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Offenbach, Germany

Fit for Finance

Kreis Offenbach, Fachdienst Integrationsbüro

September 25, 2013

Promoting financial literacy and labour market success via intercultural mediators

With research reporting that the average German was less financially-savvy than the country’s robust economy might suggest, local authorities in Offenbach seized a unique opportunity to host an innovative financial literacy project called (f)in-fit – Fit for Finance.

 Aimed at an often neglected population, the Offenbach project recruited and trained motivated Germans with migrant backgrounds as intercultural mediators who could help educate and guide others in the community on financial matters and improve their chances on the labour market.

Finding the right fit

Located in Germany’s industrial heartland, Offenbach is one of the most diverse cities in the country (30% with migrant background), and growing. Germany’s well-maintained socio-economic data provides ample evidence that immigrants and Germans with migrant background are often over-represented in the low income or low education groups most vulnerable to financial exclusion. According to Evers & Jung, a Hamburg-based research company, Germans with a migrant background are more likely to be “unbanked,” or less likely to make use of financial services, including the use of cash cards, online banking and term deposits.

In 2006, city leaders in Offenbach embraced (f)in-fit knowing the region’s future prosperity could ill afford the social and economic cost of leaving this group behind. With the support of city council, the (f)in-fit financial education project was launched as a pilot in the Offenbach region led by Evers & Jung, with funding from the Levi Strauss Foundation (San Francisco). Because many financial literacy projects fail to reach the groups most vulnerable to financial exclusion, Evers & Jung wisely reached out to community-based Ethno-Medizinische Zentrum e.V. (EMZ) in Hanover for help replicating its award-winning MiMi (“With Migrants for Migrants”) concept, which was originally developed to promote prevention and education in healthcare using a mediator approach. The (f)in-fit pilot adapted the MiMi model, aiming to build a financial literacy campaign based on training members of the target community as mediators who could provide knowledgeable guidance and advice on banking, access to credit and related financial products and services.

Importantly, (f)in-fit’s community-based mediators were able to provide information in the client’s first language, often a significant barrier to accessing mainstream financial services. Sharing a common ethnocultural background also meant that the financial mediators possessed the intercultural competencies that help establish trust and comfortable, open communication.

In Offenach, the (f)in-fit pilot was tailored to the specific needs of the Russian and Turkish community, the largest groups within the city’s migrant community. Says Ahmet Kansiz, a mediator in the (f)in-fit project: “We know where we can reach our countrymen best, we speak their language and we are aware of their cultural background. The chance that we can motivate them to take part in a community group session is therefore very high.”

The (f)in-fit mediators received 50 hours of training delivered by high skilled financial professionals from the partner region. A financial literacy curriculum covered topics ranging from banking, saving and credit to insurance and pensions. Trainees received a specially-developed handbook on private finance for migrants (PDF), which was also available in Turkish and Russian.

Beyond the training of intercultural financial mediators, the (f)in-fit project aimed to reach a target audience of young migrants within a community-based environment and to develop instruments for measuring community outcomes. Critical to the program’s success was not only the involvement of regional financial service providers, businesses and banks, but also increased awareness within this group of new and emerging needs for financial education and services within the community.

Success

While the (f)in-fit project failed to realize its goal to spearhead a county-wide, broad-based multilingual franchise, Offenbach’s vision of a financial literacy campaign using cultural mediators for a “multiplier” effect remains a compelling model that merits further study.

The evaluation of the pilot program’s mediator training sessions gave strong evidence that the motivation of the participants was very high. All 17 of the mediators trained were very proud to be part of this project and felt that the project had strongly contributed to their personal development.

“I feel a strong will in me to share what I learnt about finance with others. In my daily life I experience that many friends of mine don’t know much about financial matters and keep on making expensive mistakes,” says Ahment Kansiz. It is important that something is done about that.”

The (f)in-fit project was recognized as a best practice in financial literacy coaching in the 2007 Survey of Financial Literacy Schemes In The Eu 27.

Making it Work for You:

  • Intercultural mediators selected from the target service group or population will have the linguistic and cultural competencies needed to get the message out clearly and effectively
  • Migrants are experts in their own communities. Look for opportunities to engage them in the planning stages of your project implementation.
  • Increase the impact of your project or campaign by partnering with organizations that have strong connections to the diverse cultural and linguistic groups in your community.

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