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October 09 2013

Staying the Financial Education Course is Key to Expanding Financial Well-being

 
Georgia and North Florida Division Chairman, President and CEO of SunTrust Bank
and HOPE Board Member Emeritus Jenner Wood shares thoughts around upcoming Summit

Next month, Atlanta will host attendees of Operation HOPE’s Global Financial Dignity Summit. Because of SunTrust’s commitment to furthering financial well-being and financial education initiatives, we welcome this event as an opportunity to celebrate the year’s achievements, exchange ideas with thought leaders from around the world and reconnect with our HOPE partners. But, we also see it as a call to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead.
 
I believe that our state experiences the typical obstacles that exist nationwide and even globally when it comes to expanding financial education. While we’ve made significant strides in advancing the cause of financial well-being through programs like the HOPE Financial Dignity Center that opened here in Atlanta last year, more needs to be done.
 
In Georgia, for example, 59 percent of individuals lack a rainy day fund to cover expenses for three months; 19 percent of households spent more than their income over the past year; and 38 percent of those with credit cards paid only the minimum during some months in the last year. These are just a few findings from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) 2013 state-by-state financial capability survey. These statistics need to improve substantially before we can claim real progress here in Georgia.
 
At SunTrust, we view our purpose as lighting the way to financial well-being for our clients, neighbors and communities, helping them to make wise financial decisions and prosper in today’s economy. We believe in financial education, which is why we devote a significant portion of our corporate giving toward initiatives that advance this cause.
 
The 2013 FINRA study is a sobering reminder that many people have yet to achieve important basics necessary for financial well-being and that we are still in the proverbial first quarter of this important endeavor. Reversing decades of complacency about financial education in Georgia and elsewhere will take time and perseverance.
 
The old assumption that poor money management today is easily solved by a better economy tomorrow is no longer tenable – or responsible. As the HOPE Summit convenes, we challenge participants to continue their efforts to extend economic access and equality. While the economic recovery is bringing back jobs and more dependable incomes, the momentum building around the need for financial education is not guaranteed if we let up now.
 
Jenner Wood is the Georgia and North Florida Division Chairman, President and CEO of SunTrust Bank and member Operation HOPE Emeritus Board of Directors