Child's play

The value of money and an appreciation of its worth are not easy concepts for children. Kate Whitehead talks to money professionals making a game of it

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 3:53pm

Many parents shy away from teaching their kids about the birds and the bees, but sex education isn't the only awkward subject - talking about money can be just as tricky.

The good news is there's help at hand. The last decade has seen a steady increase in support systems to nurture financial awareness in the young, from classes to cartoons.

"You can start teaching about money very young, when they first ask about it, which may be as early as three or four depending on the kid. My children were talking about money in some form when they were three years old," says Sean Rach, regional director, brand and corporate affairs at Prudential Asia and father of two.

Rach headed up the Prudential team that partnered with Cartoon Network to create Cha-Ching, a financial literacy programme launched in 2011 to help parents in Asia instil money-smart values in children. It is aired on the Cartoon Network in seven markets: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cha-Ching uses an "edutainment" approach to develop children's understanding of what is described as the four money pillars: earning, saving, spending and donating. These four concepts are made relevant to children through the Cha-Ching rock band made up of six characters, each with a different attitude to money.

The show is aimed at Cartoon Network's viewers, aged seven to 12, but Rach says even younger children can enjoy it. The most visited section of the show's website - - is the section for parents, offering practical advice and home activities.

Now in its third year, the show's makers carry out extensive research in all seven markets to pinpoint the key issues.

"In the research we saw from Hong Kong, kids here may not get practice with money as much as in other markets. That's a sign of the times - pester power wins, rather than getting into a value discussion," Rach says, explaining how time-strapped Hong Kong parents give into their child's demands.

The most recent Cha-Ching study, released at the end of last year, showed that children have trouble understanding cashless transactions - this was significant in Hong Kong where Octopus stored value cards prevail. Most children (66 per cent) did not track the spending or balance on their cards and almost all (92 per cent) had their parents reload their cards for them. Perhaps even more shocking many thought the Mark Six (46 per cent) and horse betting (37 per cent) were forms of investment.

"With Octopus and credit cards, the opportunity to teach children about money can be challenging. At the grocery store they need to see there's a receipt and that you paid for it and how it works; it's not just magic," Rach says.

The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) heads up one of the city's most long-standing campaigns to instil good money habits in the young, called Rich Kid, Poor Kid. The institute sends professional accountants to schools to teach children about money values and skills using a storybook written by local writer Nury Vittachi, along with an animated film.

The institute has reached 65,000 students with the campaign, which is a free service.

"Parents worry if they don't teach their children good money habits, they will be poor as adults and many worry their children will be victims of financial fraud," says Susanna Chiu, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants. "For primary students, we teach them to understand the value of money through story-telling and animated video. And we teach them about the three "s" - spending, saving and sharing."

The institute has also published a series of books for children - The May Moon Money-Wise Box Set - as well as a set for parents, How to Raise a Money-Wise Child. The message again is to start teaching money concepts and values early. "We teach them about building good money habits and skills so they can grow up with a good sense of financial responsibility and not get caught up in dollar signs, so they will live a more wholesome life," Chiu says.

Money management classes for children have been popular in the US and Europe for well over a decade, but the trend is only just catching on in Hong Kong. Anuja Agarwal, a former banker, launched her version of the classes in Hong Kong last year, called Money Wise.

"I was taken aback by the response I received. People are very interested in the course. There's a demand for it, it's something people find useful. Many kids here go overseas to study, the parents want their kids to be savvy enough to manage their money when they are away from home," says Agarwal, a former trader and holder of a master's degree in business administration.

To parents who say to her, "Why the rush? My kids will learn all this when they grow up," Agarwal says the habits instilled when you are young will last a lifetime. "You want to make them responsible about money and where they spend it, to give them a sense of how tough it is to earn money," Agarwal says.

The mother of two says parents can lay a good foundation at home and that can begin with teaching them to appreciate the value of money. Agarwal, who grew up in a household of 10 with no running water, says many Hong Kong children grow up with a lot of privileges.

"For parents of preschoolers, make them get the feeling of work for money - not to make them associate money with something unpleasant, but to give them a sense that money doesn't grow on trees," she says.

That's a sentiment shared by Rach: "As kids get older in Hong Kong, they don't have the opportunity to get a job as they might in another culture, there are not as many of those relatively easy unskilled jobs to earn money. We need a way to find a way for them to do that."

Also new to Hong Kong is the Money Savvy Kids programme, an American course that is available through Inner Seeds Workshop, a for-profit education firm.

"We're the sole distributor in Hong Kong. We have a syllabus, workbooks, CD and a teacher's handbook," says Vivian Ho, founder of Inner Seeds Workshop, who has tailored the course to the local market by adding Hong Kong elements, such as the Octopus card and how to save Lunar New Year lai see money.

"We use real life situations and set up role-play corners in the classroom and some kids play as bankers and some play as customers. We talk about how banks operate and ATM cards," she says.

And money talk for kids isn't just about saving and spending - it's about giving back, too. HKICPA's Susanna Chiu says Hong Kong teenagers often forget how privileged they are. "You've got to cultivate the idea of charity. When kids are young you can explain to them, 'OK, you already have this much, can you donate some to a particular charity because you have more than them.'"

Rach is keen to point out that donating isn't just about giving money to a cause; it could also be a matter of offering your time or goods that you aren't using. "These are important lessons," he says. "You want to establish those habits and values early in life."