Bank Takes on Financial Literacy for Teens

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Capital One is stepping up to the plate for three New York City high schools to educate kids on the basics of money management. Other banks aren’t far behind.

With more and more high school students heading into an uncertain and anxious economy, a little learning — with a major financial institution’s help — is good policy and good public relations for image-tarnished big banks.

Certainly the need to catch America’s youth early on and teach them the value of savings and investing is growing. A June survey from Capital One (Stock Quote: COF) shows that 45% of all U.S. high school seniors surveyed say they are either unprepared or unsure of how to handle their own banking needs.

But of the 30% of respondents who have taken a financial management class, 75% say they are prepared to handle their bank accounts and other personal finance needs.

One other point: 71% of the survey respondents who say they talk to their parents “regularly” rate themselves as either “highly” or “very” knowledgeable about personal finance. Another 81% in the same group fell “significantly” more confident about handling their own finances.

Consequently, it’s hardly surprising that Capital One would be especially aggressive in reaching out to teenagers and show them the ropes, financially-speaking. The bank is currently operating bank branches within three New York and (New Jersey) high schools, all with a Capital One official supervising the program.

The banks pretty much operate on training wheels — students only engage in basic bank services like opening an account or depositing cash. Students have to apply for “positions” in the bank, and opening are limited to about 10 per school, Capital One says. At Thurgood Marshall High School in Harlem, only 10 of 600 students are accepted into the program. Capital One says that, of all the kids who participate in the banking program, 90% go on to college.

“This truly unique experience helped me to attain responsibility, wisdom in the workforce and a strong grasp on the concept of financial literacy,” said Matthew Reyes, a high school student at Marshall who is helping run the student banking program. “I was challenged to push myself further, allowing me to grow not only as a student or employee, but as an adult.”

Capital One — and Reyes — aren’t alone. PNC Bank (Stock Quote: PNC) has a similar program at Riverside Elementary School in Jeffersonville, Ind. There, 14 students — from kindergarten to fifth-grade — act as junior banking executives and actually operate two bank branches on the school’s premises. The bank branches operate on two Mondays a month and have about 62 open accounts, PNC says.

Getting grade-school and high-school students accustomed to handling their own money is a win-win all around. Kids get a real-world lesson on money management, schools get high marks from parents for helping them teach their kids about money, and banks like Capital One and PNC get a head-start on future customers — and a crack at their parent’s bank deposits, too.

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