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Teach Them Young: KFI Global Founder Marilyn Pinto Is On A Mission To Teach Financial Literacy To The Next Generation Founded by Marilyn Pinto, KFI Global offers financial literacy programs tailored for teens and young adults, with topics such as understanding credit cards, the fundamentals of investing, developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and more.

By Pamella de Leon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

KFI Global
Marilyn Pinto, founder and CEO, KFI Global

As any parent will probably attest, teaching kids how to manage money is crucial in today's world. It's this idea that prompted entrepreneur and mother-of-two Marilyn Pinto to launch KFI Global, an education company that specializes in offering financial literacy programs and initiatives designed for teenagers. Having seen firsthand a gap ("more like a deep gaping hole," Pinto says) in her then eight- and ten-year-old daughters' understanding of money, she soon found that other kids also seemed to have the same issue. At the time, Pinto hadn't set out to start a company- but that's what ended up happening in the end. "I just wanted to enroll my kids in a program that taught them about money in a thoughtful, holistic and intelligent way, and there wasn't anything like that around," she recalls. "KFI is thus a labor of love, created not just for my kids, but for any kid who'd like to be financially empowered."

According to Pinto, who previously operated an advertising and publishing company, it is this mindset that makes her company stand out. "We understand the problem better," she says. "Money tracking and budgeting apps, parent-controlled debit cards, online resources, self-help books, mandatory lectures, and [other] programs all tout to expeditiously and effortlessly rid society of this menace forever, and save the future generation from the perils of bad money choices. If it seems almost too good to be true, it's because it is."

In Pinto's opinion, such offerings have failed to study the needs and motivations of today's teenagers, and assumed what worked for adults would automatically work for teens. "They oversimplified and dumbed down the content, not understanding that nuance and complexity is interesting and engaging, and, not to mention, a more realistic representation of the issues at hand," she says. "They believe that personal finance could be summarized in a few quick tips, not recognizing that doing so undermined the very learning they were hoping to impart. They fell prey to the myth that teens need to be entertained in short punchy videos, notwithstanding the fact that it is only deep and profound engagement that elicits true behavior change… They, like much of the education system, focused on telling the youngsters what to think, instead of showing them how to think. All this laid out the equivalent of an attractive band-aid over the deep gnash, and hope for the best."

And that's why Pinto has made sure that that the UAE-based company doesn't follow the crowd in terms of what it has set out to do. "We're on a mission to bring this life-changing education to more youngsters across the world, because we believe this will empower them to step up, play full out, and live a life on their own terms," she says. And to make this happen, Pinto and her team have developed a five-step methodology that ensure learners not only immensely benefit from their programs, but also thoroughly enjoy the learning process. "We don't just focus on knowledge," Pinto adds.

In May 2022, Marilyn Pinto published her first book Smarter, Richer, Braver, a book which aims to help parents empower their teens and young adults to learn healthy financial habits. / Source: KFI Global

"We also focus on changing the student's attitude and behavior with regard to money, which arguably plays a more important role when making good financial decisions." Currently, KFI Global has a number of programs (tailored for different age groups) that are presented as interactive classes, personalized feedback, guided mentoring, tools, and resources, while ensuring that all of their offerings are simple, fun and relatable for their target audiences. "Teens learn differently from adults, and understanding how they learn really gives us an edge," notes Pinto.

The KFI Global website explains the Financial Empowerment program as having two core aspects. The first is for children between the ages of nine and 12, who can have access to the Smart Money Management program, an online series of sessions that that covers money mindsets, understanding wants versus needs, budgeting and more topics relating to financial empowerment. Meanwhile, the second is catered for teens and young adults, with three programs, consisting of ranging from learning about money management, understanding credit cards and common money mistakes, to the fundamentals of investing, importance of diversification, developing an investor's mindset, and even delving into cryptocurrency basics, and avoiding financial scams. Besides these, KFI Global also offers Supermind, a program catered to showing students how to learn faster and effectively, as well as innovative and fun memory techniques, and effective study methods. Another noteworthy program is its Entrepreneurship with a Twist program, which covers how to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, critical thinking, self-directed learning, self-awareness and more.

