How do you build a fin-lit program teens use? You ask them to help.

May 17, 2023 Chelsey Sleator
Building a financial literacy program teens liked required listening to what they want.

When students learn personal finance in high school, they’re typically able to quickly use this knowledge in the real world1, setting them on a path to financial security. But far too many young people reach adulthood without the financial literacy needed to succeed, which is why Schwab developed Moneywise America™—a financial literacy program that trains Schwab employees to teach money lessons in the context of the real world to teens.

But how did they build a financial literacy program teens would actually like? Well, they asked them to help design it.

Meet the Youth Advisory Board

From the onset, Schwab brought in a small group of teens who helped inform all parts of the program, including the look and feel of the branding, and even the name. But Jennifer Hammond, senior program manager for Moneywise America, explains that they wanted to keep the conversation going. “We wanted to ensure that we stayed close to the teen mindset, and to continue learning about the evolving way young people think about money to keep authenticity in the program.”

So, Jennifer developed the Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of 11 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, located across the country who meet virtually once a month throughout the school year. The goal was two-fold: 1. Continue to learn about how teens think about money to inform Schwab’s financial literacy programs, and 2. Continue to educate teens about financial literacy topics that align with their interests.

Right off the bat the teens shared important insights. First and foremost, trust is paramount. They need context on who they’re talking to—what’s their role, and why are they here? They also need to be able to relate. They want to hear about the personal experiences of the adult volunteers, including how they overcame money obstacles themselves. And finally, they indicated that it’s important to reach them where they are. They’re already using YouTube and Tik Tok and following financial influencers within these channels to learn about money.

And even when the goal was to educate the teens about topics that matter to them, there were telling insights from the way they reacted to the content and the kinds of questions they asked.

For their last meeting of the year, the YAB learned about non-profits and the role grants play in their organizations. It was a small but engaged group, and they had lots of questions. They were curious about the overlap between non-profit organizations and for-profit companies like TOMS, which gives a portion of their profit back to a social impact cause. Jazera, a 14-year-old board member based in Florida, specifically had questions about the tax implications of a business of this type because she explained that she has a goal of starting her own business this year.

Ardash, a 15-year-old board member based in the Dallas area, explained that he’s also currently trying to file for a non-profit, so he found it helpful to learn more about how grants can help him achieve his goal.

At the end of the lesson, Jennifer informed the group that they’d be able to use what they’d just learned to help select which non-profits would receive a total of $10,000 in financial literacy grants from Charles Schwab Foundation.

It’s amazing what teens can do when someone has their back

After all their questions were answered, there was time for the YAB to reflect on their experience on the board. “My favorite part was learning about investing,” explains Olu, a 16-year-old board member based in Orlando. “One of my upcoming goals is to have a section on my social media page about finances and stocks, using some of the information I’ve learned here.”

Ardash said he hopes to use what he’s learned to help him land a summer internship in a private equity or investing firm so he can learn more about the financial services industry and how to apply it to the real world.

And while the students all chimed in that they’d learned so much, Jennifer insists she always learns more from them. “It’s a lot of little things that are important to them,” explains Jennifer. “Things I never even would have thought of. They just come back with such amazing ideas and have so many questions, and they are all striving to do such amazing things.”

With another year wrapping up, the future of the Youth Advisory Board is on Jennifer’s mind. “Hearing directly from teens has been so valuable to the success of our program,” explains Jennifer. “Schwab’s guiding principle is to view the world through clients’ eyes. And the teens of today will be the investors of tomorrow, so we need to continue to understand where they’re coming from so that we can meet their needs now and in the future.”