Ca$h course for Kiwi kids: A new financial literacy app for schools gets kids earning money and paying taxes – virtually

Six months after launch, Banqer is in 122 classrooms nationwide

Accountant-turned-developer Kendall Flutey developed her school-based financial literacy programme after being inspired by a project her little brother was doing at school. She talked to tells Idealog about her web-based app making Kiwi kids financially literate, one classroom at a time.

Idealog: What exactly does Banqer do?

Kendall Flutey: 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 interactive with. They pay bills, earn income and contribute to their classroom economy as ruled and regulated by their teacher.

Banqer isn’t a game as such; more a simulation of our economy, condensed into a timeframe anywhere from a term to a school year. The teacher stipulates how much the kids are exposed to broad financial concepts and can build on these progressively as they grasp them.

Where did the idea come from?

The original idea was sparked from a conversation I had last year with my younger brother. He was in year eight at the time and we started chatting about these things I had no idea he knew about. Typically our conversations consisted of football or sports chat, however this time he was asking me things about the economy. I prodded a bit and it turns out his teacher was running a paper-based financial literacy scheme in his classroom, which clearly the kids loved.

I was intrigued so I got his teacher's email address and pried a bit further. I thought it was fantastic, but saw two big problems. First, we no longer interact with currency in the way it was happening in his class, as we now have more of a virtual relationship with it. Second, this teacher was having to spend too much time managing a manual spread sheet, when the entire process could be automated.

That’s when I had the idea for Banqer.

I used to be an accountant and am now I am a web developer, so the project is a good marriage between my two loves - business and technology.

I pitched the idea at a Wellington Startup Weekend and our four-person team decided we wanted to continue with it. I then called up my brother’s teacher, Micah Hocquard (winner of the 2013 most inspiring teacher in New Zealand award)

and asked if he was interested in joining. Thankfully he said yes. He is often the instigator and regulator of product feature development, and also produces our curriculum-aligned resources.

Who is your target?

Obviously we’d love to be in every classroom in New Zealand but we are initially targeting 8-12 years-olds (years 4-8), and less than six months have got into 122 classrooms. Later, we want to expand into secondary school.

What sort of things do kids learn?

Banqer introduces children a lot of financial concepts, like earning income, paying taxes, and compounding interest.  And they see how it works – for example they see tax going out of their account, and can discuss why we pay taxes and how we, as a society benefit from this contribution.

They learn the main financial concepts we are expected to know when we enter the workforce and become untethered from our parents financially, but often a lot of us are never taught.

But they are just kids. Why is financial literacy important?

A 2014 study by the Australian Commonwealth Bank found increasing financial literacy of the least financially literate by 10% would add $A6bn per year to the Australian economy and create 16,000 new jobs.

The financial illiteracy of our society also results in individuals putting themselves, and their dependants, in stressful, unpleasant situations – like taking on high interest debt.

Kids without basic financial concepts are unprepared for the real world. Maybe they can’t make effective financial decisions, or they might be deceived or misled financially.

How do teachers use it in the classroom?

It is a web-app but not on mobile devices. A teacher dials up our website banqer.co, registers and gets going – all within 5 minutes

Was Banqer a large investment for you?

Not financially – the largest investment was our time. Our team has poured in thousands of unpaid hours into the project since we started late last year.

How do you make money?

We’re a subscription-based app. Classrooms pay for their use on a “per child, per term” basis. If a teacher signed their class of 25 up for Banqer for a year it would cost $200 for the whole class for the entire year.

We don’t want cost to be the sole inhibiting factor for a school however, so we work with awesome partners who share the goal of growing financially literate Kiwis.

Are you making money?

We are. We pretty much had paying users from day one.

Do you need funding?

We’re managing to get around the New Zealand classrooms pretty efficiently bootstrapping, but next year we will turn our eyes to international growth – and we’ll definitely look at funding down the line there.