What is KOFE?
Jeff Schwartz and Ben Allen are joined by Lori Pollack as they discuss Financial Health and Education on their new platform “KOFE”.
Ben: Hello, and welcome to another Consolidated Credit webinar. I’m joined by our executive director Jeffrey Schwartz and Lori Pollack, and today we’re going to be talking about financial health and financial education and the new online platform that we have which is called “Knowledge of Financial Education” (KOFE). Thanks for joining us. We’ll get started with the webinar and towards the end, we’ll take some questions.
We’ll start off with, “What is KOFE?” It is a way to say, “knowledge of financial education,” which is something that we feel is becoming more and more needed out there. It’s essentially a one-stop personal finance platform. It provides educational and financial content, courses, and access to free financial coaching. For our partners, it provides the visual data and can provide some insight into the financial interests of users. And we’ve done our best to provide it in a way that’s easily accessible for Canadians.
Essentially, if you can register for an email address, then you can register for KOFE. The thinking there is that if you’ve got time for coffee once or twice a week, or maybe you’re one of those people that goes to Starbucks every day, then you’ve probably got the time to improve your financial health after spending time with that KOFE on this platform.
I wanted to start things off with Jeff. What led Consolidated Credit to develop this rather in-depth educational platform?
Jeff: Well, I think that truthfully, that’s exactly what it is. We had another educational platform. I think we wanted to develop something that had greater depth and detail into it, so we said, what can we do to add more content to that platform and come up with something that was really quite robust? Something that had better tools and resources that allowed individuals to be more interactive with the platform so they can really get what they need out of a platform. If they’re interested in one particular area, then they can zoom in on that area and get more information about that specific area in their life that requires some attention as it relates to personal finances.
So, it was really all about more interaction and greater flexibility.
Ben: Great. Lori, with all your experience in financial education, where do you see KOFE being implemented?
Lori: Just to use a couple of words that I think are incredibly important: “interactive” and “personalized.” I think the more that individuals have a chance to interact with each other with something that speaks back to them and to have something personalized to keep some more engaged is important. and I also think that your targets are workplace and organizations where there are lots of people and lots of financial stress are great target groups.
Ben: It’s not just as simple as handing someone a budgeting handbook and say, hey, I’m here all your solve your problems. This way, they can look for what they’re interested in and take it from there, right?
Lori: And grow it and just keep increasing their knowledge base. So I think that the more information they have and more opportunity to interact, the better off they’ll be.
Ben: Who needs KOFE? Who needs more knowledge and financial education? Financial stress is a real issue for way too many Canadians. I don’t really see that it’s getting much better. There’s a real need for this type of education, and we just need to look at the leaves headlines to look at how bad it’s getting. According to a poll, 46% of Canadians are only $200 or less away from being insolvent at months’ end. it doesn’t get much better with the CMHC. Current debt-to-income ratios have risen to 178.5%. Consumer debt levels are rising year after year. Who needs KOFE? I’d say at least half of everyone out there, maybe even everyone out there in an ideal world.
There’s also students. I can see KOFE being a great resource for students. Not only do they have to be prepared for student life – they’ve moved out of the house, they’re away, they have to pay for their own cell phone and internet – they also need to start budgeting because when they get out of school, they’re going to have to pay for all their bills. And, for a lot of them, student debt after graduation as well.
Employees/employers – we just touched on those couple of those points. I feel like many employees are affected by financial stress and are probably bringing it to work. That can affect productivity. It certainly affects a person’s focus, employee attendance can certainly suffer because of it, and something I hear quite often is that marital issues are often financial ones. If it is a marital issue, when you dig a little deeper, maybe it is a financial one. So, maybe something like this would be useful there. Or, you mentioned community organizations. Their clients or members can benefit for the same reasons.
