5 min read

Age of the app

My eldest child has just started secondary school. This has meant all sorts of changes in our house and not all of them involving me checking my grey hairs and wondering where the years have gone.

A little boy and little girl sit at a table holding mugs.

Starting secondary school – a rite of passage

It’s meant earlier starts; a school planner I would have killed for as a stationery-obsessed child; the discomfort of collar and tie; and those all important secondary school rites of passage – own set of door keys, mobile phone and bank account.

Except it appears that if anything I’ve been a little late to the party in waiting until my boy was almost 12 before opening his first bank account (with that much-desired debit card). According to research by YouGov, the majority of children (64%) get their first bank or building society account before they start secondary school. While he’s had his own building society account since he was a baby, this was more a depository for ensuring birthday and Christmas money was out of his reach, rather than a genuine money management tool.

In addition, the research found that 63% get their first mobile phone before secondary school and 58% have bought something online, or had something bought for them online, before they were 12.

Knowledge gap

While the stats thrown up by this survey – carried out by YouGov for the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) and financial education charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group) – may not surprise many, it’s worth bearing in mind that formal financial education for school kids doesn’t start until secondary school.

Almost three quarters of primary school children have access to a tablet/iPad and 57% of them have downloaded a paid-for app either on their own or with parental help. Perhaps if we were all educating our children at primary school age thoroughly in the world of personal finance, covering bank accounts, interest rates, overdrafts and such like, it wouldn’t matter that this level of use is taking place so early. But as purchasing apps and online shopping is intrinsically linked to having money in a bank account or on a credit card (or not!) it’s alarming that this knowledge gap is there.

Less than a quarter (23%) of 8 – 15 year olds had heard of a current account and understood how it worked, and only 13% who were aware of overdrafts claimed they understood them well. And while almost three quarters of 15 year olds had a bank account with a debit card, 72% never use online banking.

“But this research did make me stop and think, to what extent I have expected my kids to understand the world of finance by osmosis…”

Buying online and financial education

There are some bizarre findings in among this survey that suggest we are failing our school children when it comes to financial education. Not least when the process of ‘buying stuff’ has become more complicated. For parents brought up in a time when spending pocket money meant an expedition involving catching buses, walking or begging a lift to the nearest shops, the world of online shopping open to our children has meant spending money is much easier and more accessible.

The Government has said it will add financial education to the curriculum in secondary schools by September 2014 but the upshot of this survey is that the BBA and pfeg want to see it added earlier, for primary school children to benefit, and also added to free school and academy teaching (which fall outside the curriculum requirements).

While I’m all for formal financial education, I do think this is an area where parents need to accept some responsibility and ensure they’re explaining some basic finance facts to their kids. But this research did make me stop and think, and consider to what extent I have expected my kids to understand the world of finance by osmosis, rather than directly explaining it to them.

I fear I may be as guilty as the next person of under-educating my kids in this area, but that will change when they get back from school today.

Written by Jane Bainbridge

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