Maybe this group can make a real difference.
That was my thinking throughout my first meeting as a member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, a newly appointed committee filled with extraordinary and deeply motivated people who gathered one morning this month at the Treasury Department.
My fellow members included national not-for-profit leaders, seasoned corporate executives, dedicated public servants, and brilliant tech and education innovators -- each of them passionate about helping all of the nation's children to learn essential financial lessons that can improve their lives. There was a palpable sense in the room that now is the time to act collectively to figure out smart ways to teach kids about financial matters -- kids of all ages and economic backgrounds.
What's more, there was an incredible roster of star speakers, signaling the administration's sincere commitment to this issue. Joining the meeting were Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama. I was struck by how each of these government luminaries shared a personal story and talked with undeniable conviction about a topic that clearly mattered to them.
Muñoz described the sheer panic that she felt when she realized that she was about to send her daughter off to college without a heart-to-heart talk about personal finance. "I haven't taught you how to balance your checkbook yet!" Muñoz said. Her daughter rolled her eyes and replied that she didn't have a checkbook, but she did have various plastic cards.
Cordray -- a father of 15-year-old twins -- spoke from his gut when he said, "Although it's important for parents to talk to their children about money, many find it difficult or uncomfortable to do so, leaving our young people starved for information."
Secretary Duncan captured the helplessness that some kids feel when he described a recent encounter with a high school student on Chicago's South Side.
"He just asked me straight up, 'How come no one is helping teach me about finances?'" Duncan recalled. "It was just an unbelievably poignant question that I think far too many children around the country today can ask."
Chairman John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, then recalled how his father, one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, would give him stock certificates for Christmas rather than toys to teach him about money.
The Council's Vice Chair is San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros, who created the Kindergarten to College program to give every public school kindergarten student in his city a $50 college savings account, based on research showing that children with college savings accounts in their own name are seven times more likely to attend college than those who don't.
Another Council member, Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts USA, bemoaned the fact that while Girl Scouts earn more than $800 million in one quarter of the year selling cookies, only 12% of these young entrepreneurs feel confident about making money decisions.
The meeting closed with Valerie Jarrett, who described the Obama administration's recent College Opportunity Summit, which inspired commitments from more than 150 college presidents to target disadvantaged young people for their schools, and the new My Brother's Keeper initiative to help boys and young men of color stay on track.
"We all know that part of our objective is to make sure that -- from preschool on -- young people are excited and they're stimulated and they have at their fingertips what they'll need in order to be responsible adults," Jarrett said.
And that, in a nutshell, is our obligation as a Council.
Next week: Two areas I believe are important for the Council to focus on to improve financial capability.
Beth Kobliner is the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, and is currently writing a new book for parents, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not), to be published by Simon & Schuster. She was recently appointed by President Obama to the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.
© 2014 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved