Having a diploma can provide a foundation for a successful career, but the addition of a strong financial education can truly be life-changing. Ketvi Roopnarain is a passionate advocate for financial literacy, and she works to promote this important skill through her initiative “Anou Koz Kas.” In this interview with Investor’s Mag, she highlights the alarming lack of financial literacy among Mauritians and discusses her projects aimed at improving financial education in the country.
Ketvi, what would you say is more important, education or financial literacy?
According to the UN, quality education is “the knowledge and skills people need to stay healthy, get jobs and foster tolerance.” The OECD’ defines financial literacy as “a combination of awareness, knowledge, skill, attitude and behaviour necessary to make sound financial decisions and ultimately achieve individual financial wellbeing.”
It is not one without the other, and rather, it is one supplemented by the other. A basic level of literacy and numeracy skills are a critical foundation to thrive in our society. Whilst education is a major pathway to economic empowerment and poverty alleviation, it is financial literacy that can have the biggest impact on our quality of life.
For example, a ‘marsan dalpuri’ or street hawker may have limited years of schooling and still be a thriving entrepreneur in their own right, working the hours they choose. They may have a better quality of life than an overstretched CEO, an employee at the mercy of the board or shareholders with no time to look after their health or enjoy life with their families.
In Mauritius, there is a big gap between our 93% literacy rate, one of the highest in Africa, versus only one in three people deemed financially literate. In school, we learn about the Pythagoras’ Theorem, but nobody teaches our kids about debt, investing, taxes or managing a budget.
The more digital and connected our society becomes, the easier it is, for example to fall prey to money scams, and therefore the greater the need for financial education at all ages. It is simple – a financially literate population is good for society and great for business.
What is your take on the current state of financial literacy in Mauritius?
Mauritius has a financial literacy rate of only 39 % compared to the countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden with the highest financial literacy rate at 71%. These countries all introduce money conversation in schools from a young age.
Here’s a few stats to put things into context about why Mauritius needs a financial literacy uplift:
- 1 in 3 adults held a credit card amounting over Rs 3 billion in debt in 2019.
- The state’s revenue in 2020 related to gambling activities was around Rs 2 billion, indicating how much our population indulges in (problem) gambling.
- 1 in 4 women faces gender-based violence, according to a recent UNDP report. Femicides rose five-fold during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Survivors of domestic violence often cite a lack of financial independence as a factor for living with the perpetrator.
- 10% of the population lives below the poverty line. 2020 World Bank data indicates that 28% of Mauritians endure severe to moderate food insecurity, and many of these children. Lack of financial resources is linked to child abandonment and child exploitation.
- There have been a number of ponzi schemes, such as the (alleged) Bramer saga and more recently crypto scams and increasing numbers of pyramid MLM schemes.
In short, we have a long way to go as a society. No single person can solve all problems at once. However, financial literacy is a good place to start.
Tell us about Anou Koz Kas, your venture in financial education.
Anou Koz Kas is my personal take on “teaching a person to fish so they can eat every day”. Our humble beginnings started with a money column with easy-to-follow tips in Le Mauricien in 2022, to running workshops in collaboration with Mauritius Africa Fintech Hub and others. In 2023, we’re launching the much anticipated Anou Koz Kas Bootcamp.
The ‘declic’ for Anou Koz Kas happened during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost every conversation around me was filled with the challenges that people were facing : redundancy, loss of income, disconnected spouses, cost of living pressures, the addiction epidemic– alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, teenagers with depression and child poverty.
In Mauritius, there is a big gap between our 93% literacy rate, one of the highest in Africa, versus only one in three people deemed financially literate…
Ketvi Roopnarain | Finance Professional and Columnist
People were hurting, not necessarily because of the lockdown, but problems felt more acute due to a lack of money, incidentally linked to low financial literacy. We know that crime rates and social unrest increase when people feel the squeeze in their wallets. Money isn’t the root of all evil. It is a lack of money, that is.
I’d been actively helping in the community with food drives and other initiatives, but for the first time, it sunk in that whilst, for example, volunteering at a food bank is great, it doesn’t solve the underlying issue of food poverty and many other issues. Lack of financial literacy coupled with an inadequate social safety net that can be a major driver keeping people stuck in the poverty cycle.
One of my key learnings from working in fintech is that the key to success is to fail fast and fail early. Even Michael Jordan says ‘’I’ve failed over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed.’’
There’s no 100% set-and-forget plan of how Anou Koz Kas might evolve next. In the near future, the intention is to work with the relevant financial bodies and regulatory institutions to collaborate in making money simple for all.
Getting students to visit the Bank of Mauritius museum during Global Money Week is good for engagement, but what would be revolutionary is mandating financial literacy within the school curriculum!
In 2021, Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand’s Acuity magazine featured you amongst their global Top 20 CA under 35. It’s always fantastic to see Mauritians doing great things around the world. How did this come about?
Whilst working as a consultant in London in 2020, one of my clients, a fellow Antipodean expat, casually said : “You’ve had such an interesting career so early; you should be on that list next year”. In Australia, we talk about the tall poppy syndrome, so I was slightly reluctant, but he convinced me to give it a go. At the very least, sharing my story might inspire girls who look like me.
Leveraging typical middle child traits, I learned, very early on, to navigate life with my wiser sister and smarter brother to be a good mediator and negotiator. This has served me well throughout my career pivots working in Mauritius, the UK and Australia. Going from being an ethnic majority in Mauritius to overnight being a ‘person of colour’ working in predominantly male-dominated Anglo-saxon environments, I also appreciate the power of using my voice, sometimes on behalf of others, to speak up on things that deserve to be said.
I like to believe every chapter counts (towards making that list!) – from the time I came last in my first ever accounting assessment in high school leading to being published in the British Accounting Review, working on Australia’s Royal Commission into misconduct in financial services, to my varied community engagements like Insuring Women’s Futures and Women in Banking and Finance. Featuring on the 2021 Acuity Future Leaders list, got me reflecting on what might be next. It gave me the impetus for Anou Koz Kas. At some point, my inner dialogue shifted from “Why me?” to “Why not me?”
One of your favourite Maya Angelou quotes is: “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy”. What will your legacy be?
It is one of many quotes I anchor my life to. Like stoicism’s Memento Mori, it is so simple to follow. After all, if we must all die, and since we get to live another day, we might as well live with intention, lead with kindness and equanimity, to leave behind a meaningful legacy.
I have seen first-hand the impact financial literacy can have.
One of my first 1-1 clients was able to set aside enough to leave an abusive relationship and can now provide a safe and thriving environment for their child as a single parent. I have had remarkable outcomes with my work with MoneyGirl, and Deakin University working with people from disadvantaged, refugee and migrant backgrounds. The first person I worked with at a refugee career clinic was recently resettled from Afghanistan. Together, we worked on his CV, did interview practice, and helped him navigate finances in a new land. A year on, he is thriving, with his family, in the new country he now calls home.
Financial literacy matters to everyone. Irrespective of gender or occupation, having enough money, a “f-off or freedom fund” to be able to walk away from a challenging situation, whether it is an abusive employer, a coercive spouse, controlling parents/in-laws or any situation that doesn’t serve us, is the most radical thing a person can do.
With Anou Koz Kas, I dream of a day when every Mauritian is comfortable managing their money and thriving, irrespective of their last name, gender or race, regardless of where they started in life or their educational credentials.
This is what I want my legacy to be.