N26 x Vitamin—why financial literacy is so important
We talked to Vitamin founder Andrea Fernandez about financial education and why it should be a fixed feature in any school curriculum.
8 min read
Financial literacy and education are the two most important building blocks for becoming financially independent later on in life. That’s why we wanted to learn about how finances are taught in German schools and the important role that parents and caretakers play. In this interview, we talk to Andrea Fernandez, founder of fintech startup Vitamin, about the state of financial education in the German school system. Plus, we get her advice for how parents can help their children build financial literacy and why it’s so important to continue learning about finance—even as an adult.
In your opinion, what is the state of financial education in Germany?
Well, there’s a long way to go, but compared to other countries, we’re doing pretty well. In 2022, the OECD collected data from 26 countries, including Germany. With 13.9 of 21 possible points, Germany scored slightly above the average (12.7) of all countries surveyed. At the same time, it’s pretty clear that there is still a need for further action. 51% of Germans have had zero financial education. And this is particularly the case for women.
At the same time, every tenth person in Germany is in debt. And with our low state pensions, many people won’t have enough funds when they enter old age. Better financial education stands to be a real game-changer here, because it has been proven to have a strong and positive influence on financial behavior, even if we’re just talking about courses on financial literacy. There’s an urgent need to get more educational offers out there for people, ideally when they’re as young as possible.
Is financial education well integrated into our school system, or do kids tend to learn money management too late? What’s your personal take? Here, I also want to reference the studies happening right now. According to these, only 15% of school-age Germans are learning about finances. There’s still no nation-wide curriculum on this topic—in my opinion, there's really no strategy for how to integrate financial education into the curriculum. According to a study by the Banking Society (Bankenverband), over three-quarters of teenagers would like to learn more about economics than they are now.
I can’t overstate the importance here. People who learn about finances at a young age are more confident in making financial decisions later on, and therefore can provide for themselves and foster greater financial security.
Right now, everyday topics such as retirement or taxes should, in my opinion, be covered in schools. I’m convinced that this approach would also make the subject of money more transparent in society overall and that difficult situations such as personal debt would come up less frequently.
Do you think parents talk to their daughters as much as their sons about money?
Unfortunately, there’s still a widespread opinion that girls aren’t as good with money—and numbers in general—as boys. That’s probably also the reason why only 20% of parents talk with their daughters about money. Additionally, girls are also less likely to be offered high-yield investment options. We see this in our consulting and coaching sessions. Women tell us that they’re offered more conservative investment options that are considered “less risky.”
It’s incredibly important that we combat prejudice and inane assumptions. If we don’t, it will take us decades to close the gender pay gap, pension gap, and wealth gap.
In your opinion, how does the way we learn about money when we’re children affect our financial behavior as adults?
What we learn as children when it comes to money—or what we don’t learn—certainly has an effect on how we deal with our finances as adults. This goes all the way from limiting statements like “Money exists to be spent” to “You’re gambling your money away on the stock market—better put it in a savings account instead!” Nearly half of adults in Germany still ask their parents for help with their own finances. And when your parents already own stock shares, for example, then there’s a higher probability that those children will own stocks later on.
We tell all our clients that every good investment strategy begins with your own relationship to money—not only in terms of education, but also in terms of the emotions associated with finance. And that’s why we advise parents to talk to their children about money as early as possible.
How can parents teach their children to manage their money well?
Everything from talking openly about money to giving them some responsibility is key to success. For example, my father taught me the basics of personal finance management. I had the opportunity to observe how he managed his money from an early age, including how he documented his income and expenses. He also actively saved and invested in real estate, which we talked openly about at home.
I’ve taken the same approach with my kids. My sons get five euros per week: one euro each ends up in one of five glasses for specific goals, such as birthday gifts, daily expenses, sweets, or small toys. Among these are two savings jars for the future. Everything that ends up in the jar for “long-term saving” may not be spent, but should later end up in a separate savings account or invested. The fifth, for education, is intended to ensure that they can finance things that further their education, such as books that interest them. My goal is that they learn early how to manage their money. I believe this is the basis for them being able to take care of themselves financially in the long term.
In your opinion, will someone ever really be “financially educated,” or do we need to continue to work on this as adults?
As time goes on, we will all be confronted with situations where things don’t go according to plan. In these moments, it’s important to think about what’s at stake financially and be able to react. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to study the stock market every day or to read finance publications every month. But taking time to deal with your own financial situation, understanding your personal goals, and ensuring you’re on the right path to achieving them—in my opinion, it’s an ongoing process.
A lot has happened in the finance industry over the last few years that makes it possible for people to invest their own money. Informing yourself about these opportunities and being able to form an opinion about different topics is really important.
What can challenger banks do to help educate women in financial literacy?
For us, the most important point at the moment is having a real understanding of clients and their needs, as well as their concerns and challenges. Then, we need to take all this into account when we create educational offers. This is the only way we can create learning opportunities that offer added value and support women on their own path. Using the correct language and even choice of words is important here. Of course it’s important that we convey basic knowledge and the appropriate vocabulary, but if we use the same jargon as traditional financial institutions, we’re not meeting our target group where they are. Every woman learns differently, which is why a variety of learning formats are so important.
One point that’s super important for me is the combination of learning and putting those learnings into action. In my personal experience, some women need a bit longer to get going. That’s why we need to make sure our educational offers not only include concrete recommendations for action but also opportunities to put them into action. The more strongly and quickly they get a sense of how it feels to be in charge of their own finances, the more empowered they’ll become to make even more financial decisions.
Finance expert and founder Andrea Fernandez was born in Costa Rica and lived in a variety of countries in Latin America. She studied finance and entrepreneurship in the U.S. at the renowned Wharton School. After her MBA at Harvard Business School, she built a successful career on Wall Street with several management positions, including at Allianz Global Investors and LIQID, a leading fintech startup in Berlin.
Fernandez’s passion for finance goes all the way back to her childhood. She got her first savings account in elementary school, and by the age of nine, she was going to the bank to pay family expenses. At 22, she began investing herself.
Then, in 2019, to help other women reach their financial goals, as well as be able to manage and grow their money, Andrea became a self-employed finance and investing coach. Finally, inspired by the desire to become financially independent, the mother of two founded Vitamin in 2021 with co-founder Aryyom Chelbayev. Vitamin is based in Berlin and was created so that every woman could have the know-how and the saving and investment tools to make their financial dreams a reality.
Disclaimer: Shares, ETFs and funds referred to in the article are always subject to risks. Information provided in the article does not constitute any form of investment advice or recommendation to buy or sell securities or other financial instruments. All information provided is for educational and illustrative purposes only and represents exclusively the opinion of the author. None of this information constitutes a recommendation for a particular investment strategy. No liability can be assumed for its correctness. Should the readers adopt the offered contents as their own, make use of any information or follow any opinion referred to in the article, they act at their own risk.
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