Ditching Dollarmites: A new way forward in student financial literacy

Classroom of students with their hands up, using computers in a financial literacy program.

Whether you know CommBank’s Dollarmites as ’80s gremlin puppets or as their schmick new animated kid-selves, their reign as Australian school banking royalty is coming to an end.

The Commonwealth Bank’s school banking program and others like it will be moved out of ACT schools from July this year after a ban was passed unanimously by the territory’s Legislative Assembly. 

This comes after the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) released a report in December 2020 revealing school banking financial programs did little to independently improve children’s savings habits, and aggressively marketed financial products to a captive and vulnerable audience.

The ACT is the second state to make the move, with the Victorian ban on financial institutions running these programs coming into force in the first school term of 2021.

But with the Dollarmites and their mates slowly being edged out of Australian schools, educators will need to find new resources to meet and complement financial literacy curriculum requirements. 

Financial educations platforms of the future

One platform offering an alternative is Banqer. This financial education social enterprise started its journey in New Zealand in 2015, led by chief executive and co-founder Kendall Flutey. 

Since 2017 Banqer has been sharing its practical approach to personal finance in Australian primary and high schools, covering everything from budgeting to insurance, tax, real estate and the stock exchange. 

Flutey says the key difference between Banqer’s platform and the old crew of in-school banking programs is that Banqer is an education company, not a financial institution. Their goals and those of similar platforms are focused on improvements in financial literacy and long-term student capabilities.

“We need to be really cautious when we introduce financial concepts into the classroom, because often it’s the first time kids have had a dedicated, structured financial education experience,” Flutey says.

“That’s not to say there’s not a place for financial institutions in financial literacy, but I definitely don’t think it’s one where they have a really clean funnel to quite vulnerable consumers: kids.” 

A 2019 CHOICE investigation showed 46% of Australians opened their first bank account with the Commonwealth Bank and, across all institutions, 34% of people still held their very first account. When it comes to life-long banking customers, a marketing campaign scooping up those first-time customers can be lucrative. 

While earning interest in a savings account can of course be beneficial, some of the additional incentives for kids to save through school banking programs like the Dollarmites now include winning toys and discounted entertainment offers.

“When we gamify it and introduce marketing hooks like product placement early, it’s extremely dangerous,” says Flutey. “On our platform for example, we’re teaching kids how to spot those sorts of things, not making [children] experience them and fall victim to them early.”

Beyond avoiding financial pitfalls and marketing spin, Flutey says her digitally accessible platform goes beyond supporting only the financial literacy curriculum.

“Be it numeracy, reading or social sciences, financial literacy does show up in key competencies and concepts. So it may be something as simple as teaching interest through percentages, or maybe something really technical like understanding risk management,” she says.

This complex integration can be difficult for teachers to navigate, especially if it’s a new concept for them. Flutey says helping educators weave financial literacy through this by providing good quality resources is the heart of Banqer’s mission.

“And it’s not just Banqer out there that’s got good stuff – Moneysmart from ASIC is a pretty cool resource as well as others.”

If your kids are ready to kick-off their banking and savings journey, you can investigate options at Mozo’s kids savings account comparison page.