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Tuesday 21 May 2019
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Business Day Editorial: The value of our money

Everybody should visit the Central Bank’s newly renovated museum. Not just because of its world-class layout and meticulously curated exhibits. But because of the intimate connection it creates among visitors with a commodity that most have become too disillusioned with to consider beyond that fact that they don’t have enough – money.

The museum takes visitors on a whirlwind journey through time, from the pre-Columbian ages to the future where cashless societies could be monitored through microchip implants. In between, it charts the rich history of commerce in TT, from the intricate art of the Amerindians used for bartering, to the award-winning polymer $50-dollar bill. It’s also cleverly designed to teach while entertaining, filled with interactive attractions.

The successful relaunch of the museum, first initiated as the Money Museum in 2004, highlights a couple of things. The first, is that on an intrinsic level, we do not truly understand the value of money. Using money is so routine that we lose an appreciation of the overall structure that governs each transaction, from designing a bill or a coin to its carefully managed release into the money supply. If we don’t really understand the basics of how money is supposed to work, is it a surprise then, that most of us don’t know how to spend it?

The last major financial literacy survey in TT was conducted in 2007 by the Central Bank. Most people (40 per cent) had a medium level of financial literacy, but nearly the same number (36 per cent) has low understanding and only 24 per cent had a high understanding. And in 2018, a Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) survey found that no country in Latin America had an overall financial literacy rate of over 50 per cent. There was no available data for Caricom countries. Also last year, a GFLEC survey on millennials in the US was similarly disturbing, because while most of them are tech-savvy, 44 per cent were able to correctly answer questions about personal finance, compared to 50 per cent of the overall adult population. Older millennials fared better (47 per cent) while younger millennials struggled (41 per cent). At the launch of the Central Bank’s National Financial Education Committee last year, Financial Ombudsman Dominic Stoddard said most of the complaints his office receives every year could have been avoided if people had been properly informed. Forty-four per cent of people in TT had “low financial capability,” he said, and 21 per cent of the population was unbanked. These are startling statistics. If people don’t know how to manage their money, they can default on their debt obligations – something the Great Recession a decade ago showed could throw the entire global financial system into chaos. This ignorance of how money works can also impact trust in the financial sector and ultimately, investor confidence, which is necessary to encourage economic growth.

The other major point that the museum highlights is how badly this county is missing out on an opportunity to market its history. The Central Bank Museum also proves that it is possible, it just needs to investment. The museum is located in the Central Bank tower, right on Independence Square, the most popular route for day-tripping cruise ship tourists on shore leave. Already, it is gaining popularity, and tourists are pleasantly surprised by how modern the layout is, comparable to major museums around the world. And they don’t just get to experience the rich history of money, but a taste of the bank’s legendary local art collection. This museum and its clean, modern aesthetic when compared to others, including the National Museum on Frederick Street or even the Museum of Port of Spain a few blocks away, is on another level. Cultural tourism shouldn’t just be a buzzword or relegated to the weeks before Carnival. The Central Bank Museum is proving that it can be more.

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