I also added financial institutions, so places like banks, maybe some of the smaller credit unions, they’re able to help their members become more successful with their personal financial decisions. Also, they can use it as a training tool. It’s sort of one-stop-shop for that sort of thing, so I think it could be used as a way to set up members to have better conversations. Maybe with financial advisers or planners. They may have children going to school, or retirement is coming up, that sort of thing.
Lori, I’d like to start with you this time. Hearing about these statistics, how have you seen the world of financial education change over the years and where do you think it’s heading in the future?
Lori: I think one of the things that we’re realizing is that financial education – while it’s pretty broad in what it encompasses – it’s also very grassroots. Financial education at one point always meant retirement funds, and stock markets, and housing. But unless individuals understand the importance of budgeting, you’re not going to be buying stocks and you’re not going to be investing in stock markets and probably not going to be buying a house because you haven’t had the ability or the knowledge to be able to save for that. So, I think the role is changing in that it’s more encompassing, and we’re realizing everything that financial education really includes.
I think we’re also starting to see it start at younger ages, with more piggy banks for kids, more understanding, and even games for children to get them involved in understanding what a dollar buys. Families are becoming more involved. I think one of the greatest stories I read recently involves a father who came home from work and cashed his pay cheque and put the cash on the table. He sat his family down and said, “OK, this is what I make a month, and this is what this costs, and this is what that costs.” Sometimes it has to be a visual where you have to see it to understand it. And I think the more we talk about it, the more we understand what everything is that’s included in our finances.
That cup of coffee that you go to the coffee shop for – do we need that every day? When we start to realize what bite all these little things take out of our resources, I think we need can understand more. And I think it’s just going to snowball in schools and in the workplace. So you’re getting individuals along the age spectrum at every age, from as young as we can until as old as we can, because the need for financial education never stops. It changes, but it never stops.
Ben: I remember growing up thinking money comes from an ATM. So when I needed more money, “Mom, let’s go to the green machine and take out some money.” Good points there.
Lori: And that’s why I thought about that article about the family, because people don’t like to talk about finances. That was something that I grew up with. You didn’t make a phone call after 8 o’clock at night, and you never ask anyone what they paid for anything.
Ben: Jeff, again, looking at those same sort of statistics, what would you say Canadians need to do to curb these rising debt levels? I think when I started here, the current Canadian debt-to-income ratio was closer to 163%, and now it’s at 178%. That’s a 15.5% rise in three years. What’s going on? What do we need to do?
Jeff: That is huge. I’m going to go back to one of the things that Lori just said. It really needs to be at a grassroots level. And it really needs to be done at an individual level. Quite frankly, those numbers are scary. If I had one specific piece of advice around how to take a step forward and how to move forward to improve your situation, the one thing I say – and I typically say it after the holiday season – is, give your plastic a rest. We’re always paying for everything with plastic. Let’s just give it a rest. Let’s put it away and not even have it in our wallets. Let’s find a way to go through our daily lives without that plastic, if at all possible. Maybe plastic is the wrong term. Maybe debit card.
Why I’m saying this is because so often I see that people go on these short-term binges where they give it a rest, and then all of a sudden, some unexpected expense pops up. For that one step forward, they’ve now taken two steps back. It could be something as simple as your child needs some dental work, or you had a major repair on your car, or you had a family member require some immediate medical attention and you’ve got to step in and maybe take some time off work.
All these things are unexpected expenses or potential for expenses that you’ve got to go into debt for. We get on a bit of a soapbox here, because I think it’s important that everybody listening here understands is that we used to save back in the 70’s and 80’s at a rate in the teens and even close to 20%, which meant that high teens or 20% of each of our paychecks went into savings. That’s no longer the case.
For the longest time, it’s been in and around 5% or less. So, what that means to me is no one is saving. They’re not creating that buffer for when unexpected expenses comes, and they’re going further and further into debt as a result. There are all sorts of demographic issues that we’re seeing where they’re paying for their parents that they might not otherwise have had to do, and parents are paying for the kids when they should be on their own. So, we’re seeing more and more of this as time goes on, and unless you have some savings, unless you have that buffer built in, you’re not going to be able to manage those expenses and you’re going to go further into debt. Now, about savings, I hear, “How can you expect me to save if I’ve got nothing left over in my account at the end of the month, and I still haven’t met all my bills.”
