Financial literacy

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Until the end of the 20th Century, financial literacy was optional for knowledge workers. Sure there were people who understood how money worked, but they were usually either senior managers or company accountants.

You need to understand economics – even if it’s only to know when to bail out of a failing company, look after your personal investments or navigate the global financial crisis.

More to the point, knowledge-based skills are now central to the commercial world. So knowledge workers need financial literacy.

You’ll have to do the hard stuff yourself. At the least read local business news stories every day. Start out by reading about companies that are either partners or direct competitors to your employer or your own business.

Make a point of relating what you read about business up and downs, share price movements and similar news to what you personally know about a company. Soon you’ll realise you probably know at least as much as the so-called professionals – at least in your niche.

If you’re in Australia. I recommend you read either BRW (http://www.brw.com.au) or the Australian Financial Review (http://www.afr.com.au). You don’t have to carry newsprint around – both  have good web sites.

Though you will have to pay for the content and it isn’t cheap.

The feature stories are where you’ll learn the most because writers are less inclined to assume you know background and jargon.

If you’re strapped for time, the weekend edition of the Financial Review is your best bet. It has the strongest financial features of any local publication.

The Australian has a strong business section, though it runs fewer features than the AFR. The Australian’s content is available online for free – the web site includes breaking stories throughout the day that do not necessarily appear in print.

New Zealand’s strongest business publication is The National Business Review. A lot of the paper’s best material doesn’t appear online. I recommend its features. While both the New Zealand Herald and the Fairfax newspapers including the Dominion-Post have busy-looking business news sections, they compare poorly with the Australian business press. Frankly they are seriously under-resourced.

Which means it can pay to look overseas to understand local events. I subscribe to The Economist (www.economist.com) and Businessweek (http://www.businessweek.com). Again, both have good web sites – though only paying subscribers to the print editions get to see the best stuff. And, like the Financial Review and BRW, both offer plenty of background.

Pure online financial news services (such as Bloomberg www.bloomberg.com) are for insiders – you’ll get the news, but fewer explanations. On the other hand, their news is more up to date.

There isn’t enough time to read everything published in all these publications. Be selective. Pick out the juicy bits and move on. Apart from your own niche interests, make a point of reading the big picture and currency stories to get an idea of where the Australian or New Zealand economy is heading.