JIS News

The Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC), mindful of the current economic hardship, is stressing the need for consumers to be well informed about managing their financial resources, and how to cope with the harsh global economic climate in which they have to live and operate.
Chief Executive Officer of the CAC, Mrs. Dolsie Allen, is encouraging consumers to exercise more vigilance with regard to their financial operations and obligations.
“We would like persons to become more aware and vigilant about how you spend your money.it is your hard-earned money and we want you to get the best for it,” the CEO implores.
She adds that financial literacy, proper money management and knowledge of the various financial entities and how they operate are all key factors to surviving, especially in these challenging times.
“Many of us are not quite knowledgeable when it comes to our financial matters.we probably grew up learning about one particular bank and we just take our money and put it there without checking out what interest rate we are getting, what are the conditions in which we are opening an account.and we just take a lot of things for granted,” Mrs. Allen notes.
“We are asking persons not to be too desperate or anxious when you go to the banks. We also encourage persons not to stick slavishly to one particular institution. Loyalty is important and relationship is important, but just do your due diligence before you go shopping around, whether for investment or credit facility,” the CEO further advises.
On the matter of day-to-day bank transactions and processes, Mrs. Allen sees an immediate need for banks and other financial institutions to review their processes, to make it more user-friendly and simple for consumers who want to conduct business.
“It can be very intimidating sometimes when you go just to open a simple savings account. The type of form that has to be filled out and the requirements will turn off anyone, so sometimes because out of frustration persons just do not bother or might just go along without asking any questions, because of anxiety to complete the transaction,” Mrs. Allen points out.
Critical, she notes, is for financial institutions and the consumer to build and maintain a mutual beneficial relationship.
“When you look at a contract in a financial institution, for example, the consumer is really the weaker vessel there. Most of the times the contract terms are in favour of the financial institutions, so we encourage persons that once you enter into that type of arrangement, you take the time to read and become familiar with the terms and conditions,” she tells JIS News.
Turning to credit facilities, Mrs. Allen advises that persons pay keen attention to the many fees that are usually attached to these loans,and be cognisant of the terms that apply, the period of time that is given to pay back the loan and the interest rates.
“There are times when an institution might advertise and you see it as a lower interest rate than others, but when you check it out, you are better off going somewhere else as the other fees and conditions are probably more of a disadvantage to you as a consumer,” she says, reiterating the need for persons to exercise a level of independence, intelligence and be more vigilant in their financial operations and decisions.
Credit cards, the CEO says, serve their purpose, but if not managed properly, can put consumers into serious financial dilemma.
A simple but crucial advice that she gives is to “pay your credit card first, since that is the highest interest that you are being charged, and bear in mind the penalties for late payment and other fees that add up over a period of time. “It is important to ensure that when you have your debts that you prioritise.try to get rid of the highest interest ones first, and use credit cards when it is absolutely necessary and pay within the time frame that is given,” Mrs. Allen says.
Another advice she gives is that persons keep a check of what is happening with their accounts and statements, as from time to time there are human errors or even deliberate errors which may occur. “We have to be sure that we protect ourselves as it is our money, our right and responsibility to take care of our limited finances,” she adds.
In terms of financial literacy, Mrs. Allen proposes that the Ministry of Education makes financial management a part of the school curriculum from the primary level.
“We want this to begin with the young consumers, so that as we get older, we will be more responsible consumers and take charge of our finances much better. When financial institutions realise that we are more educated financially, asking the relevant questions and doing our due diligence before we come to them, I am sure that the behaviour will be different and it will be more of a partnership than them dictating terms to us the consumers,” she argues.
On the other hand, consumers are warned not to hide away from creditors if they fall into financial problems, but to “go in and make the requisite arrangement and follow up in writing, so that if needs be, you can protect yourself.”
The CAC is an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce with a mandate to safeguard the rights of consumers and promote responsibility among them. For further information, persons can call 978-4998 or visit their website at: www.consumeraffairsjamaica.gov.jm