ST. PAUL, MN – Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announced today a multifaceted consumer outreach action plan focused on financial literacy. The plan – which consists of 12 specific initiatives aimed at helping educate consumers from Kindergarten to retirement – is the result of a collaborative Financial Literacy Roundtable conversation hosted last April by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
“Considering the many hardships facing Minnesotans in this economy, it has never been more important to empower consumers of all ages with the knowledge and resources necessary to make responsible, informed financial decisions,” said Commissioner Rothman. “The Minnesota Department of Commerce, as one of the state’s consumer advocates, has a mission-driven responsibility to contribute what resources, expertise, and services we can to this important effort.”
When Rothman began his work as Commissioner, he asked Commerce staff to reach out to individuals and organizations already working to advance the cause of financial literacy in Minnesota. When Governor Mark Dayton declared April Youth Financial Literacy Month, Rothman and Deputy Commissioner Kevin Murphy invited more than 60 representatives of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and financial institutions to participate in a first-of-its-kind Financial Literacy Roundtable.
In hosting the Roundtable, Commissioner Rothman hoped to identify collaborative strategies that would help all Minnesotans – from Kindergarten to retirement – learn more about financial products, improve their financial fitness, and achieve financial security. During the Roundtable, participants described their respective roles in the cause of financial literacy and offered suggestions for how the Department of Commerce could contribute.
“The Roundtable gave our department a glimpse of the good work already happening in Minnesota to give consumers, young and old, the financial knowledge they need to succeed in this economy,” Rothman said. “The input we received at the Roundtable helped us identify twelve specific areas where the Department of Commerce can contribute effectively to advancing the cause of financial literacy in Minnesota.”
According to a Financial Literacy Roundtable Report released today, those action steps include direct outreach to consumers, improving online tools for financial literacy, collaborating with the federal government and other state agencies, and more. Specifically, those action steps include:
Continuing an aggressive commitment to timely, relevant consumer alerts and improving public awareness of the department’s enforcement actions. Commissioner Rothman has recommitted the Minnesota Department of Commerce to aggressive consumer outreach and education. From issuing consumer alerts, to actively communicating enforcement actions against fraudsters who have preyed on vulnerable consumers, Commissioner Rothman is committed to providing Minnesota consumers the information and resources they need to make wise, informed decisions in the marketplace.
Begin the construction of an online financial literacy clearinghouse. Minnesota Department of Commerce staff recently overhauled the department’s website. Commissioner Rothman has directed staff to make the new website as consumer-friendly as possible, focused on providing accurate, helpful, timely information to Minnesota citizens and industries.
The website redesign offers an important opportunity to meet a need that was expressed during the Roundtable discussion – to dedicate a section of the new website to a financial literacy clearinghouse that delivers: 1) basic financial education materials for consumers; 2) information about financial literacy organizations and events; and 3) other items of interest. This new section is currently being worked on and will be online next year.
Improve consumer outreach to senior citizens. Roundtable participants made it clear that financial literacy spans all ages and demographics. As America’s financial system grows increasingly complex and fraudsters continue targeting vulnerable adults, Commissioner Rothman is recommitting the Minnesota Department of Commerce to senior outreach.
Commissioner Rothman has begun speaking at senior centers, discussing financial scams aimed at retirees and seniors with cognitive impairment. Rothman wants senior citizens to understand the Department of Commerce is a resource. He will continue meeting directly with senior citizens and direct outreach staff to do the same at senior centers across the state.
Commissioner Rothman has also directed the use of IPT funds to launch an Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program (EIFFE) that will train medical professionals in Minnesota to identify and report financial abuse in their elderly patients.
Engage in discussions with financial institutions and professional associations about how to partner public and private interests to advance the cause of financial literacy in Minnesota. Commissioner Rothman recognizes that Minnesota needs all hands on deck to educate Minnesota consumers in today’s increasingly complex financial system. Rothman recognizes that financial institutions are a crucial stakeholder in that important effort, having much to offer and much to gain from financially educated and financially-secure consumers.
For that reason, the Department of Commerce will: 1) work to actively recruit financial institutions to participate in financial literacy organizations and events; and 2) explore the possibility of public-private partnerships to fund financial literacy programs with proven results (e.g. FAIM and others).
Explore Hopkins economics teacher David Braaten’s idea to incentivize youth participation in personal finance courses. Department staff will meet with professional associations in the banking and finance industries and experts at the Minnesota Department of Education to discuss the possibility of student certificates redeemable at banks and credit unions upon the completion of personal finance courses.
More actively participate in financial literacy organizations and events. Commissioner Rothman will ramp up his own personal participation in financial literacy initiatives, and ask department staff to do the same. Already since the April 13 Roundtable event, Commissioner Rothman has: 1) spoken to students participating in the Personal Finance Decathlon at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; 2) participated in the annual Jump$tart event; 3) spoke to student participants in the Surviving the Game conference in Minneapolis; 4) spoke at the Lutheran Social Services Financial Advocacy awards banquet; 5) asked staff to regularly participate in the Minnesota Financial Fitness Network (MFFN); and 6) enlisted staff to participate in helping plan an upcoming MFFN financial literacy summit.
Meet with DEED, the Minnesota Department of Education, the Department of Human Services’ Office of Economic Opportunity, and the Minnesota Department of Higher Education to explore new ways to partner on financial literacy efforts. State agencies already participating in financial literacy efforts have expressed an interest in meeting to discuss how the Minnesota Department of Commerce could enhance their efforts to provide financial education to students and consumers of all ages. Commissioner Rothman will engage in those conversations, and is focused on finding ways to constructively share resources and ideas that will improve the financial acumen and security of all Minnesotans.
Improve outreach to communities of color and immigrant populations. Department staff will increase communication with news outlets in communities of color including, but not limited to, Hmong Times, Insight News, La Prensa, Somali Media, etc., providing brief consumer tips (short Op/Eds) to help readers make informed financial decisions.
The department will also identify opportunities for public educational forums designed for consumers and businesses in immigrant communities. For example, Commissioner Rothman and Deputy Commissioner Murphy have coordinated an anti-money laundering forum in coordination with the IRS and the Ramsey County Library. The forum was aimed at helping local businesses – particularly businesses owned and operated by immigrants – understand and abide by the Bank Secrecy Act. The forum, held in St. Paul last month, provided check cashers, convenience store clerks, and others some basic information that will help achieve compliance with federal law and avoid steep financial penalties.
Explore legislative initiatives that could advance the cause of financial literacy in Minnesota. In the legislative interim, governmental affairs staff at the Minnesota Department of Commerce will: 1) explore legislative recommendations from the Legislative Commission to End Poverty; 2) review the Ladder Out of Poverty Task Force recommendations when they are made available; and 4) explore other policy ideas that may increase the financial acumen and security of Minnesotans.
Continue the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s involvement in Slice of Spring and other state employee education opportunities. The annual Slice of Spring educational event provides several personal finance sessions that help state employees understand their benefits and other financial products. Commerce employees are instrumental in organizing the event on an annual basis, and will continue to do so.
Continue hosting Financial Literacy Roundtable discussions. Roundtable participants consistently requested that the department continue to host financial literacy discussions. Commissioner Rothman will continue to host these discussions to foster new ideas, strengthen stakeholder partnerships, and continue the forward momentum of concrete action steps aimed at improving financial literacy.
Improve State-Federal Partnerships on financial literacy efforts. Since the roundtable discussion, Commissioner Rothman has engaged in discussions with the U.S. Treasury Department, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Reserve Bank to identify ways to work together and identify existing programs and resources available to Minnesota through the federal government.