Kendall Flutey started young in business and was reprimanded by her teacher at the age of seven for selling subscriptions to classroom newsletters at 20c a pop.
“The teacher was concerned I was coercing this money from my classmates - she obviously didn't appreciate my journalistic prowess, so it was a short-lived venture,” she told Stuff.
And that entrepreneurial mindset has continued to blossom over the years. After studying economics and accounting at Otago University, she received a graduate position at KPMG, but, after just one year, she decided to follow her dream and took the Enspiral Dev Academy Bootcamp in Wellington. She then joined web and app developer Abletech and, five months later, along with four business partners, launched Banqer, financial education software that allows students to learn about finance in different modules.
“Think of it as mock online banking, where the teacher is the banker and the students have their own personal accounts which they can log into and interact with,” she says. “They pay bills, earn income and contribute to their classroom economy as ruled and regulated by their teacher.”
Banqer, which was started in Wellington but relocated to the GreenHouse collaborative hub in Christchurch in February, won the BNZ ‘Start-up Alley’ competition in 2015. It also beat 30 other Australian and Kiwi financial technology startups in October when it took home the Best Innovation in Show Award at the Affiliation Fintech Showcase in Sydney.
More importantly, it’s also being supported by its intended audience. She estimates the subscription-based app costs around $200 a year for a class of 25 and, in March, it was being used in around 300 classrooms throughout New Zealand. She says Banqer is not actively trying to enter into secondary schools, as it is designed for primary and intermediate students. However, it is currently being used in secondary schools.
"To craft a product that appeals to both six year olds and 18 year olds would heavily decrease the overall user experience. There would just be too much compromise in catering for both age groups. There are very few examples of successful educational, or otherwise, products who capture the entire schooling market and satisfy strongly at both levels."
Financial literacy is something plenty of businesses are keen to improve, often as part of their corporate social responsibility schemes. And Kiwibank (which is paying to put the tool into 1000 Kiwi classrooms), KPMG, the Insurance Council of New Zealand, the Young Enterprise Trust and Mike Greer Homes have given their support to Banqer.
Flutey, 24, says education technology is key for not only teaching students, but immersing them in the content they are studying – a far cry from the days of simple rote learning from a textbook.
“I feel the most exciting aspect of edutech is that it’s a way to immerse students into learning, rather than simply delivering content to them,” she says. “Student interaction with new platforms, ideas, and concepts transforms learning from a passive event, to a very much involved one. Arguably though, the real importance of edutech in New Zealand is that learning can find its way into places it wouldn’t have otherwise. It can trickle out of the stipulated classroom hours, and onto a school bus, or into the home. It’s important that the providers of edutech can protect this, by designing products that are accessible to all.”
She says the progressive thinking of many Kiwis also means the country is in a fantastic position to become a world leader in the field.
“We are already extremely progressive in our thinking around schooling, with ILEs (Interactive Learning Environments) being testament to that,” she says. “Given the fluidity in our curriculum in terms of how things are delivered, we do have an opportunity to adopt edutech strongly in our classrooms. I think New Zealand is already teaching the world a lot, in terms of questioning what a classroom environment looks and sounds like.”
Still, there’s much for us to learn, Flutey says.
“One mindset that could be strengthened – and I'm sure will be over time – is that we need to stop compartmentalising learning,” she says. “New Zealand classrooms – particularly primary and intermediate – are certainly heading this way, but greater emphasis needs to go into it. In reality, subjects are extremely interrelated, yet we treat them as though they need to be self-contained. This became extremely evident to us when we began to campaign for financial education in schools through Banqer, as some teachers or principals argue a full timetable. If we keep viewing the classroom as a zero-sum game, we are going to be the losers. We cannot afford to fear cross-subject contamination – you don’t only need to learn maths in a dedicated maths hour. The same applies for all subjects.”
Being brought up by a single mother and spending plenty of time with her frugal grandparents taught Flutey the value of a dollar, the importance of not spending beyond her means and the power of investment. And she’s confident the technology she helped develop can teach a new generation those same important financial lessons.