As a veteran accountant with a keen sense of social responsibility, Kenneth Lau Chak-keung is committed to educating youngsters about how to manage money well.
'I once came across a woman in her 20s who went bankrupt,' says Lau, a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants and a volunteer for the institute's 'Rich Kid, Poor Kid' programme. 'The root of her problem lay in overspending. It struck me how important it is for young people to learn the basic lessons of finance early in their life.' The institute is the only body authorised by law to register and grant practising certificates to certified public accountants (CPAs) in Hong Kong.
Launched in 2005, the programme was designed to foster in students an understanding of the value of money and ways to manage it wisely, which the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs believes is crucial to leading a successful life. Most schools in Hong Kong do not teach money skills, and according to the institute's research, most parents are not confident about teaching them to their children.
'The sooner they start learning money skills and values, the easier it is for them to develop good habits and cultivate a greater sense of financial responsibility when they grow up,' says Winnie Cheung Chi-woon, chief executive of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs. 'What better way for CPAs to demonstrate their social responsibility than to pass on their expertise to help create a financially responsible generation?'
As part of the programme, volunteers conduct road shows - or presentations - in secondary schools while telling stories in primary schools, interacting with students through games, activities, videos and discussions. Surveys looking into teenagers' attitudes towards money and ways parents teach their children about the subject matter are also conducted, along with the publication of a book for parents and stories for children.
Two of the storybooks were written by humourist Nury Vittachi. May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs tells the tale of 12-year-old May Moon, who meets a talking book that divulges the money secrets of CPAs to her. Through a series of trials and tribulations, she finds out that while earning money is important, having a lot of it is not the recipe for happiness. Meanwhile, May Moon Rescues the World Economy, written in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008, seeks to help children understand broad economic concepts and the causes of the crisis.
About 400 institute members volunteer in the 'Rich Kid, Poor Kid' programme. The sessions are held mostly on weekdays, each one is run by two CPAs who prepare for the presentations using the manual and scripts put together by the institute.
The programme has reached more than 55,000 students through nearly 350 storytelling sessions and road shows in 236 schools. At the Asia Pacific PR Awards in 2007, the initiative was named 'Corporate Social Responsibility Campaign of the Year' and recognised as a platform to create sustainable benefits to society.
Lau, who has been a storyteller for more than two years, says students should be able to differentiate between what they want and what they need. 'Many of them have pocket money, and we show them how to spend it wisely and explain to them the importance of not spending more than what they have,' he says.
Another volunteer, Mandy Yim Kam-wai, who has been a presenter of road shows in secondary schools since last year, says effective communication is the key to engaging students. Volunteers go to different schools and talk to students with different levels of ability and interest, making adjustments to the teaching materials and topics of discussions where necessary, she adds.
'Sometimes students feel bored and we have to come up with ways to engage them on the spot,' she says. 'We would invite them to answer a question or focus on topics that interest them. This can be challenging at times, but I really appreciate the experience.'