#INTERVIEW: Marilyn Pinto: What the world needs is a generation of smarter, richer and braver teens!

With schools closed for Spring break, there’s no better time to learn a new skill. While sports and art is important for a child’s growth and development, the need for financial literacy is highly under-rated.
Marilyn L. Pinto, Founder of KFI GLOBAL

Marilyn L. Pinto is the Founder of KFI GLOBAL, is here to settle that! KFI Global is an education company that specializes in teaching teens and young adults how to handle money smartly & responsibly, and in the past many years, Marilyn has taught over 3500 students how to make smarter money decisions. She’s on a mission to bring this life changing education to more youngsters across the world because she believes this will empower them to step up, stand out and live a life on their own terms.

LOA: Money management and financial literacy are life skills, and the earlier imbibed the better! How do you go about imparting this crucial knowledge to teenagers?

Marilyn Pinto: It’s not just about teaching them the value of money - it’s a lot a more nuanced. It’s about teaching them delayed gratification, impulse control and the ability and skill to think long-term. It’s also about being cognizant of various manipulative marketing techniques and being aware of various cognitive biases we have around money. It’s about building character and instilling values. All of these build a great foundation for understanding the value of money.

LOA: Talk us through your curriculum, and how you have designed it to resonate with the unique challenges and interests of teens.

MP: We use a 5-step blueprint that revolutionizes the way financial education is taught to teens.

Each of these steps is crucial; not just for the effectiveness and impact of the program but also, equally importantly, to ensure a thoroughly enjoyable learning process for the students.


Situation Report (SITREP): For teens, financial education is an unconscious incompetence. They don’t know that they don’t know about money. They are clueless about their inability to handle money smartly. And what makes this a whole lot worse, and more dangerous, is the Dunning Kruger effect — a cognitive bias in which people with a low ability at a task, overestimate their ability at that task. So not only do teens not know that they don’t know about money, they also typically tend to overestimate their ability to make smart money decisions.

Now you know what we mean by dangerous.

What we do: We need to ensure that as educators or parents, we recognize this gap in their knowledge and the bias in their thinking. This goes a long way in understanding and empathizing with their initial lack of interest or initiative in learning about the topic of money. And what we also need to recognize is that the steps and actions we take in teaching them about money can and will dramatically affect their financial success.


SITREP: Most teens are disengaged and disinterested in school.

This is because they don’t know why they are being taught most of what they are made to learn, aside from the fact that it could be on the exam. This understandably adversely affects their motivation, which takes a nosedive and never really recovers because nobody takes the time or trouble to work through this important aspect.

What we do: Tell Them WHY.

When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy.

As the New York Times Best Selling author Simon Sinek says — Start with Why.

We take the time to explain why this skill is so critical for their future success and wellbeing and why it’s imperative they learn it now. When kids know why they have to learn something and how they will benefit, they are much more motivated to learn. Self-interest kicks in and they try harder, and keep at it longer.

We know that it’s important to do this not just at the start of the program but at the start of every new topic within the program. We point out why that particular topic is important and more specifically how it will help them. This does wonders to keep their interest and enthusiasm levels up and makes teaching them an absolute joy.


SITREP: By the time most kids hit their teen years, they feel very disconnected from their teachers.

They find it difficult if not impossible to relate to them — and this goes both ways.

Teens are the most challenging age group to teach because they already know everything (truth notwithstanding) and are neurobiologically prone to boredom.

Talk about mortgages, taxes and retirement and you’ve lost them at hello.

What we do: Relate to them.

We take time to build a relationship with them. Kids, irrespective of their age, don’t have a favorite subject, they have a favorite teacher. If they love the teacher, they love the subject and unfortunately the reverse is true as well.

We also make the content relevant to their lives now. There is data to prove that just-in-time financial education works a whole lot better than teaching them things they won’t need till many years down the line. Once they see the relevance of the content, they can’t help but be interested, engaged and committed to the learning process.

And we build in some fun and humor, that’s the proverbial icing on the cake.


