Young Japanese turn to financial education to prepare for future of uncertain pensions

JIJI

Education programs to help people make financial plans for their future are spreading as young Japanese face a bleak horizon of uncertain pension benefits.

Their worries are well-founded, given the aging population and low birthrate.

Japanese are often regarded as being reluctant about making investments, with cash and deposits accounting for more than half of about ¥1.8 quadrillion in financial assets held by households in Japan, according to the Financial Services Agency.

Meanwhile, the share of stocks and investment trusts, including those indirectly owned through insurance and pension programs, is only around 19 percent.

In the United States, where many people engage in asset-building activities, households have some 46 percent of financial assets in stocks and investment trusts.

“There is an unfavorable image about investing,” which is often considered identical to speculation in Japan, according to Hiroshi Nodomi, the senior general manager for financial literacy and education support at the Japan Securities Dealers Association.

But stock prices have maintained an upward trend in recent years, creating an environment that encourages a shift in popular interest from deposits and savings to investment.

A 2016 survey conducted by the Central Council for Financial Services Information, which is affiliated with the government and the Bank of Japan, found that 62.4 percent of people aged 18 and older believe it necessary to conduct financial literacy education at schools, while 12.9 percent said there is no such need.

The FSA is also promoting “long-term tsumitate (accumulation) and diversified investment,” an official said.

For example, the Tsumitate Nippon Individual Savings Account (NISA), a tax-exempt scheme for investment by individuals that was introduced in January, is designed for modest investing in financial instruments.

Amid the increasing awareness, Kyorin University in 2016 started teaching financial literacy — skills and knowledge allowing an individual to make effective decisions on financial resources — as a required course for first-year students in the social science department.

“I receive many after-class questions, suggesting that many students consider asset management a matter that concerns them,” said Nobuyuki Oda, a professor who, with two other teachers, holds about 30 classes per year on insurance, pensions, stocks and other financial issues.

During the first day in the class on financial education at Kyorin University, students are asked what kind of life they want to live. Students often recognize a wide gap between their envisioned lives and reality after they learn about lifetime income and other specific data, and become willing to acquire financial literacy, Oda said.

The university’s one-year financial education program is designed to give students knowledge required for the third, or lowest, grade of “certified skilled financial planning professional” credentials, a form of certification issued by the government.

Financial education should start in high school because it teaches “pension and other matters linked to our lives,” said Ayana Mineshima, who took the course at Kyorin University.

Under the government’s new curriculum guidelines for high school studies, financial education will be “considerably upgraded,” according to an official in the education ministry.

Expectations are increasing that the financial literacy of young people in Japan will improve in the coming years.