Recently, and coinciding with Financial Education Day on 4 October, I had the opportunity to share with people from different fields and backgrounds some reflections on the importance of financial literacy for our population. I was surprised that, in some cases, people I spoke to felt that the issue was of little relevance, or that it responded more to a particular interest of the banking sector than to a pressing national need.

However, the reality is that, over the past few years, financial supervisors in our neighbouring countries have been insisting on the need to decisively promote financial literacy among citizens, as it is a fundamental skill that enables people to manage their finances in a responsible and informed manner. Ultimately, to promote healthy financial practices, that is, those that enable people to cope with adverse economic situations. These include proper retirement planning, maintaining low levels of indebtedness or holding adequate savings products. Ultimately, this leads to greater economic peace of mind for citizens and, at the same time, to greater stability in the financial system.

It is also a fact that the rapid digital transformation of our societies is facilitating, as never before, citizens' access to financial markets. Today it is virtually possible to invest in any asset, anywhere in the world and in any currency, at the click of a button. This affects, in particular but not exclusively, young people, who, given their familiarity with new technologies, are becoming, from one day to the next, particularly active digital investors (in Spain, for example, the percentage of young people investing in cryptocurrencies has already reached 12%). Lacking the necessary financial literacy skills, these financial youngsters often take excessive risks or fall easy prey to financial fraud. Undoubtedly, in these cases, adequate financial education is more than desirable as it is an effective antidote to the omnipresent 'infoxication', the proliferation of intermediaries or low-cost gurus, the false glitter of cryptocurrencies or the impulsivity encouraged by digital trading.

In our country, the promotion of financial literacy is also particularly relevant because, according to the latest Financial Skills Survey conducted by the Bank of Spain, the financial literacy of Spaniards is deficient. This applies especially to young and older people, although there is also a gender bias as women in general possess fewer financial skills than men.

On a national level, our business reality cannot be ignored when we consider the importance of financial education: 99.8% of our companies are SMEs and of these, 94% are micro-SMEs with less than 10 employees. Undoubtedly, providing these entrepreneurs with financial tools and knowledge is both necessary and urgent because it contributes to strengthening the health of our productive fabric and making it more resilient in the face of economic adversity.

In this regard, it is not surprising that a situation as adverse as the pandemic has highlighted the importance of financial education, given the direct impact that Covid-19 has had on the finances of businesses and households. In fact, according to Intrum's European Consumer Payment Report, 4 out of 10 Spaniards have admitted after the pandemic that they need to improve their financial skills.

From this perspective, the financial education initiatives implemented by CECA's member entities have acquired special relevance during the pandemic, and in particular the Funcas Educa Programme. This programme, which forms part of the 'Finance for All' initiative of the Bank of Spain and the CNMV, helps to finance a significant part of the financial education activities undertaken by CECA's member entities. Since its creation in 2018, it has mobilised an investment of €12.35 million.

In 2020 the programme has faced two challenges: continue with educational projects despite the restrictions on mobility and assist the groups hardest hit by the crisis. In this difficult situation, digitalisation has played a key role in ensuring access to education. Thus, 86% of the budget has been redirected to digital actions, facilitating the implementation of more than 4,000 activities and reaching 99% of the beneficiaries.

The pandemic has also made it necessary to prioritise issues in order to support those groups most affected by the crisis. Therefore, initiatives targeting entrepreneurs, retailers, professionals, self-employed workers, businesses and micro-enterprises have grown in importance. They have accounted for 30% of the investment, more than 35% of the beneficiaries and lead the ranking of activities. Furthermore, actions focused on savings, spending and budgeting have been particularly important due to the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on household economies.

Finally, in terms of target groups, more than half of the investment has been earmarked for specific groups, namely those with special needs or at risk of social exclusion, with a total of 12.8 million beneficiaries.

Undoubtedly, initiatives such as the Funcas Educa Programme and those implemented by banks are making a significant contribution to fostering financial literacy among our population. Not surprisingly, as recognised by the Bank of Spain and the CNMV in its Financial Education Plan 2018-2022, financial institutions represent the type of entity that undertakes the largest number of financial education initiatives.

However, and despite the emphasis that the banking sector has placed on this issue, raising the understanding of the financial reality in our country is perhaps more necessary today than ever before. The digitalisation of finance, the low returns on savings products conditioned by unusually low interest rates, the financial fragility of young people given the precariousness of employment, globalised economic turbulence, and the fragmentation of our productive fabric are just some of the factors that make it necessary to reflect deeply on the need to join forces to draw up a coordinated, ambitious and effective roadmap.