Jane Rooney’s job is to boost Canadians’ savings rate and reduce household debt, a tough job when the trend for the last 20 years has been declining savings and increased debt.

As financial literacy leader at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, she aims to have a national strategy by 2015 to improve financial well-being among Canadians.

But her real task is to make the difficult subject of personal finance engaging, starting with a focus on Canada’s seniors and soon-to-be seniors.

'We’d really like to look for higher use of savings vehicles like the tax-free savings account, TFSAs; we’ll look for increased use of Registered Retirement Savings, RRSPs; and we’ll also look at reduced debt,'- Financial literacy leader Jane Rooney

“The goal is to develop a national strategy on financial literacy for all Canadians in terms of improving their knowledge, their skills, their confidence to make responsible financial decisions,” she said in an interview with CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

Seniors accounted for 14.8 per cent of the Canadian population in 2011, but as the big demographic of the baby boom generation moves into retirement years, that ratio will increase to  23 to 25 per cent of the population by 2036.

Not only will there be more seniors, they’re expected to live longer than previous generations, which makes increasing their financial independence critical for the Canadian economy.

Get ready for retirement

“It’s definitely about helping people prepare for their senior years. Having a pension, having savings in their senior years are so important to live a happy and healthy life,” Rooney said.

She has four goals for seniors:

  • Helping them plan ahead for their senior years.
  • Educating them on managing their money in their senior years.
  • Upgrading knowledge about protecting themselves against fraud.
  • And understanding government benefits.

After consulting with seniors and stakeholder groups, Rooney expects to have a national strategy for improving seniors’ financial literacy by the fall of this year.

“Next we’ll work with priority groups — aboriginal Canadians, newcomers to Canada, low-income tenants and finally we’ll wrap up this fiscal year with youth and adults. By 2015, there will be a national strategy for all Canadians,” she said.

Federal politicians and economists have reproached Canadians for their high household debt and failure to save.

Challenges of personal finance

At the same time, more seniors are going into retirement with debt or ongoing expenses such as college fees still to pay. Job insecurity over the last five years has also left many people feeling poorer.  

Rooney said she is holding stakeholder sessions to ferret out the “unique challenges” faced by Canadians in becoming financially literate.

The government is funding the program with $2 million a year, but Rooney's performance will be benchmarked with a nationwide financial literacy survey, she said.

“We’d really like to look for higher use of savings vehicles like the tax-free savings account, TFSAs; we’ll look for increased use of Registered Retirement Savings, RRSPs; and we’ll also look at reduced debt, so hopefully the efforts of all our programs together will increase savings and reduce the debt levels,” she said.