We can’t talk about empowering women without talking about financial literacy. In addressing the many deep-rooted issues in our society, I would be remissed not to address this one because it’s so fundamental to building up our youth, advancing in multiple sectors, and securing our futures. This week, we tackle this issue with Momo Issa.

Aida: Hey you! So before we start, we need to know a little bit more about you. Who is Momo Issa?

Momo: What do you want to know?

Aida: We need to know where you come from, what you do, a little bit about your background. Standard stuff!

Momo: Haha okay. Well, I was born in Senegal and moved to the States when I was 5 years old. I grew up in New York and went to school there up through middle school. Then I moved back home for high school. I came back for college.

Aida: Wait, so how did you transition back to the US school system for college? Did you have to take the SAT and ACT?

Momo: Yeah, I had to take all the standardized tests. It was a tough transition but I just did it, I guess.

Aida: Wow, that’s impressive.

Momo: Yeah so in college, I studied Finance and minored in Math and Communications. I now work in Trading – Derivatives specifically.

Aida: Okay, thanks for the introduction! So we’ll get started with the first question. What do you think is the importance of financial literacy for the young generation today?

Momo: Uhm I would say it’s very important. It’s necessary just to be able to navigate life. But maybe I should start by asking what you mean by financial literacy?

Aida: Well, I mean like being well-versed in financial topics and terms … understanding what you are signing up for, especially with contracts these days.

Momo: Okay, so we are thinking about the same thing. So, I think about it in two ways: (1) having access to resources and (2) being strategic when making financial decisions.

Financial literacy is really about being able to navigate life and not be taken advantage of financially. As you go through big decisions, knowing where to get advice, etc. Like if you wanted to get a mortgage, knowing where you can get the lowest rate – or something as simple as knowing what a normal rate looks like. Doing research is very important so you understand what you’re walking into.

Aida: I think the first point you made is important – having access. Today, we have the internet so theoretically, we should be able to find everything out. So then I have to ask, why do you think financial literacy hasn’t been prioritized by many, particularly in the Senegalese culture?

Momo: We just don’t know about it as well as we should. We don’t know the resources that are available to us. In Senegal, I think the metric is something like more than 80% of the population doesn’t have a bank account. It’s deep-rooted in our culture, we don’t trust certain institutions.

Another reason is that the infrastructure isn’t really there to engage with financial institutions. Something as simple as opening a bank account takes forever. If you go to the bank for a simple transaction, you will likely end up spending your whole day waiting to be serviced. Access at will is a big barrier and people don’t trust banks so it’s cyclical.

Aida: You know it’s funny you say that about the banks – there was a time I went into the bank during a recent visit and ended up spending my whole afternoon just to make a withdrawal.

Momo: Yep and even something as minor as getting a debit card takes weeks.

Aida: So how can someone who some self-teaching to become more financial literate? Are there any tools or forums you would recommend?

Momo: Good question. I don’t know, there’s a lot of different things people can do and it really depends on what you’re trying to do.

For example, I’ll go back to the mortgage thing. There are programs designed to help first-time buyers so that they’re more aware of the process. There’s one called NACA – Google it. It helps you with the necessary documents. Some programs can even help you waive the down-payment.

You just have to be willing to do a little research. There’s a lot of information out there and things are negotiable! Know what you’re signing up for and understand what the common rates are for what you’re trying to do. Be proactive and don’t say “yes” to the first thing you come across.

Aida: Some good information there and a little bit of homework, thank you!

Now I have to ask you: what role do you think women play in society and financial literacy? I ask because you know the natts (pooling of money between people with cycle for withdrawing) many women are involved it. That’s like a major financial structure – how can we apply the saying “when you educate a woman, you educate generations to come” to this situation?

Momo: Well today natts are mainly within one community. It would need to be expanded beyond that community and institutionalized. If the manager of the natt was willing to take the money to a bank and open up an account, it would formalize the process.

Banks really need to make their processes more seamless and people need to start trusting banks. Women play a role in that because they take care of a lot of financial things informally so formalizing the process would empower them to do more! And that starts with educating everyone about the benefits of working with banks.

Aida: Alright, so next question is what advice would you give to young adults trying to bounce back from financial hardship?

Momo: Pay down some debt. Work on your credit and be more aware of how you spend. When it comes to debt, you can find ways to reduce the interest you’re paying by transferring balances or consolidating debt. There are a lot of resources you can leverage – Prosper is a good start for debt consolidation.

Aida: How about when it comes to bad credit scores?

Momo: There are companies that help you repair or rebuild your credit. Again, you have to do your research and start putting more of a healthy lifestyle to your finances. It sounds like common sense and it’s easier said than done but spending less than you make – we could all work on that. I know I need to do better!

Aida: Uhm yeah… I definitely need to work on that! I spend way too much on buying lunch.

Momo: I use this app called MealPal, you can get lunches for $6 or less. Send me your email address and I’ll refer you.

Shameless plug: I got myself the hookup for cheaper lunches now :p Ayyyyy!

Aida: Ah thank you!!! (*sends email address immediately)

Okay so last question is what is your life motto?

Momo: Hmm … hard work beats talent. Everything is achievable with hard work and effort.

Aida: Well I would just like to say THANK YOU for your time and imparting your wisdom on us! We’ll be in touch for more good content – thank you again!

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. A little glimpse into financial literacy from Momo Issa. It’s impossible to cover all topics but I think the major takeaway is: DO YOUR RESEARCH! Ask questions and be conscientious of your financial obligations and choices!

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