Banks in Schools Are a Great Way to Teach Financial Literacy

On Campus ATMs

With so many folks struggling just to break even in this economy, it seems that everybody could use about all the help they can get. People of all ages and economic situations are having trouble saving enough to afford a comfortable retirement and are being roped into mortgages they are straining to afford. With all that’s happened lately, it looks as if a little financial education is something that almost everybody could use right now.

I’ve been a proponent of financial education in schools for a while now so I was excited to learn that student-run banks in elementary and high schools are rapidly gaining in popularity. What a great way to help teach kids the benefits and drawbacks of saving and spending money than putting the financial system in the very place where they spend most of their day?

The debate rages on for how appropriate financial education is in our school system and in exactly what form it should take. I agree with the notion that the majority of a child’s lessons on fiscal responsibility should come from the parents but learning these concepts in school as well as in the home is essential to giving kids the foundation necessary to make smart financial decisions later in life.

The first in-school bank launched about a decade ago and it’s estimated that there are now hundreds of such institutions in schools. The way that it works is a local bank will partner with a school to get the appropriate equipment, space and training in place for students at the school to operate their “branch”. After that, the bank’s hands-on involvement can be relatively minimal but most continue the partnering by providing financial learning opportunities for young people.

In my neighborhood, North Shore Bank headquartered in Brookfield, Wisconsin is one of those banks that has established a branch at a local middle school. Over and above setting up the physical space for students to open accounts and make deposits, North Shore is also teaching students about the ins and outs of financial literacy. Staff from the bank will periodically provide instruction in the classroom covering relevant topics such as understanding the services a bank provides, establishing financial goals and managing a weekly allowance.

This is the type of education that kids today need. Too often, we hear stories about young people simply tapping their parents for money like they’re a revolving line of credit. Teaching children that money is a valuable commodity that needs to be both managed and handled with care can hopefully help avoid some of the failures that have beleaguered millions of adults across the country over the last several years.

I’m glad that schools are realizing that partnering with local banks and credit unions can be a mutually beneficial relationship that helps establish smart and responsible financial behavior in kids. The growth in these types of arrangements should be proof that it’s a win-win situation. Let’s hope it continues!

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Author Info

This post was written by David Dierking. David lives outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has been working in the financial services industry for over 13 years with a background in investments, accounting, and marketing. He earned his Chartered Financial Analyst designation from the CFA Institute in 2004 and was recently published in the Milwaukee Business Journal. You can also check him out at The Ultimate Fit Challenge

3 Responses to “Banks in Schools Are a Great Way to Teach Financial Literacy”

  1. Edwin | Finantage |  May 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    That seems like a fairly smart way to teach kids. I am curious though as to how the specifics work. Do they have some kind of “play money” that’s used? By which I mean do they have like a school account that they can use for lunch and other things they need to pay for, but incorporate it into this branch of the bank?

    • David |  May 18, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      From what I’ve discovered, kids use their own money to open their own accounts. They can withdraw their own money for school lunches or other things. If they need it, they can take out a “loan” (about $25 max) where they have to pay it back within about a week or two.

  2. David |  May 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    On the surface this sounds like a good idea. However the idea of any company partnering with a school makes me nervous. The fact that you described this as a win-win situation makes me nervous. I think the banks should be educating students as a community relations project in the same way firefighters might go in to a school and explain their job as well.

    My concern is that banks would be doing this primarily as a cheap way to build future customers.

    I’m not saying I’m against what these banks are doing since I don’t have enough facts, but it’s enough to make me suspicious in the same way that credit card companies would feast off of college students.