For too many it’s taken a lifetime of painful mistakes and incidental experiences to acquire an understanding of how to manage our financial affairs. Many of us realize too late how important it is to build an asset base and how to make the best of one’s money.

Traditionally, parents didn’t talk about the reality of their finances with their kids and perhaps that is still the case, with many households taking the view, ‘We mustn’t worry the kids with all this’.

Yet for those who have grown up with parents talking openly around the dinner table about their financial ups and downs, they are more likely to have acquired an advantage, a literacy in financial matters that leads to financial security.

Financial illiteracy in New Zealand is partly responsible for shockingly stubborn levels of poverty and it needs to be addressed.

As a priority the current Government is addressing financial literacy through the New Zealand school curriculum for children from eight or nine upwards and geared to the primary, intermediate and secondary age groups. But, it can be a very dry subject tucked into the maths framework.

A financial literacy platform for schools, called ‘Banqer’ is gaining a rapid spread throughout New Zealand schools with 70,000+ students actively engaged. Developed in 2015 by Kendall Flutey, Banqer is a social enterprise committed to raising financial capability across society through relatable and engaging education.

Still in her mid 20s, Flutey is a teacher with accountancy training and is the CEO and Founder of her company, heading a team of creative talent including an ex-accountant, an IT developer, and a designer. They identified the deep societal problems associated with financial illiteracy and sought to address it with a user friendly digital platform that supports teachers and motivates kids.

Describing its wider purpose Flutey explains, “Banqer is preparing kids and young adults for their financial future. The problem that we’re trying to tackle is large and complex. We’re never going to eradicate financial illiteracy and embed financial capability on our own, so we’ve embarked on our journey with an open mind and the aspirations to work with others.” In recognition of her contribution, in 2019 Kendall was awarded Young New Zealander of the Year.

KiwiBank is the primary sponsor, ensuring Banqer is a free option to all primary and intermediate schools. The program is a flexible and dynamic learning process that is very engaging, motivating children to be highly collaborative within the classroom, thus improving classroom behaviour and helping with other subjects such as maths.

It uses the premise that, as in the adult world, you have to work to earn money to live.  In the classroom, ‘work’ is the job roles students take on to assist in managing classroom activities and for which they receive Banqer dollars in wages. Neglected duties incur a fee or debt and the kids quickly learn that a growing bank balance is highly desirable and it’s very rewarding to work hard. Lessons for life!

Havelock North Primary School

Rhys Harman joined HNPS in 2019 and teaches Year 5. Banqer had just been introduced to HNPS and he was very keen to implement it. “For me as a new teacher Banqer was easy to use and ideal for the kids,” says Harman, “the accompanying resources are really valuable, especially the wide range of lesson plans.” It works alongside other curricular subjects and becomes part of the classroom culture.

BayBuzz visited his classroom on a Monday morning where 20 or so 9-10 year olds were seated on the mat where Mr Harman had been preparing them for my visit. At this point in term two they are three to four weeks into the programme and they are very keen to share their knowledge.

Hands were waving with urgency, eager faces dying to be to be heard and some a little overwhelmed forgot what they were going to say. Others not so shy told me about their paid jobs. Harry is the banker, Sophie is a good speller and helps others, Cooper is the stationery monitor, Ellen the sink area cleaner, Thomas device charger – everyone has a job description and they are paid weekly in Banqer dollars.

Examples …  “We have to apply for our jobs and give Mr Harman our CV with references – the referees are someone in the class who is recommending you for the job,” says one. “If you be good and do jobs you get money for things like putting up the chairs and cleaning the tables,” says another. “Mr Harman tells us when we can record a payment on the whiteboard … And every day before we go home Mr Harman has a daily goal to reach $1000 in rewards then it can be added to our account,” (breathless excitement).

So without Rhys having to chivy them into taking responsibility in class they are dead keen to find a way to earn extra dollars. “But, if we don’t earn enough dollars or we keep losing our money, we go bankrupt!!”

“The kids get paid weekly in two ways,” says Harman.“First, they receive a weekly income of $300. This is their baseline money, everyone receives the same amount. Second, they get paid weekly based on what jobs they are employed to do – e.g., a device charger gets $86 a week (on top of the $300). Students also have expenses, these are paid to me (the bank) every week – expenses are $110 for classroom rent, $30 wifi and $30 electricity.  If they neglect their tasks, deductions are made and tax, like PAYE, is deducted from their wages.”

Each child is saving up for a deposit of $20,000 to buy a house with a mortgage.  Earning and paying interest is part of the regime, as is having insurance. Rules of KiwiSaver funds are well understood – “You have to save for a long time because the fund is designed to help you buy a house, or, in special circumstances can be accessed if there’s a disaster like an earthquake when you can get your money out.”

The winding up of the school year is used as a simulation of reaching retirement age when you can access your KiwiSaver fund. With their fund available to them an auction is held in class. They can decide to either spend their savings or to hang onto them. Options for spending might be free time, an event or activities, each with different values attached to them. The kids bid against each other for the items, if they win they must pay the bank (teacher). The auctions are a real hit with the kids.

Kids go home and tell their parents about their earnings and how much money they have in their accounts, their financial goals and this can make for very interesting conversations.

Importantly, says HNPS Principal Nick Reed, it fits in with the school values of responsibility and respect and is totally relevant in teaching the realities of life.

“For the children it has been very positive and it has grown quite naturally throughout the school as teachers come on board,” Principal Reed says.  “It is highly engaging and the children learn those real life skills and it’s just a natural part of the day, there is no stand-alone time for it as it’s infused within other work. It’s an excellent programme that is continually evolving to suit the situation.”

With such grounding, imagine the confidence of these young people when they go to university, start work or a business? As they work their way through those exciting years they’ll know how money works, that the priority is to retire debt early and grow savings, to invest in assets like buying a house or pay for an education.

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