Published on Wed, 06/26/2019 by ABC Life Literacy Canada

Financial literacy program proving to be effective in minority communities

Statistically speaking, new immigrants and Indigenous Peoples are more likely to face financial stress. In fact, some studies suggest that as many as 15% of individuals in Aboriginal communities may not even have a bank account. For newcomers to Canada, the challenge is very different. While a high proportion of new immigrants are well-educated, many struggle to find work, thus hindering their earning capabilities. Enter ABC Life Literacy Canada. The national non-profit literacy group is looking to turn these stats around with a financial literacy program targeted specifically at these communities.

“We’ve seen the proven success of financial literacy programs when they’re tailored to the needs of individual communities, which is why we’re excited to be expanding the Money Matters program even more.”

ABC’s Money Matters, a financial literacy program originally created in 2011 for adults enrolled in literacy upgrading programs, was adapted and tailored to work with newcomers to Canada and Indigenous Peoples in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Now, after more than three years of running the program, they’re seeing the positive impact it’s made on these communities.

Since inception, nearly 6,000 Indigenous learners and more than 7,000 newcomers have attended workshops in various cities across the country. The organization has found that the customization of the program has been effective in reaching and recruiting more learners to the program.

The Newcomers and New Canadians program includes two workshops covering financial literacy topics specifically aimed at individuals who may not already have knowledge of Canadian systems and financial opportunities: How to Bank and Save in Canada and How to Build Credit in Canada. Some workshops were also delivered in Arabic and Chinese in order to further accommodate newcomers.

While more than half of newcomers in the program had university-level education, 65% of learners increased their feelings of confidence with respect to managing their money. Additionally, an impressive 91% reported that they learned new things about banking in Canada, while 76% of learners reported that they learned new things about their financial rights in Canada.

“The workshop is very special for a newcomer like me in Canada,” said one anonymous learner. “Such information helps me understand how I can improve my life in Canada.”

Conversely, learners from the Indigenous Peoples program had significantly different educational backgrounds, with 70% of learners reporting their highest level of education as high school. The Indigenous Peoples program has four workshops with different design and story elements reflective of Indigenous Peoples: Budgeting and spending plans, Banking basics, Credit and borrowing, and Saving and RESPs.

At the outset, Indigenous Peoples program participants were more likely to be struggling with financial literacy as stated by the pre-program survey at the start of each workshop. A lower proportion of learners engaging in the Indigenous Peoples program indicated that they were engaging with savings opportunities and more than half (58%) indicated that they had no saving method. Additionally, a greater proportion of learners indicated they did not engage with financial institutions because they ‘did not want to’ or ‘did not have the paperwork to open an account’.

While Indigenous Peoples face many of the same challenges to participating in banking opportunities as other citizens, there is the additional weight of specific structural, historic and cultural barriers that may restrict full participation.

This can include discomfort with settler institutions (including banks), lack of access to mainstream banking in the communities where they live, cultures that do not traditionally relate to monetary valuation, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and Intergenerational trauma, and historic exclusion from settler institutions (including banks).

Compared to the Money Matters Core and Newcomers and New Canadians programs, learners participating in the Indigenous Peoples program experienced the most positive change in understanding and confidence related to finances, suggesting that this program stream may be an impactful way to advance reconciliation through financial literacy. Over 80% of participants left each workshop feeling like they had learned things that would help them manage their money better

Learners in this program also commented that they had learned about financial rights (e.g. cashing government cheques for free). For individuals from communities that have been historically systematically excluded from Canadian financial institutions, building an understanding of financial rights can be an important empowerment tool that builds trust with these institutions going forward.

One anonymous learner said about the program: “I loved it. I started thinking about how I spend, since I worked over 20 years of my life and didn’t think of my spending situation. After the workshop it opened a door of how to save and spend wisely.”

Later this year, ABC will be releasing another customized program as a response to the growing interest from community organizations to provide adaptive learning materials.

“We’ve seen the proven success of financial literacy programs when they’re tailored to the needs of individual communities, which is why we’re excited to be expanding the Money Matters program even more,” said Mack Rogers, Executive Director of ABC Life Literacy Canada. “Our hope is that through these programs, all Canadians – and in particularly those in disadvantaged communities – will have the skills and confidence to manage their finances effectively.”

Money Matters workshops are run across the country by groups such as literacy organizations, settlement agencies, post-secondary schools and libraries. Workshops can be delivered by the staff of the group delivering the program, or with the optional support of the program’s founding sponsor, through local TD Bank Group volunteer-tutors.

Money Matters has reached over 28,700 adults since 2011. To learn more about Money Matters or to book a workshop in your community, please visit


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