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Jessica Rosgaard at BIZ New Orleans

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According to a 2019 survey by WalletHub that looked at 17 key metrics, Louisiana ranks last for financial literacy.

What is financial literacy? It’s everything from understanding the difference between a credit card and a debit card, to retirement and estate planning.

Starting Young

Financial literacy, an undoubtedly valuable skill, hasn’t been adequately covered in schools for a while — if it was taught at all.

“In Louisiana it used to be a requirement as part of the civics class and when [schools] got away from teaching civics, financial literacy fell by the wayside, too,” said Ron Samford, president and CEO at Metairie Bank.

But that has recently changed. In 2018, the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill that requires every student entering the ninth grade after July 2019 to receive age-appropriate instruction regarding personal financial management. In 2019, the law was amended to specifically require instruction about obtaining student loans to fund college.

“The Louisiana Bankers Association was particularly active in lobbying for this legislation,” said Samford, “because financial literacy is a key factor in community enrichment, which is good for the community and for bankers.”

Community Outreach

To help bridge the financial literacy gap among adults, local banks are engaging with the community through a variety of programs and basic resources.

“On the basics, Metairie Bank works with our commercial customers — sitting down and understanding what they’re after,” Samford said. “If they’re trying to add capacity and buy a new facility, or they need more equipment, or need to increase their inventory levels — we look at how best to finance whatever their needs are.”

Private customers at Metairie Bank can also get help balancing their checkbook in the bank lobby or learn more in-depth financial tools at events in the community.

“We do seminars, we’ll invite people into the bank, go to churches, schools, community colleges, or even middle schools and sometimes grade schools,” Samford said.

Steven Dugal, general agent with Northwestern Mutual, said the company has advisors throughout the state holding various financial seminars for adults.

“We start with a document covering 25 areas of financial life,” he said. “From there, we build out a basic plan for debt reduction to the more complex.”

One of the biggest financial areas where people tend to need assistance is with loans. In this arena, Jefferson Financial has partnered with another company.

“When somebody’s running into a loan-related problem we have a company we use called BALANCE,” said Jefferson Financial CEO Mark Rosa. “Customers can call and speak directly with counselors there so we don’t have to stand in the middle of it and know more about their financial life than we have to.”
But, Rosa added, the first — and most important — step is reaching out for help.
“We have outside vendors that have done seminars here — estate planning, tax planning, what are annuities, investments. They’re usually very sparsely attended,” Rosa said. “A lot of people don’t think about their financial literacy level and they’re going on just fine until something happens and they’re in the deep end of the pool.”

Employee Education

In addition to community banks, at least one local business is getting involved in financial literacy education for its employees.

Gallo Mechanical is a mechanical construction company that provides plumbing, pipe fitting, HVAC — everything between the walls on large-scale construction. The company employs about 400 people, including its home office in New Orleans and satellite offices in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Florida and North Carolina.

“Our programs are designed to help people on our team,” said Maria Pote, director of special projects at Gallo Mechanical. “These programs support people that are the first that have even thought about buying a house and the first to help their children graduate from college.”
Through a partnership with Hancock Whitney, Gallo offers its employees financial literacy assistance programs on topics like opening a bank account, understanding your credit, and how to buy a house and save for education.

The program includes small informational seminars that take place at the Gallo office on weekends and after work. It’s available to employees and their family members.

The program just launched in January, and for now the seminars are only available in New Orleans. But Gallo plans to eventually roll out the seminars in their satellite offices.