Well, let’s take a look at this. Maybe it’s your mindset as to how you’re trying to save. There’s a phrase out there, and it couldn’t be more true – to say to yourself first: before you pay any bills and go grocery shopping, take a small amount of each and every paycheck and put that aside. Then what ultimately happens is you’re forced to deal with the rest. You would be surprised at how effective you can be even by saving a small amount and you’re forced to have to deal with the rest that you have leftover for all your expenses, car payments, mortgage, rent, etc. It’s amazing how far you can make dollars go.
Once you’ve gotten good at that, you’ve built that into a bit of a habit, and you can start to increase that amount. Your goal is to put somewhere between six or even nine months of everyday expenses aside for an emergency fund, if you can do it. And it’s going to take time. But ultimately if you can do it, you’re not going to have to go into debt for those unexpected expenses. And I think that’s where as Canadians we need to go so that we see, potentially, some of these debt levels drop.
Ben: Right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to clients about that same savings bonus and just tell them, “Why don’t you just try 5% of every paycheck?” And what happens is, I’ll follow up, and it turns out that 5% did become easy for them, just like you said. Talk about a way to reduce financial stress. Having that emergency savings tucked away is certainly going to help you.
That moves me right into my next slide. Some of this content here, no matter what type of learner you are, you’re going to able to find some way to leverage what you’ve learned there and put it into action. It’s not just about, “Let’s read about the stock market and become an expert,” you know. You have to start somewhere. The financial content, we’ve kind of developed that content almost as, for lack of a better word, “snackable content.” It’s short and to the point.
The educational courses are short and sweet. Each module – I think there are 16 modules – there are 3 to 4 topics in each. There’s a one- or two-minute video. There’s a funny little credit ninja, and he jumps down and teaches you about different financial topics. The educational piece is still there. There’s a short comprehension, and finally, then do that multiple choice quiz. The modules aren’t meant to reinvent the wheel, but to get users to think about one or two strategies, such as saving 5% of every paycheck. And then at the end, you know, they get that unique certificate. So, it kind of speaks to what Lori was saying with the individuality. And then you finish this course because you were interested in it, and you know, now you have proof of that.
Then there are people out there who do like to pick up the phone and talk to people. A lot of people joke about how no one wants to send an email anymore. Everything needs to be done over text. If you do need to speak to a KOFE coach, you’re essentially going to receive what I would call “productive financial counselling.” They’re just going to examine ways to see that you can get the most out of what you have. Like exactly like that example of literally putting your paycheck on the table, how can you make the most out of that. So, I just wonder Lori, if you had any points to bring across, and then Jeff, maybe if you want to finish off with one or two points about coaching or the courses, or maybes some of the content that you’ve found on there that you like.
Lori: I’ll chime in here. I think it’s organizations that are made up of people who have similar interests.
You’d think that everybody cares about everybody else and everybody wants to succeed at whatever they’re doing. And within a company, everyone’s focus is on the success of the company. If the company succeeds, then we all have jobs, and we all have someplace to go every morning. In both instances, you feel like you’re part of a family. And financial stress causes so much damage to the individual. Financial stress can lead to mental health issues and physical issues. So, the more financially stable we feel – and being financially stable doesn’t mean we have a Swiss bank account. It means that, as Jeff said, we can cover six to nine months of expenses and be comfortable doing that. So, I think if an organization or company can work it so they can offer KOFE, and make it so their financial stress isn’t taking over their lives. And if they can function well, they become a better person in the organization and a better employee, they become more engaged, and that leads to better success for everybody. So I think the workplace or an organization is a tremendous place to have financial education available.
Ben: Sure. Jeff, any thoughts?
