bandwidth.
Rogers said there is also something of a silver lining to offering classes online.
“Going online allows our Money Matters volunteers from TD and ABC to expand their reach to almost every place in Canada,” said Rogers.
The pandemic also created the need to speed up ABC Life Literacy Canada’s existing work in online learning and updating activities to work in a digital environment.
“We also had to strengthen people's digital literacy skills too,” Rogers said.
“So ABC Life Literacy Canada created a platform, the ABC Skills Hub, easily navigable for learners of all literacy or digital skills levels, and allows them to get started anywhere and at their own pace,” said Rogers.
Normalizing conversations around money
“Online courses are going well and initial feedback for online learning has been very positive,” Rogers said, adding that Money Matters students aren’t the only ones learning.
Erica Ruth Kelly, who now works at ABC Life Literacy Canada completed the Money Matters program in January 2018, can attest to the program’s effectiveness.
“It normalized the conversation about money for me,” she said.
"Before I was really resistant to talk about money. Now I tell people what I’ve learned and then they tell other people. It’s information that is helpful for the whole community to have.”
Kelly said she believes that the pandemic has created a situation where many Canadians could benefit from greater financial literacy.
“If you’ve been avoiding thinking about your finances or need financial information, now more than ever is a really good time to do it. It’s a very friendly program – it takes what can be a heavy topic and turns it into something light that you can easily digest,” said Kelly.
While things are going well, Rogers said the team is continually looking to find ways to improve the experience for learners and educators as they explore the virtual classroom.
“Volunteers and learners – we’re all human. By sharing our experiences, and learning from our mistakes, we can support one another in making better decisions in the future.”