Hong Kong students learn some valuable lessons about money

Financial education programme teaches students how to be wise with their cash

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 5:35pm

Learning how to manage and save money are key life skills, and these basics of financial awareness can be taught to children as young as kindergarten age.

A generation ago, money talk was seen as a subject too crude to raise with children, and many parents were as reluctant to discuss it as they would sex. The past decade, however, has seen a steady increase in workshops and classes dedicated to nurturing financial awareness.

"The earlier in life a person receives financial education, the more effective it is, as a large part of financial education is about taking time to instil the right mindset, so that they will become financially responsible citizens when they grow up," says Mary Huen, Standard Chartered's regional head for retail clients, Greater China.

The bank is the executive sponsor of a financial education programme now running for secondary school students called "Shape Your Future".

By the end of the year, 3,500 students aged 15 to 17 from 40 schools will have gone through the two- to three-hour workshop which teaches teenagers how to approach personal finance, long before they are eligible for a credit card.

"When young people leave school and enter university or society, they will be faced with myriad financial management tools - credit cards, borrowing facilities, mortgages, saving for retirement - just to name a few," says Huen.

"Society has the responsibility to empower them with basic financial knowledge and to help them develop the correct mindset before they are exposed to these choices," she says.

Carmen Lau and classmate Vivien Xiao agree that the two most important things they have learnt from the class is an understanding of how credit cards work - and how to use them wisely - along with how to develop the habit of saving money.

"I don't have a credit card yet, but when I get one I will know how to use it correctly. Now I understand the concept of 'minimum payments' and how it's better to pay off the debt each month," says 16-year-old Lau.

Xiao says Lau was a shopaholic who regularly splurged on Nike trainers and K-pop CDs, but after attending the workshop, she has changed her spendthrift ways.

"Now she says she doesn't have money to buy anything because she's saving - she's never thought like this before," says Xiao, who puts aside HK$1,000 each month towards her university fund.

About 300 Standard Chartered staff have volunteered to teach the programme. The opportunity to meet and learn from those in the finance industry has had a big impact on both students.

"The two women who taught us were both seniors at the bank and their work experience was really useful. I am interested in the Hong Kong economy, and financial markets, like stocks," says Lau; she is now considering a career in banking, she adds.

We want to reach children when they are young so they will plan early
Betty Chan, MPF schemes authority

Huen says she finds the workshops with the students rewarding and now realises that when building the right mindset for money management, it's often not complicated financial analysis that is the key factor.

"Something as fundamental as distinguishing between one's needs and one's wants, can build a solid foundation to help youngsters navigate through the material world," says Huen.

And it's never too early to start planning for your retirement, says Betty Chan, head of external affairs for the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority. Together with the Po Leung Kuk and the Education Bureau, the authority has produced a new storybook on money management for kindergarten students, titled MPF Circus.

Educating young students has the added advantage of also reaching out to their parents who are invited to join the sessions and read along with their children.

"Parents and teachers are the role models for children. We hope these adults will set a good example for the children in terms of financial planning," says Chan.

The MPF system was introduced in Hong Kong in 2000 and while the first few years were dedicated to educating adults about the system, the focus now is on reaching out to prospective members, Chan says.

The MPFA programme stretches from the early years through to tertiary institutions. For primary students, there is a "Smart Kid" money management workshop hosted by social workers who aim to give children practical tips on dealing with money. The programme for secondary school students includes an hour-long drama workshop and a lesson in how to prepare and plan for different stages in life.

"We want to reach children when they are young so they will have the concept of planning from their early days. At secondary school we teach about the MPF system, how to save a portion of your income for retirement," says Chan, adding that the best way to reach young working adults is through social media platforms.

There are many independent money management classes on offer, too. Anuja Agarwal, a former Wall Street trader, has set up Pinnacle Learning Centre (pinworld.co) and designed "Money Wise", aimed at making children comfortable with money and building positive spending and saving habits. Her courses cater for children aged four to 14.

Another popular workshop is the Money Savvy Kids programme, a US course that is available through Inner Seeds Workshop. "We're the sole distributor in Hong Kong," says Inner Seeds founder Vivian Ho. Workbooks, CD and teacher's handbook are provided.

Aimed at children aged five to 12, Ho 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. She advises parents to begin teaching children as soon as they show an interest.

"Some children start asking about money early. They want to pay, and they want to get change - they want to learn how money works in the real world," says Ho.

"When parents observe this behaviour it's the best time to teach."