Authors: Greg Chi, High School Student Guest Writer, and Jeanette Ramos
More than 28% of Californians do not have a bank account. This statistic is even higher among immigrant populations, which predominate various parts of the city of San Jose. Immigrants face a multitude of financial problems that arise from being financially illiterate, such as identity theft and high fees associated with check cashing outlets. One of the leading causes of financial illiteracy is the language barrier, and unfortunately, it is something that is difficult to fix in a short period of time. Since protecting people from scams and gauging financial stability are exigent needs, it was apparent that we needed to get the information out to the immigrant community in a different way—in their own language.
On December 17, in a partnership with Cathay Bank, we hosted two simultaneous workshops on financial literacy—one conducted in Mandarin Chinese and the other conducted in Vietnamese—at the Belovida Apartments in East San Jose. While the original intent was focusing on internet banking, the Mandarin audience was comprised mainly of computer-illiterate elderly seniors. As a result, we deviated from our main topic and talked more about protecting oneself from elderly financial exploitation. The Cathay Bank representative explained why scammers often target elderly seniors, and suggested having someone who is in the know to validate any unusual calls or requests. Banks themselves can also be resources that people can use.
One thing that was especially notable during the presentation was that the seniors were extremely interested on the slide regarding medical fraud (which while related to financial literacy, was not within the presenter’s domain of expertise). Another observation that I made was that having family members with you while attending such financial literacy workshops seems to increase their interest in the topic and make them more perceptive to learning. This was apparent in a grandfather and a grandson that attended the Mandarin workshop; this family interaction resulted in a higher knowledge retention rate. This observation confirms one of the research papers published by Federal Reserve Senior Research Liaison Barbara J. Robles, who concluded that learning involving families (rather than individuals) and interactions between family members was much more effective in the long run.
Considering the different observations that I made through the workshop and my past research, I believe it is important to leverage them for future workshops so that, ultimately, the immigrants will benefit more than they do currently. This includes
- Continuing to present workshops in the native language of the target audience
- Focus on the marketing of events to families (inviting entire families or placing promotional materials in schools)
- Giving computer literacy lessons as a “prerequisite” to attending financial literacy workshops, since many concepts are intertwined with computer literacy in the contemporary era
- Partner or initiate a campaign geared towards immigrants on medical fraud.
As a whole, the Belovida workshops were a success, as it was evident that the audience members left with a new set of financial knowledge and are reassured with steps to maintain their financial stability.
The multilingual workshops at Belovida Apartments were part of continuing access to financial education in immigrant communities with collaboration of volunteer bankers at Cathay Bank and Wells Fargo, Willow Glen Branch. We are continuing financial literacy workshops in the community with our 2nd series, Money Matters for Beginners starting in March 2015. Sign up and more information is available here.
Special Note: Greg, it was really nice to work with you in the multilingual Financial Literacy workshops this semester. It’s great to see a bright and motivated youth like yourself who cares about equity and access in financial education for people of color. I feel really cool because I met someone who started their own business in the 5th grade. I hope when I become a teacher, I can have students like you who are creative, compassionate and hard-working. I know that the future will be better because you have great ideas and have compassion for communities of color. I wish you the best of luck in college and your business! –J. Ramos