Using behavioural insights to improve financial literacy in Brazil

Vera Rita de Mello Ferreira is a member of the Behavioural Studies Center of the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, an independent consultant for economic psychology and financial education, and member of the Research Committee of the OECD International Network on Financial Education.

Insights derived from the behavioural and social sciences, including decision making, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, organisational and group behaviour, are increasingly being applied by governments to make public policies work better. Behavioural insights are used in a wide array of public policies, including in the financial domain. A recent OECD working paper on the application of behavioural economics in the area of financial consumer protection highlights how the application of this discipline can help provide cost-efficient ways of making policy more effective at promoting positive outcomes for consumers.

In Brazil, this has prompted the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) to set up an exhibition titled  “Money. Have you stopped to think (about it)?” within its Money Museum in Brazilia.

The exhibition addresses the psychological dimension of economic and financial decision-making, with a focus on the systematic errors that people often make. Using attractive visual devices, it draws on the lessons of applied behavioural science to attract visitors of all ages.

The exhibition offers tools to help both individuals and households handle economic choices responsibly and autonomously. It also raises awareness of some of the cognitive and emotional ploys that risk being used to their detriment.

The BCB and its Money Museum have been undertaking economic, monetary, and financial education initiatives since the 1990s. More recently, however, the efficiency of financial education in bringing about behavioural change and greater financial capability has come under scrutiny. Behavioural approaches are often replacing cognitive approaches with the expectation that they would be more effective. This is the rationale behind the exhibition.

Starting from the observation that individuals understand and retain technical information with difficulty, the exhibition follows a more innovative approach by offering a wide array of delivery channels. These include posters in plain language, quizzes, explanations about heuristics and biases, proverbs and popular sayings, real life situations and warnings about marketing traps. Short videos that address everyday situations and choices involving money, from the combined perspective of financial education and psychological insights, are on display both at the Museum and online.

The teenage students from public schools that attended that opening of the exhibition appreciated the format and grasped many of the key messages. In their own words, they did in fact begin to “think about” their own choices, possibly for the first time ever, from the angles highlighted by the exhibition.

Useful links

OECD working paper on Behavioural economics and financial consumer protection

OECD report on Improving Financial Education Efficiency 

OECD report on Behavioural Insights and Public Policy

National strategies for financial education

Brazilian National Strategy for Financial Education


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