Naughty: Are We Programmed to Lie about Money?

Santa may know if you’ve been bad or good, but does anyone else get full disclosure – at least where money is concerned? Take a look at these facts, taken from the T. Rowe Price 2015 Parents, Kids & Money Survey:
  • 34% of married parents have accounts their spouse is unaware of. Among parents who argue occasionally or frequently about money, that percentage jumps to 47%.
  • 82% of parents think they set a good financial example for their kids, but
    • 47% have told their kids they could not afford something when they actually could.
    • 32% have lied to their kids about money.
    • 28% sometimes take money from their kids’ piggy banks.
  • 55% of parents say they “never” talk to friends about money.
This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Employees are instructed not to share salary information; romantic partners are encouraged to run credit reports on each other “just in case.” In a culture that is decidedly uneasy revealing financial information, dishonesty is almost the default. Though this may sometimes be a sign of serious misbehavior (read: fraud), often the motivations are more complicated. Is it safe, tasteful or wise to tell all about our personal finances? And if not, what does it cost us to be cagey about finances? This question certainly has personal ramifications, but it resonates even more deeply for anyone who works in financial services. These companies often must solicit financial information in order to extend credit or provide financial advice. When honest disclosure is the goal, first consider these obstacles: Money is fast. In this era of volatile markets and effortless payments, one might almost be forgiven for not really knowing how much money they have at any given moment. Money is currency. Though the measurement of money is as straightforward as dollars and cents, the value of it is often more complex. Case in point: The parent who says they “can’t afford” a new hoverboard probably doesn’t mean they lack the $352.67 needed to procure one. More likely, they mean that a self-balancing scooter that may or may not result in a head injury isn’t worth hundreds of dollars to them. Accuracy can be elusive when speaking about money because value doesn’t always equate to a dollar amount. Money is worth. While net worth and self worth are not the same thing, the two values are certainly intertwined. Asking someone to declare their financial value is as discreet as asking them to declare their personal worth. Donald Trump notwithstanding, who isn’t potentially embarrassed by their wealth (or lack of it)? Money is vulnerability. You are paying your credit card bill online when a pop up appears asking to verify your income. This may be problematic for the three reasons listed above, but also: How do you know your information is safe? As is so often the case, gaining members’ trust is critically important. They need to know their information is secure, their concerns are valid, and their worth is recognized. Because even though exchanging detailed information about money may be part of the daily routine at a financial institution, it’s not part of everyday interchange for most people. Moreover, it may pay to be sensitive to the difficulty most of us have knowing our own numbers. Do you need to know how much a member earns each month – or what their savings balance is, or their projected expenses in retirement? A little support goes a long way, especially if you need the truth and not a hastily-assembled approximation. Finally, what would it be worth to the average consumer to have real tools to help them understand their finances, access detailed information in an instant, suggest better ways to manage money, and talk about their financial goals and worries openly and frankly? If we could share Santa’s gift of insight, we would all be a little richer.