Since its launch, KFI Global has worked with clients such as Emirates NBD, National Bonds, Dubai Islamic Bank, and TECOM Group, to impart its programs to their employees' families. "We partner with companies who sponsor these programs for their employees' kids or their clients' kids," Pinto says. "This tends to be very-well received and their customer satisfaction scores are always impressively high." It also recently won the Best Financial Literary Project for schools by the Money Awareness and Inclusion Awards 2022. In May of this year, Pinto also published her first book Smarter, Richer, Braver, a book that aims to help parents empower their teens and young adults to learn healthy financial habits.

Related: UAE-Based Teen Banking Startup Cashee Joins Visa Fintech Fast Track Program

Marilyn Pinto and her team have developed a five-step methodology to ensure that teens benefit from KFI Global's programs, and as well as enjoy the learning process. / Source: KFI Global

As a company offering financial education to teens, I ask Pinto how her enterprise measure success, and if she has realized the mission with which she started KFI Global. To this, Pinto points out that her programs boasts a 98% completion rate- which, the founder says, is unheard of, considering the high level of resistance of teens to even join the program in the first place. The company has also received excellent feedback and testimonials from parents who claimed how the program impacted their teenagers as well as their families in general. But Pinto doesn't think her job is done though.

"Our mission is far from fulfilled," she says. "Our numbers are impressive, our content and delivery are world-class, but we need to scale this to reach even more teenagers across the country." And to do this, partnerships will be essential, she says. "Our model is one that seeks to involve the whole ecosystem- schools, parents, students, mainstream press, government [entities], and private companies who partner with us. This is then no longer a vision that belongs to just one person, but a vision that belongs to everyone who has a stake in the success of the next generation."

Talking about the journey of starting a business in Dubai, in retrospect, Pinto comments that the business challenges she faced had a lot more to do with her own limitations, than of operating out of the Emirate. "In the beginning, because I approached this more as fulfilling a pressing need rather than starting a viable business, it took me longer than was necessary to gain traction in the market," Pinto admits. Plus, as a nascent concept in the region, it took time and effort to educate the market as well. "We faced considerable pushback from various quarters, but we persevered and pushed through." But being based in Dubai also gave the startup a number of distinct advantages- from the ease of set up, to the lack of bureaucratic red tape, and easy access to human resources. "I am extremely aware and appreciative of the asset of this location has been, and how it has helped me leverage the business," Pinto adds.

Source: KFI Global

The entrepreneur has ambitious plans for her enterprise ahead. This year alone, Pinto explains that she hopes to reach an even larger number of students by partnering with more educational institutions and corporates across the UAE. "We understand the massive obstacles facing us, from many different aspects," says Pinto. "However, we are committed to this bold vision, and confident that we will forge a path that will change the face of financial education in the UAE- both in terms of scale and quality." Plus, expansion plans are on the horizon too. "We will also be looking to extend this social impact to other countries in the GCC, and beyond, soon," Pinto reveals.

And for those considering the entrepreneurship path as well, Pinto reminds aspirants that the current entrepreneurial landscape could be a great springboard for launching market-matched business ideas. "Entrepreneurship isn't a sprint- it's an ultra-marathon, and they need to be ready for the long, winding road ahead. A road that will invariably be strewn with failures, missteps, broken contracts, and a lot more trouble than they'd imagine or bargained for," states Pinto. "These shouldn't be constructed as signs of defeat, rather they should use this signpost [as] their way to ultimate success. Building resilience and constancy into their business plans will hold them in much better stead than viewing the entrepreneurship journey through rose-tinted glasses."

The founder and CEO also adds the significance of perseverance, especially amidst obstacles. "Just keep at it, putting one foot in front of the other, even when the world around you seem to be spinning out of control and you're really unsure of how it's all going to turn out… Doing the right thing well and consistently is the straightest way to success." Finally, Pinto emphasizes the importance of having an ethos for continuous improvement. Once Pinto and her team embraced this approach, they found that each cohort program was better than before, making it a gamechanger in terms of beating the competition and building customer loyalty. She concludes, "Don't wait for the perfect product to start because it doesn't exist. You can sharpen your idea in the market. It's this constant tweaking and enhancement based on market feedback and experience that will make a real difference."

Related: Three Reasons Why It's Good To Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking At A Young Age

Pamella de Leon

Startup Section Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.

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