Cheque-book Charlies

By PJ White

| 07 September 2012

A new university term approaches. Which reminds me of an anecdote. It was told to me by a services director of a well-rated university. A fresher had come to the accommodation office to pay his hall of residence fees. He took out the cheque book that came with his newly opened student bank account. Then he politely and rather shyly asked how to fill it in. He'd never written a cheque before, he explained. The staff member showed him what to write where. He thanked her and the job was done. As he was leaving, he had another question about his new bank account. How would he know when all his money was gone?

General reaction to the story from most adults is to tut tut and wonder what the world's come to. "At university and can't write a cheque! Can't operate a current account. Terrible."

It isn't great. But pouring scorn on an individual's shortcomings doesn't feel right to me. Something has gone wrong. It makes sense to think about why, and what might put it right. Some thoughts:

  1. There is not enough financial education
  2. The financial education there is focuses on the wrong things, and not what matters most to young people
  3. The people providing financial education have their own agendas and pump out masses of material that is worthy, dull or overwhelming.
  4. Some material in the guise of financial education is produced by commercial companies such as banks and is very low in content and really no more than pretty advertising.

For an example of 4, I see that HSBC has a smartly produced video offering financial tips for university-bound students. What's its main advice? You guessed it. Open an HSBC student bank account. No kidding.

I'm also looking at press releases from Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Halifax, Santander, Endsleigh Insurance, GoCompare, Aviva, LV, and Moneysupermarket. All have a student-related theme and all are pushing their services in the guise of vital advice or warnings. No doubt many lead to pretty video or other ads. In truth, I can't be bothered to read them. Suspect most young people wouldn't either.

PJ White is editor of

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