Ideas in Action: Financial Literacy

By Kate Young

How banks are winning the long game by teaching financial literacy.

What if you could build your ideal retail bank customer? It would likely be someone who deposits a steady income into a federally insured account. Someone with the discipline to save part of that income, instead of blowing through it every pay cycle. A customer who could responsibly finance a car, a house, a college education. Maybe even start a business. Someone who prepares for the future by budgeting, building wealth, and maintaining excellent credit.

There’s a name for such people. They’re called financially literate.

Most people agree that a financially literate consumer base is critical to the banking industry. But folks with that skill set don’t exactly grow on trees. They’re made, not born. That’s why so many banks are doing cool things to promote financial literacy, from building fun new apps and websites, to staffing educational programs, to focusing on the youngest consumers—kids—before bad habits take hold.

April is Financial Literacy Month—and April 28 is Teach Children to Save Day.

To celebrate, we scampered through the field of bank-sponsored financial literacy programs and gathered up a basket of our favorite ones. Check out some of these beauties:

1. Triumph Bank’s Personal Financial Management with the Boy Scouts. Okay, we’re partial to this one—it won the 2016 ABA Foundation Community Commitment Award for Financial Education. Over the course of a year, volunteers from Memphis-based Triumph Bank taught age-appropriate financial skills to 35 Boy Scouts from an economically distressed community in south Memphis.

2. Regions Bank’s Financial Fitness Fridays. For its fifth straight year, Birmingham, Alabama-based Regions Bank hosted a month of in-branch financial education sessions, supplemented by website and social media posts, every Friday across the month of January. The program included a series of Junior Banker videos that provide a funny, accessible approach to serious topics.

3. Blue Hills Bank’s Ms. Money & the Coins. What can possibly capture a young child’s attention even more than a mobile device? Try live, interactive, musical theater. With dance. And magic. Based in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Blue Hills Bank has produced a 35-minute play that travels to schools, teaching K-5 schoolchildren the basics of money management. The 43,000 area students who’ve seen it so far have learned how they can achieve their goals if they stick to a plan.

4. TD Canada’s MySpend. This optional companion the regular TD banking app automatically tracks and categorizes transactions—to give you on-the-spot notifications on spending. It also offers insights into users’ habits—such as whether they’re spending more or less each month in categories like entertainment and meals out. This real-time awareness has helped users to reduce their spending, on average, by 4% to 8%.

5. MidFirst Bank’s MoneyMoments. Based in Oklahoma City, MidFirst Bank provides a multi-faceted financial education program that addresses money issues at all stages of life, from childhood onward. Free financial workshops provide in-person and group learning experiences. On top of that, offers a variety of multi-media tutorials, videos, and games to reinforce financial skills.

6. Level One Bank’s Financial Literacy Program. Detroit-based Level One is a community bank that offers 13 courses tailored specifically for the underbanked and unbanked. After completing the first seven courses, participants are eligible to open a deposit account with Level One, regardless of past banking history. After all 13 courses, they can enter the banks “Step Loan” program to gradually build the credit they need to participate in the mainstream economy.

7. Sun Trust’s onUp Movement. The ad campaign that’s also a website, a drip program, a collection of financial planning tools, and a wealth of educational content aspires to move consumers from a state of “stress to confidence.” Is it really a movement? Well, according to the website, it has almost 1.5 million participants. Plus, it has a spectacular skating video.

8. Montecito Bank & Trust’s Head Start Savings. It’s all well and good to learn about personal finance in the abstract. But when you start applying those concepts to real money, they really take hold. Montecito Bank, in Santa Barbara, California, targets 6th and 8th graders—and their parents—with this bilingual program. In partnership with the Audacious Foundation, the program offers each student $50 to open an account at Montecito Bank—which Montecito supplements with an additional $25 incentive for every student who maintains that balance beyond the first six months.

9. Community State Bank’s MyLIFE. It’s like the game of Life, but with a focus on money skills. Developed by Community State Bank in Union Grove, Wisconsin, MyLIFE stands for “My Local Interactive Financial Education.” High school students choose a career path early in the school year, and then are randomly assigned a “life”—i.e., a marital status, kids, education, credit, etc. With the help of teachers, business leaders, and community volunteers, students learn how to navigate the money decisions dictated by their life circumstances. We want to play.

10. Field & Main Bank’s Colonel’s Corner Bank. This Henderson, Kentucky bank takes financial education a step further. Partnering with the Henderson County High School, the bank helped launch Colonel’s Corner Bank (CCB), a student-run bank that can cash checks, open savings accounts, and make small loans for students and faculty. After being trained by Field & Main staff, students serve as CCB executives, compliance officers, auditors, PR, branch managers, loan officers—and even our favorite: marketing.

If all that leaves you wondering how your bank can offer financial literacy as part of your community engagement plan, it’s easier than you think. The ABA Community Engagement Foundation offers a variety of financial education programs and resources.

One of those programs, Teach Children to Save, is now in its 20th year. This free curriculum makes it easy for bankers to enter a classroom setting and lead fun, engaging, age-appropriate finance lessons that bring money management to life. And it’s not too late. while Teach Children to Save Day officially falls on April 28, events take place throughout the school year.

Kate Young is the content editor of Email: [email protected]