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Back to School: NYSE Euronext COO Stresses Financial Literacy

You can blame the corrupt markets, evil hedge funds, or the big bad banks for your financial woes. You can even blame yours truly. Off-loading the blame may feel good at the time but it's not going to build up your IRA or send your kids to college. Your finances are your responsibility and the best way to protect and grow your money isn't a hot stock tip; it's education.

As Larry Leibowitz, Chief Operating Officer of NYSE Euronext (NYX) puts it: "Part of making good investment decisions is the understanding of finance." This knowledge goes beyond calculating a Price to Earnings ratio. Leibowitz is referring the nuts and bolts of saving for you retirement and protecting yourself.

Using the recent financial crisis as an example, Leibowitz says there's ample blame to go around, not just the predatory behaviors of big bad banks, but also as a function of people that took out mortgages "they really didn't understand."

Coming from the COO of the NYSE, it's easy to dismiss what Leibowitz is saying as passing the buck. It would also be wrong. When I asked him about the specific challenges facing regulators of his exchange, Leibowitz was upfront and refreshingly straight forward in his replies. He's not dismissing the NYSE's part, he's saying regulations can only go so far in protecting those flying blind in terms of their financial fortunes.

Talking with me at Minyanville's Festivus, an event all about increasing financial literacy from the cradle to the grave, Leibowitz says the NYSE is working with groups like Junior Achievement and teachers to help start the process of education early.

The benefits extend beyond your monthly statements into your quality of life.

"If employees can handle their finances they're more productive," he says, comparing fiscal confidence to physical health.

Financial planning may not be the sexiest topic to study but it may be the most important. The other option is to place the burden of saving for your retirement on others, relying on hope and luck to see you through and living in fear that they don't.

Ultimately the choice is yours.