Jeff: I’m going to touch on the coaching aspect of things, if that makes sense here. Our coaching is probably very similar to what our credit counsellors are already doing. And I say that because in many instances, our counsellors get so entwined with the individual sessions that they’re covering a lot of the subjects that would come up in the coaching sessions themselves. However, where it may be a little different on the coaching side is that the goals are going to be a little different. So, depending on the situation that an individual is in, different conversations may come up. And ultimately, people understand, “OK, I’m handling my debt now, but I want to do more. I want to achieve certain goals or I have certain things that I want to accomplish in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term, and I’m managing my debt. But if I didn’t have that debt, if I could redeploy my finances n a different way, I might be able to accomplish my goals much quicker. And I might be further ahead in reaching those goals.”
And some of those goals might be retirement, some of them might be buying a house, it could be vacation, or it could even be that I want to start my child’s education and start putting some money away for that. But I’ve got this looming debt service that I’ve got to make every month. So, what’s the best way to tackle that debt, and at the same time, start moving ahead to achieving those goals. So, our coaches look at the individual situation and understand what those goals are, they’re current financial situation, and what opportunities may exist. And from there, it’s either up to them in a do-it-yourself type of method, or they could be reaching out to other financial professionals to get them on their way with respect to some investment advice. But at least they’ve got that background knowledge and are in a far better situation to contribute to something like that because they’ve gone through some coaching with our coaches.
Ben: Good, so it’s something like a one-on-one approach. We don’t need to jump right into the advanced-level stuff. Let’s start with something a little more one-on-one, I guess. Engagement – that’s the name of the game, especially with KOFE. If you want to see the results, you need to put different things into action. With the Traffic, that could be things like these calculators here. I mean they’re not your traditional savings calculators. Some of them we have, like right here, ‘”cigarettes per year savings.” Until somebody sees how much they’re spending on a pack of cigarettes a day, that could be their lightbulb moment. Like, “Wow, that’s how much I spent on these things.” You know, we can track that. We see that. We see what people are using.
For downloads, downloading the booklets, downloading the infographics, budgeting balance act, cleaning your credit report – those are directly tracked and that kind of leads to some insight into what’s going on with this KOFE platform. Participation is a huge part of it. That could be something as simple as watching a video or having an in-depth conversation with a credit coach or a KOFE coach. Those courses that I mentioned in the last slide are a great way to track and promote success. We call it the “credit dojo,” but in reality, there are a whole host of modules that can cover everything from basic budget fortification all the way to mortgage mastery. I kind of mentioned the different topics for each module, the comprehension piece, the multiple choice quiz, so you know what? Why not step into the credit dojo, or promote the credit dojo. And you can become the master of not only the basics that we see there – you know, the art of saving, budget fortification – you know, some people might want to be interested in the savings milestones for the path to retirement, or other people might want to learn a little bit more about building home equity, and that sort of thing. So, that leads me to another question for our educational expert. Lori, how do you see this type of personalized education fitting into an organization or company that might be interested in KOFE, and how could it help employees? How could it help members? How can they see the benefits?
Lori: I think the way it fits is just, again, the more you can help an individual who has financial questions or financial stress in their lives, the better the organization, and the better the company. Everybody becomes stronger because your whole is only as good as the pieces. So, the stronger the pieces are in the organization or company, then the better the company does. And then the more people are more engaged. They’re less distracted and they feel better about what they’re doing. I think offering this and having the financial coaches who contribute to KOFE and who make KOFE what it is is incredibly important, because these are people who are trained. And it’s not just trained and knowledgeable about the financial aspect. They’re sympathetic and understand what an individual is going through.
So, if they choose to do a one-on-one counselling or one-on-one coaching, they’re talking to someone who can really empathize with what they’re going through, and they walk away feeling better about a company that helps them feel better. We all feel better when we know we are valued. And by providing a service like that, you’re telling your employees or members of your organization that, “Hey, we care about you. Here’s something we can offer that’s here for you to help you.”
