What have I gotta do to make you teach me?
What have I gotta do to make you care?
What do I do when bad debt strikes me?
And I wake up and find that you’re not there

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s gettin’ more and more absurd

It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Ohh, it seems to me
That money seems to be the hardest word

(Modified from the original version of ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ by Elton John)

Elton John might not appreciate the parody but this is what teenagers everywhere should be belting out to their parents, their schools and their governments.

Because nobody is teaching them to make smart money decisions. And just like the hapless generation X, Y and millennials before them, they are destined to struggle with this critical and impending aspect of adulthood.

It’s sad, and it really is absurd that we’ve allowed this to go on for so long.

Yes, I’m sure we all have our favorite fallback excuses, mainly revolving around a lack of time, resources and money (ironic much?)

We’ve made space travel a reality, we have self-driving cars and we’ve split the atom — but somehow we can’t seem to adequately educate the younger generation on what we know is a critical life skill.

We’ve designed ingenious algorithms that can out think humans, we’ve unleashed the full potential of genetic engineering by decoding our DNA, we’ve even found the ‘God Particle’ — but teaching youngsters how to be smart with money seems to be the hardest thing, judging from our very lack luster performance in this field.

Yet I wonder, how much longer we can afford to stick our heads in the sand before this entire situation becomes untenable?

And by many accounts, it has already reached this level. But still we persevere in willful ignorance, or worse, in fin-lit washing.

It’s a term I coined when I noticed this commonly happens in other sectors too.

Similar to green-washing (misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound), blue-washing (deceptive marketing that overstates a company’s commitment to responsible social practices), or pink washing (the use of superficially sympathetic messages for ends having little or nothing to do with LGBTQ equality or inclusion) — fin-lit washing refers to tokenism or marketing that grossly overstates a company’s intention or ability to financially educate its customers.

I have no doubt that many of these companies mean well, but making such bold claims without a deep understanding what financial education actually means and how best to deliver it effectively, is blatantly disregarding and disrespecting the needs of these teenagers.

And what makes fin-lit washing worse is that it’s particularly hard to identify.

So long as these entities use key terms — like saving, budgeting, investing and of course now, cryptocurrency and NFT’s — sprinkled with generous amounts of ‘gamification’ and being ‘tech-enabled’, it ticks all the proverbial boxes for the non-initiated and unsuspecting masses who aren’t able to single out these sham initiatives.

So now we have Gen Z who aren’t really financially literate but because of this brilliantly executed fin-lit washing, believe they are. That’s a double whammy that many of them will fail to recover from.

It gives them a false sense of confidence and bravado that encourages them to take on risk they don’t fully comprehend, or to engage in speculating when they believe they are investing.

It’s imperative that we stay vigilant for signs of fin-lit washing. Noticing when claims are too good to be true, or are vague and non-specific, verifying information and educating ourselves about what financial literacy truly means is a good start.

The future Gen Z have unfolding before them is confusing, and scary, and complex, much more than it was for the previous generations.

Yes, talking about money is hard but we need to rise to the occasion and take intentional steps to remedy the ridiculous situation most teenagers unfortunately find themselves in.

Or we really will have to say we’re sorry — and given the disastrous fall-out of our actions, that will be so much harder.