SITREP: Most financial education programs focus exclusively on building financial knowledge.

Case in point: Smokers know the harmful effects of cigarettes but still continue to smoke.

What we do: Raise the bar.

We don’t just focus on financial knowledge but also on financial behavior and mindset, which are arguably as important. Bestselling author and financial guru Tony Robbins says that learning any new skill is 80% psychology and 20% tactics and most professionals agree — mindset really is everything.

So that’s what we start with and help the teens develop a positive money mindset free of any limiting beliefs. It really is amazing to watch the change that starts to happen. The confluence of these three aspects- knowledge, behavior and mindset — underpins a truly effective program.

But we don’t stop there. We raise the bar even more to include two oft ignored facets of financial education — Gratitude & Generosity. Aside from being hugely valuable in their own right, these two facets also have an important impact on financial wellbeing and shouldn’t be ignored.

Step 5: Reflect

SITREP: In an attempt to cover as much of the curriculum as possible, teens are usually rushed through the content and most educators don’t often ask them to reflect on their learning.

They (both teacher and student) just don’t have the time.

And when students don’t have time to reflect on their learning, they are much less likely to use this information.

What we do: Get them to reflect on their learning.

Student reflection an integral part of the learning experience and unfortunately is too often left out of the equation.

We are intentional about including it. We know this is crucial for students to be able to develop insights and to be able to think critically about the subject. Reflection is also a key ingredient to move knowledge from short-term to long-term memory.

LOA: What are some common misconceptions or challenges you encounter when teaching financial literacy to teenagers, and how do you address them?

MP: Here are of the most common misconception most teenagers have around money:

1. It’s not relevant to their career choice: 

Truth: Financial literacy is hugely relevant to every Gen Z, irrespective of their career choice. It doesn’t matter whether they want to be doctors, professional athletes or entrepreneurs. Every career path is strewn with examples of people who had their success thwarted because of poor money decisions. Not understanding how money works or how to manage their money smartly and responsibly will stymie their success and put their future at risk

2. It’s boring and difficult, especially if they aren’t good at math.

This myth is possibly one that does the most to hinder Gen Z on their journey of financial literacy. Again, one that’s completely unfounded.  If taught well, financial literacy is incredibly interesting to them because it’s immediately relevant and instantly applicable their daily lives. They begin to view the world through this new powerful lens and are thrilled at how so much of what they didn’t understand before now makes perfect sense.

3. It’s something they can learn when they grow-up.

Gen Zers today are inundated with school work so it’s understandable that they’d like to defer any optional studying till they’re done adults. Except that this doesn’t work out so well with respect to learning about money. It’s not impossible, it’s just much harder and less effective.

Just as it’s easier for youngsters to learn a new language as compared to adults, it’s also easier for them to imbibe the principles of personal finance at that age. This gets hardwired in them and it becomes second nature when they grow up. In addition, learning about this early gives them more time to practice and with practice comes mastery.

4. Watching a few topical videos on YouTube or TikTok is enough to become financially literate

It’s unlikely that any video or article on ‘tips and tricks will have a real impact on changing the mindset, attitude and behavior of any young adult. Aside from deep-rooted subject knowledge, this requires deep awareness, curated discussions, and profound reflection – all of which are conspicuous by their absence on social media platforms.

5. Using a credit card or a payment/budgeting app makes them financially literate

Most Gen Zers nowadays have credit/ debit cards and might use payment/budgeting apps to help them track their spending.

Being financially literate is so much more than just tracking where your money goes or knowing how much you spent that month. It’s developing a proper money mindset free of limiting beliefs. It’s cultivating a pattern of good money habits that set the stage for a smart and responsible money behaviors. It’s about developing a highly evolved understanding of financial freedom and how best to achieve it given our personal circumstance. No app or card can accomplish this. A well-designed financial education program however, does just that.

Financial literacy is a metaskill, and being proficient in this skill will make teens better at so many others. It will give them the clarity to understand how the world works, give them more control over their lives and most importantly, it will give them the confidence to make better decisions.