So, I think the more we can give any employee or any member of an organization, or anybody – any individual – to help them feel better, the better we all do.
Ben: Great. That was a great segue into the next one. So, we kind of learned a little bit more about these coaches, so as a KOFE partner, speaking with the coaches is always unlimited and free. You know, sometimes people feel limited. There’s a one-hour conversation with a financial planner or financial advisor, but not in this case. We want them to reach out to coaches. We want them to get the information that they need. We also include a toll-free number that is dedicated to the organization. Whatever company or organization you have, it’s going to have a unique toll-free number for you to promote, and that’s just another area for us to track the engagement, track the usage of this kind of thing.
Essentially like we talked about earlier, like Jeff had mentioned earlier, they provide actionable financial advice, things that you can put into action right now. It’s not like, “Let’s talk about it in five years, or 25 years” – that sort of thing. We’ve already talked about these things. It directly improves productivity. A focused employee is a better employee, and often a safer employee. Reducing that financial stress is also going to help with other areas, like absenteeism.
The KOFE coaching sounds like another great benefit to offer. Like you said, it’s also someone who is sympathetic but also knowledgeable. You know, basic budgeting, credit reporting – “How long is this going to be on my credit report? I made a mistake on my cell phone bill five years ago – when’s that going to get cleaned up?” – that sort of thing. They can talk about all sorts of different things.
I have a question for Jeff. Before we get into the analytical side of it, I’m just wondering, you’re kind of the big data guy here. Why don’t you go over a minute, and we’ll just cover these reports we provide. The detailed reports on the aggregate website data, what users are doing. I guess my question is, how can this be leveraged by employers or program managers at organizations?
Jeff: Thanks Ben. I think, seeing is believing, and KOFE was set up to do that. KOFE was set up to be measurable. And in so many ways, if we can track it, we can measure it. And if we can measure it, we can learn the impact that it has in so many different aspects of our employees’ lives and the way we run our organizations. I think you alluded to it earlier: productivity can be impacted, absenteeism, areas of interest on behalf of your employees, problem areas when certain people are inquiring about a certain aspect on the website – that’s the potential that there might be a problem or concern in that area. And then, potentially we can even prevent, or better yet, preempt these concerns and issues by pushing content out there.
Here’s a perfect example: If we sense that our employees are struggling come January or February when their credit card statements come in, and we know that’s an issue, then perhaps in October or November, or even as early as February or March when the holidays have ended, we can provide resources and tools that will help people plan their year so that they don’t have to take on any additional debt and got it covered in cash by the time that the holidays roll around. Who knows, we could potentially, based on who the users are, we could even link other methods to cost savings throughout the year. So, if this is of interest and you’re going to be doing something like that over the holidays, maybe there’s some cost savings or even vacation planning, and it could be deals that are coming across because that’s of interest to them.
We can gain so much information from what people are visiting, what they’re doing, what their reaction is, how they’ve scored in certain areas. So, this is one way our partners can gain a better insight into what’s interesting for their employees and where their concerns are.
Which kind of leads to the next thing we’re seeing, and we’ve had some tremendous feedback from our partners already. Employees are always looking for new, and different, and innovative ways to engage their employees, and KOFE can be a tremendous testing ground for these ideas. If we want to throw something out there and see how people react and how employees react, we can gauge that and we can often do it through the reporting mechanism. on KOFE. I’m thinking, this is an excellent opportunity that comes in a box for these employers. It’s like, “Yeah, I can get all this information and I really just have to have somebody log in,” and then take it from there
Ben: It’s like a plug-and-play option.
Ben: So, how does somebody access KOFE? That’s another big question that we have. But registration is easy. Like I said earlier, if you can register for an email address, that’s essentially the computer literacy level that you’re going to need. You head over to the KOFEtime.com website, you can register as a new user, and then you’re ready to start entering the credit dojo, watch a video, basically start planning, start setting a smart financial goal something that’s relevant, timely. You can also be ready when life happens. Whether you need to speak to a live coach, watch a video, download a booklet or something like that, it’s all there. It really is as simple as a few clicks of a mouse.
