NatWest: Producing vital financial literacy content for teachers and parents alike 26 April 2022 282

Thom Kenrick, Head of Social Strategy & Impact at NatWest Group, describes how starting with the basics have led to an award-winning financial education program for kids. 

Why did you decide to launch a financial literacy program? Is this something that was missing from the school curriculum?

NatWest originally launched their “Face2Face with Finance” program in 1994. Over the last 27 years, the program has been expanded, updated, and rebranded many times to become the digital-first MoneySense program that exists today. Financial literacy is an essential skill for everyone to learn, with studies showing that financial behaviors can be formed by the age of 7. We’ve come a long way in the UK since 1994 – for example, financial education is now on the curriculum for all UK nations at secondary school , and increasingly being included in the primary curriculum. Programs like MoneySense provide vital content (including lessons, worksheets, articles, games, videos, and workshops) to help teachers and parents to help kids learn about money.

Designing a game is a real challenge. Can you tell me more about the main challenges you faced in making Island Saver? And did you get help from game professionals?

Island Saver came about because we knew we wanted to break financial education out of the classroom and put it in kids’ hands in an immersive way. The main challenge was that no banks had done this before, so everything was new. We also knew a challenge would be making a game that people want to play. Previous games that try to teach people about money have tended to be dull and so had limited appeal. We wanted to go “fun first” and we partnered with award-winning Scottish games developer, StormCloud, to create the game itself and make sure we had the right expertise on board throughout. They were brilliant and made sure we didn’t think like bankers! We then tested our ideas at every stage – from concept, to first demo, to full levels, to the final game – with kids to make sure they found it fun, and that they were understanding the learning points. We were delighted with the results and got great feedback after launch, with scores of over 4/5 in all the stores.

Tell me more about the results of MoneySense and Island Saver. And also how do you measure the outcome of these programs and games in terms of improving students' financial literacy?

MoneySense is the largest and longest running program of its type in the UK (and possibly the world) in terms of reach and scale. Over half of UK schools are registered to use the program and more than 10 million young people across the UK and Ireland have had a MoneySense lesson since 1994, with over a million more being added each year. Island Saver has also been a great success since it was launched, with over 3.6 million downloads globally to date. Both the program and the game have won awards and/or been accredited too, which is a great endorsement. It is really hard to measure direct impact on financial literacy (as kids have lots of influences) but we have done a number of “before and after” surveys that show improved understanding of key concepts, and even intent to change behavior.

We talk a lot about successes but we also know that failures are very rich in lessons. What advice would you give to a banker who is just starting to design a financial literacy program for minors? What mistakes have you made or almost made? What are the pitfalls to avoid?

I’d say two things. First, start with the absolute basics – don’t do investing or economics before you’ve done ‘wants and needs’. Second, try to make it about real life with suggestions of how to get hands on experience and ‘learn by doing’. Young people are naturally interested in money, so engage them on things which are relevant and interesting to them and their friends – whether that’s sweets, comics, parties, mobile phones, or gaming – by focusing on real life learning you really build their knowledge and confidence. Also: stay focused! It is a bottomless pit and there’s always lots of ideas about what else could be done. Sometimes it’s possible to get taken down a road that isn’t actually that valuable or needed.

From a purely marketing and brand image point of view, have these different initiatives made NatWest a brand of choice for those who will become customers in a few years? Do you have any studies and figures that show an impact in this sense? Or did it have an impact on youth account opening?

The main reason we deliver these programs is for the social impact and to fill the need that we know is out there for families, schools and young people to learn about money in a way that makes sense to them. Our programs are accredited by the UK charity, Young Money, as being impartial and they don’t include any direct references to specific NatWest products or services, as we obviously don’t want to be selling to children. Of course, we hope that young people might remember NatWest helped them to learn about money when they come to open their own accounts, but that’s not something we measure.

To learn more about financial institutions' offerings for kids, visit our FS Innovation Radar and download the report "Generation next"

Related Content