Did RBI ads during FIFA 2018 drive home the message of financial safety?

Among the rush of advertisements that filled up the screen during the recently concluded FIFA World Cup extravaganza was an unlikely contender for viewer attention: financial literacy ads by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The ads warning depositors of the inherent dangers of navigating the world of digital transactions, used real life instances to illustrate the extent of the problem. But is that the role of the central banker and is this the most effective way to get the message across, ask experts. 

As the government aggressively pushes financial inclusion, the need for financial literacy has perhaps never been as keenly felt. The problem of scams and frauds is acute, especially with 320 million new bank accounts added post demonetisation in a country where financial awareness still remains low. That is what is driving the RBI’s 2018 debut on national television, it first advertised earlier this year during the Indian Premier League (April) and then again during the FIFA matches. 

According to the 2017 Fraud report by Experian, a consumer credit reporting agency, within the Asia-Pacific region, Indians faced the highest amount of fraud. According to Kroll Annual Fraud and Risk Report, 89 per cent of respondents in India experienced a fraud incident in 2017, compared to 68 per cent in 2016. 

“I think RBI is addressing a very serious concern given the rapid changes happening around us,” said Ambi Parameswaran, founder, Brand-building.com. He said that Indian consumers are divided into two groups—the educated ones that become digital banking customers and the ones that are entering the banking system for the first time. Both are at risk from scamsters.

The financial literacy campaigns are attempts to strengthen and improve quality of demand for finance in the country. And the FIFA and IPL matches offer the central bank access to an enormous base of consumers; the 2018 FIFA World Cup garnered over 192 million viewers across 58 matches played until the fourth week of the tournament, for instance. But Sandeep Goyal, founder of Mogae Media says, “I am frankly surprised. This kind of communication should be put out actually by the Indian Banks’ Association or some such. It is not really the job of the RBI to get involved in this kind of communication.”

While many agree, they hint that the RBI had to step in as banks have also lost credibility in the past few years. Also Parameswaran pointed out, “The various ads in the FIFA World Cup are aimed at the more educated customers, who are also getting inundated with digital messages and scam emails.” And as all brands know sporting events are the most effective way to reach this audience.

Among central banks worldwide, the Federal Reserve System (Fed) in the United States too uses an array of tools to spread financial literacy. An interesting initiative is the Fed challenge, an academic competition in which school teams recommend monetary policies. In 2003, the Fed launched a campaign entitled ‘There’s a Lot to Learn about Money’. RBI also ran a SMS campaign along the same lines called ‘Suno RBI kya kehta hai’ (Listen to what the RBI says) post demonetisation. The SMS campaign invited feedback from the audience on their website called ‘Sachet’ which shot up to 4.5 lakh submissions post the SMS campaign, from a few thousand earlier. 

Parameswaran says that using events such as FIFA are a good way to reach one part of the target demographic, but there is another set that the RBI has to watch out for too. “Obviously FIFA is not being watched by the second group of Indians who are slowly getting into the formal banking system and need to be guided and goaded to stop keeping money under beddings,” said Parmeswaran. 

While the message is important, central banks must be careful how they spread the word. The gravitas of the institution calls for a different approach. The recent ads by the RBI, Goyal said, are not the most efficient way to get the message across. Even if the RBI has to do it, advertorials with detailed FAQs would work much better and he said, “Using young cricketers may help grab attention but detracts from the message. Somehow the current advertising is not ‘serious’ and does not behove the stature of the central bank. To me it is part gimmicky part preachy.” 

However gimmicks do work well sometimes. Integrating financial literacy into the plots of daily soap operas has worked well according to a World Bank report about a Kenyan soap opera that came loaded with financial education messages and was funded by the UK Department for International Development. The Kenya Broadcast Corporation reported that thousands of viewers contacted the broadcast station to receive more information related to the messages passed on during the episodes. Similarly, financial planning was included into a South African soap opera which was already popular among the masses. These shows are often sponsored by international development organisations and national financial authorities. Perhaps therein lies a lesson for future financial literacy evangelists.