So, a couple of questions that we have that we get quite regularly. The first one I have is, “Is there a cost for KOFE?” I think I can handle that one. Yes, we do have a cost. It’s priced on an annual subscription basis of $1 per user. But we’re always willing to discuss pricing. You know, if that price is going to be a barrier for an organization, we understand that not every potential partner out there has the budget of a big bank or a corporation. So, we can certainly discuss slimming the site down or maybe drilling down just a little bit more on what they’re looking for in KOFE and we can price accordingly.
Jeff: Ben, if you’re insinuating that I’m long-winded, then yeah, I’m a little long-winded. Nonetheless, truth be told, at Consolidated Credit, we take everyone’s personal information very very seriously. We take care of it very seriously. They’re going to entrust us, so they need to know that this information is not shared nor sold based on them just registering. It’s kept behind layers and layers of security. We do that because we want to make sure that we’ve been entrusted with this, and they can feel comfortable that their information is safe.
I mean, often I’ve been on a site, and a few hours later I’m getting a whole series of different emails after I’ve been on that one site. And I know where someone’s passed along my information somewhere else. Rest assured that that’s not actually happening when you log into a Consolidated Credit site. I want them to feel very comfortable in moving this forward and making this part of their wellness and/or their HR plan.
Ben: Another question that we get, and this one sounds tailor-made for Lori: “Why isn’t basic personal finance taught in schools, or taught more in schools?” I remember, I think I was in high school, and the Workplace Level math credit offered a small little couple of units on budgeting financing, loans, leasing, but that was about it. So, what age should we begin these topics? When should we introduce financial education? Should it be taught in schools? Those are things that I hear quite regularly.
Lori: Sure. I think what I’m starting to see is more and more need for financial education to be taught in schools and whether you can graduate from high school without some sort of financial literacy course, or they start teaching it all the way along the spectrum. I think that stakeholders are understanding the importance of this. I know a few years back in Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada met with consultants, and they implemented a national strategy. So, the need is known, and I think more and more organizations – whether they’re banks, governmental organizations, schools – I think more and more people are realizing the importance, and the need to implement. And something like KOFE just highlights just how important this really is, and the need for even employees and organizations to bring this to their membership and their employees, because it is something important. And then you can learn if it worked, you can take it home to your family. The way you can spread this knowledge is neverending.
Ben: Jeff, any thoughts on personal finance in schools, basic budgeting classes or anything like that, or incorporating it at a younger age?
Jeff: I think we’re headed there. We’re not there completely yet. I know there’s been legislation and movements towards this, and still, in Canada, it’s too bad, but it’s a bit piecemeal, and some people are doing it on an individual basis. But I think we’re heading in the right direction. But if I had one personal bias, I’d say it’s moving too slowly.
Ben: And, not to mention teachers aren’t perfect either. Some teachers could use KOFE themselves.
Lori: That’s something else that’s really important to understand is, as uncomfortable individuals that we might be talking about finances, we need to get teachers comfortable with teaching it because they’re not going to teach something they’re not comfortable teaching or speaking about. So, maybe we do need to do a better job with educating the educators.
Ben: I know. We always hear about class sizes: they’re increasing, school budgets are shrinking, they’re losing jobs. So, yeah, maybe they’re not comfortable themselves. So, that could certainly be a big piece of it there.
So, I think that’s pretty much everything today. We covered most of the topics I wanted to take care of. If your organization is interested in a KOFE partnership, go ahead and contact me. I’d be happy to talk more about it. I hope you enjoyed the webinar and feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about KOFE. Again thanks to Jeff and Lori for taking the time out of their day to speak with us. We had some great insight there. Thanks a lot guys.