School banking promises children experience of managing their finances. But are the banks simply selling themselves? Elaine Williams reports
In the highly competitive world of financial services, banks now regard schools as fertile ground for recruiting future customers. For their part schools increasingly wish to see children educated in personal finance which these days means more than running a current and savings account.
As full-time staff jobs disappear and state care is eroded, youngsters risk disaster unless their education equips them to make necessary financial provisions. Choosing between mortgages, pensions, insurance, PEPs and a plethora of loans and overdraft facilities requires critical understanding as financial products and services jostle for attention.
The Yorkshire Bank set up a school-based savings scheme more than 120 years ago, but banks now consider that it is better to invest in a wider, more educational service. The TSB, for example, closed its school banks two years ago in favour of a Banking in Education programme which includes presentations by school liaison officers.
Maxine Phillips, the TSB's sponsorship manager, said the bank intended its education programme as a "platform for dialogue". "Our ultimate hope is that pupils will bank with us but we don't put them under pressure," she said.
Mary Bowman is head of economic and business studies at St Helen's School for Girls, in Northwood, Middlesex. She feels that personal finance should have a bigger place in the curriculum and has been involved in NatWest's Face 2 Face programme which introduces students to financial decision-making through real-life simulations. In one project, NatWest staff came into the school to support girls in Years 9 and 10 who were simulating a tender for a catering contract with the local golf club.
"They come in to give specialist advice whenever we ask for it," she said. "We have not been bombarded with promotional material. They underplay that. "
Although young people are actually banks' least loyal customers, the general view is that once they have opened accounts, they are likely to stay with the bank for life.
But should schools expose pupils to such subtle marketing? John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said schools welcomed advice and teaching material from banks, but warned that care should be taken "that this is done at a generic level and that one bank is not promoting its products above others".
Alastair Wells, head of information technology at The Netherhall School, Cambridge, involved pupils in turning the Midland Bank's "Midland Game" into a software package. Pupils "tested, evaluated and supplied the photography" for a package which is now offered free to schools. Netherhall was given Pounds 3,000 by the Midland to produce the software. "It was a card game, a bit like Monopoly," said Mr Wells. "You are the bank manager and you have to deal with certain everyday and unusual occurrences. It seemed ideal for software. We use it all the time. Banks, of course, are in the business of getting their name recognised and that's fair enough."
Called to account: banking in schools
* Yorkshire Bank, which set up the School Bank Scheme in 1874, has 4,000 branches in schools. It provides Pounds 50 to set up a minibranch and Pounds 50 marketing costs. It also offers curriculum materials, including videos on money matters, and grants of up to Pounds 100 for environmental projects.
* Barclays entered school banking six years ago and has 200 branches. It offers Pounds 1 for new accounts opened at a school bank. In April Barclays launched a PC-based banking package for schools. It has three survival guides, How to Do Better in Exams, Staying On and Leaving School.
* Midland Bank has 830 mini-branches in schools. Children who want jobs in the banks are interviewed by a local branch manager. The bank sent schools 25,000 free copies of How to Manage Your Money.
* TSB has a wide network of school liaison officers, and provides Moving On, a resource pack including communications skills and money management. It sponsors school athletics awards and Artsbound, which is subsidising schools beyond the M25 for trips to the National Gallery.
* NatWest has produced its wide-ranging Face 2 Face With Finance programme, involving talks, role play and work experience, in partnership with the NatWest Department for Education and Literacy at Warwick University. More than 2,370 schools are registered.